Mae looked around the table at the other moms and tried not to be too obviously observational. She sipped her kombucha, wishing it were a Coke, not Diet even, but the real sugary poisoned brew. Cola crack like she slugged down in the good old days when she worked around the clock protecting corporate client investments. Kombucha tasted the way Mae imagined pulverized crab grass soaked in goat piss might taste. But the other moms swore by it, so Mae kept her mouth shut and sucked the stuff through a soggy paper straw.
Things had begun innocently a few months earlier, starting with an invitation from Keisha to come sit at their table at Playce, the cafe/play room/bar that attracted neighborhood families with its rubberized flooring, booze and communal stash of unhygienic toys. Keisha’s three year old daughter Saskia was the It Girl of Playce. Most mornings Saskia held court on the squooshy Playce floor, a bunch of toddlers lying at her feet while she sat regal and cross-legged, gesticulating like a shaman. When Saskia wasn’t holding court, she and Mae’s daughter Cassie were inseparable. The two little girls hugged each other and stumbled around Playce calling themselves “The Two Headed Kid”. Peverse and adorable.
It was a social coup, this toddler bonding, important to Mae because Keisha also reigned at Playce, along with her mom-friends Abby and Sarah. For some unfathomable reason this unassuming trio in schlumpy sweaters and fleece-lined clog boots had power. Mommy Power. Even with extra pounds around their midriffs, bad hair, and sleep-deprived raccoon eyes. Everyone loved them or ached to be them.
Mae secretly called them the Imperfects. And she wanted in.
Mae was an unabashed power junkie, accustomed to being at the top of every heap. Her need to be revered was cellular. But she had lost some footing recently. She’d been ‘let go’ from her high-level finance job where climbing the ladder and clocking the hours had been so easy breezy. Then, bye bye Mae-Mae. Her entire department was obliterated with no warning but lots of severance. Not that she needed the money. Money had been one thing she had never needed to scramble for. Lucky Mae.
Still, it was like bungee-jumping without any rebound.
So Keisha’s invitation to sit at the Imperfects’ table was a way back up. Mae bought the requisite over-sized sexless sweater. The clogs were less comfortable, her toes jammed up against the fluffy fronts like blind moles searching for air. But never one to give up, Mae endured the pain.
How hard could being a Perfect Imperfect be? Talk about an uphill battle. So far everything Mae had done or said was shrugged off, or worse, ignored. And now there were these damn spells. Moments when Mae’s thoughts blew all over the place, like dirty plastic shopping bags skittering down sidewalks. No one wanted to touch the noxious little things. Pick them up maybe, toss them in a bin.
Goat piss. Pulverized crab grass.
Such weirdness percolating in Mae’s brain. As she worked hard to keep her nasty thoughts at bay, Abby, Queen of the Imperfects, stumbled through the Playce doorway pushing a stroller like a first responder with a battering ram. Her coat was open even though it was freezing outside. Damp sweat glistened on Abby’s chest, droplets trickling down cleavage between giant still-nursing boobs. Her hair was Brillo-ed. Her cheeks were flushed. Her eyes were buggy.
Abby morphed into a giant bee. The Queen Bee, with antennae, jittery wings and scrambly little twisted legs.
“I’m finally, fucking here!” Abby cried.
Mae shook her head tic-like, and Abby became Abby again.
A pod of less cool moms at another table stared at the Queen with parted lips and droopy lovesick eyes. Soon they’d be hoarding Abby’s used napkins, thought Mae, making shrines out of Sarah’s lipstick-smeared coffee cups, surreptitiously snipping off tips of Keisha’s dreads, saving it all. Maybe she should beat them to the chase.
“Abby. Girl, you look like shit,” laughed Keisha with hee-haw chuckles, endearing to the other Imperfects.
Abby plopped her lumpy body on the end of the bench. “I know. Another shower-less morning, thanks to my evil spawn.”
Evil spawn, thought Mae? Abby’s adorable rapscallion Dash charmed the pants off everyone and would no doubt keep his future wife in a constant frenzy of excitement and hot panic. Plus, said evil spawn now slept like a ginger angel in his stroller.
“I’m ready to sign him up now for military boarding school. I swear.” Abby groaned.
Here was a chance to be witty, ironic. Get kudos from the Queen. Mae offered a crisp salute. “It did wonders for me.”
Abby stared blankly. “You went to military boarding school? Like, for real?”
Mae guffawed, nowhere near as charmingly as Keisha. “No. I was joking.”
Badly, it seemed.
Abby stared at Mae for a blank, unreadable second, then turned away to fumble with the safety straps of Dash’s stroller. “Let’s air this sucker out.”
Goat Piss. Pulverized crab grass. Frizzy-headed bumble bees.
With Abby’s arrival, the Imperfects could hunker down and do what they liked to do best. They kvetched. While their children ran amok knocking in to each other, grabbing toys that didn’t belong to them, pooping in diapers that remained unchanged until smells overwhelmed, the Imperfects shared irksome details of their lives because, hey, they were all just a tad frustrated.
Keisha’s surgeon husband snored and had gained 30 pounds since Saskia was born. Sarah was responsible for her Asperger’s-ish, pain in the ass sister now that their parents had fled to Boca full time. Abby was considering anti-anxiety meds because she got totally freaked out when her husband, a semi-famous screenwriter, flew to LA every couple of weeks.
Mae shifted her position, trying to get her butt comfortable on the hard wood bench. She didn’t know how to kvetch. Besides, what could she complain about? Perfect teeth? Her thick and lustrous, product-free, waist length naturally blonde hair? Her tranquil toddler Cassie speaking in full sentences and sleeping through the night? Her husband Julian with his charming British accent and successful tech business still incredibly generous, still attentively great in bed? Mae’s uncanny ability to still add long columns of six digit figures in her head even though she hadn’t had any reason to do so since leaving her publically shamed finance firm personally scandal-free? That Cassie was born vaginally after only five hours of labor? That in spite of her perfect body, Mae actually barely exercised, and when she did work out she was mistaken for a fitness instructor, or professional athlete? Would the Imperfects, or anyone else for that matter, believe Mae if she griped that here, at Playce morning meet-ups, being just, plain Perfect was a burden?
Maybe she should lift her tee shirt right now and show off those washboard abs. Mae fiddled with her hem.
Just then Sydney, Playce’s premier barista approached the Imperfects’ table. Transgender Sydney reminded Mae of a pumped up, Dennis the Menace, life sized, with a slight hint of boob-age. Mae could never remember if Sydney was a FTM or a MTF. To ask for clarification would be a blatant faux pas, guaranteeing total Imperfect banishment.
“How’re you lovely ladies doing?” asked Sydney.
Mae looked up at Sydney and attempted a kvetch. “I have really big feet.”
It was true. Mae’s feet were massive, her toes themselves almost as long as Cassie’s fingers.
There was a confused beat before Sydney smiled at Mae. But it was forced; a rigermortis grin Sydney used with Playce customers when they said annoying shit or made entitled demands. A grimace quite unlike the golden friendship-oozing smile Sydney now turned away from Mae and bestowed on the Imperfects.
“So, what can I get my favorite mamas?” Sydney asked.
“I’ll take a latte, Syd,” Abby drawled.
“Another kombucha, darling,” said Keisha.
“Jasmine tea, if you guys still have the organic.” Sarah nodded.
Mae wanted coffee. Just regular coffee. But Sydney leaned in low to the table, obscuring Mae at the end of the bench, leaving her to dangle like a decorative tassel.
When Mae was eight years old she got sick from eating too fast at the Plantation Winds Country Club pool. The culprit was a frankfurter, gulped in three bites, washed further down her gullet by bubbly orange pop. Immediately afterwards, Mae jumped in the pool to play underwater tea party with Sandy Bradford. Mae felt her stomach knot while hovering near the bottom of the pool, miming sips with pinky raised andd head nodding like a Victorian Englishwoman. When she and Sandy came up for air, Mae ignored the queasiness creeping from her belly to her thorax.
“Lets do it again!” shouted Sandy, an endless fount of energy and enthusiasm who Mae really found annoying. But Sandy Bradford had social cache with the underage set at Plantation Winds. And if Sandy wanted to play tea party, then hell yeah, May was gonna play tea party till she was blue in the face, or green to the gills. Which Mae was. Both green and blue, before she threw up underwater in a spreading brownish ooze.
A shrill and humiliating whistle was blown by Chet, the lifeguard. The Plantation Winds Pool was closed for the rest of the afternoon. All the nannies, mothers and children packed up their gear and headed to the air conditioned clubhouse for ping pong, TV, Mint Juleps. All except Mae and her mother. They headed out.
Mama burned rubber out of the parking lot. The car was stifling, the air conditioning wouldn’t kick in until they were halfway home. Still Mae was covered in goosebumps. She clutched the arm rest, felt the seatbelt across her chest like a straight jacket. Her bathing suit was still damp, her bum a bit squishy against the leather seat of the Cadillac.
The car reeked of Mama’s Coppertone and sweaty rage. Her eyes steely behind her Jackie O’s, her tan cheeks twitching as if she had a bunch of marbles inside her clamped mouth and she couldn’t decide whether to spit or swallow. Mama’s silence lasted the whole ride, like a rubber band stretched to the point of snapping.
For years after the shameful Plantation Winds incident, Mae feared a repetition. Not of vomiting, but of her mother’s disappointment. To be shut out by Mama, now, that was the gut punch. Mae’s earliest, most noxious concern.
But Mae lucked out. She grew more and more beautiful, seemed blessed with a superior intellect. She made all the right friends, got the best grades and the best jobs. Mae never had to endure that silent, yet howling punishment again. Her mother didn’t need to prod Mae up to the top of any heaps. Mae hiked them, effortlessly and gladly, on her own. She had an hunky dory time with, well, just about everything.
Hunky dory, that was, until her clumsy attempts at Imperfection began accumulating like more upchucked hot dogs, polluting an otherwise perfect record.
“Screw this,” Mae cried that evening as she collapsed on the couch next to Julian. “I can’t be a plain yellow pumpkin.”
“Huh?” Julian looked up from the screen of his IPad. Cassie was asleep, had, as usual, drifted off after kisses and one lullaby. Never any whining or grasping for more, more, more from that even-keeled, secure little girl.
“I will always be a golden carriage.” Mae moaned.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Julian returned to swiping and scrolling, and tapping. “But being a transportation vehicle made from a precious metal sounds infinitely superior to life as a boring vegetable.”
Julian would never get it. Raised in England. No Disney. No Rogers and Hammerstein. All male boarding schools from the age of eight. No real exposure to the weird world of female friendship. Lucky Prince Charming.
“Forget it,” Mae sighed. She stretched her legs out along the couch, pushing her feet against the side of Julian’s thigh.
“Hey,” he said. “Watch it Bigfoot.”
May looked across at her reddened toes, her chipped blue nail polish. Her aborted kvetch about her giant dogs earlier that day at the Imperfects’ table had resulted in more blank stares and empty pauses. And no free coffee from Syd, a real slap in the face. But what had Mae expected? Complaining about her big feet when the rest of her looked the way it did was like complaining that the spare room on the top floor of her renovated brownstone could use a fresh paint job. Which was another thing she thought about, a bit too often.
In bed later that night Mae lay awake, her brain churning. She replayed conversations held at the Imperfects table earlier that day, interjecting witticisms she hadn’t thought of in real life, imagining Abby in particular, smiling and and laughing at her every word.
She look over at Julian, sleeping peacefully, her benign Brit, quiet as a mouse, wishing he snored like Keisha’s overweight husband. Couldn’t Julian at least produce some masculine body odor? Collect crumbs in his closely cropped beard?
Maybe Cassie could develop night terrors. Have a tantrum every now and then.
Spread cocksakie. Head lice. Strep.
But no. Mae’s perfect family was useless. Plastic pins from the game of Life, two pink, one blue, driving their car round and round, but misguided and stupid. No clue they were on a Monopoly board.
The winter weeks rolled by, an endless cycle of naps, princess make believe games, missing Legos, monotony and runny noses. The only punctuation the trips to Playce, where Mae began to feel so inconsequential, it was as if she were melting into an amber puddle by the side of the table.
One frozen day, Sarah came up with an idea. A field trip to TofuTots, a place that ran ‘Junior Vegan Chef Workshops’ for toddlers in a trendy but still dicey, far-flung corner of the city, a neighborhood where young, restless artistic types lived. An area the Imperfects would only think to visit during daytime hours. A slum really. A place Mae would never go to at any time of day on her own volition.
“For fifty dollars each they get to make buckwheat shortbread, coconut oil toffee, and kale chips,” Sarah said in her monotone voice. Sarah was a foodie. She provided the Imperfects with all sorts of dry, barely edible snacks. Organic. Gluten-free. Taste-free. Sarah was usually silent, so when she talked the other Imperfects sat upright and listened. She had straight dark hair hanging like an iron curtain to her chin, blunt bangs grazing her arched eyebrows. She never smiled.
A flapper. A cyborg. A cyborg flapper. A sullen cyborg flapper.
Mae imagined Sarah rising from the table, arms herky jerky, elbows akimbo. Her fingers did little sparkly maneuvers, her knees knocked and her legs scissored. Sarah’s face was a mask of disdain, her frown as deep as a Kabuki warrior’s.
Ugly. Scary ugly.
Mae squeezed her eyes shut, could feel crow’s feet scratching at the edges of her lids.
“And for an extra ten bucks, they’ll do a puppet show about organic farming,” Sarah droned on.
Mae opened her eyes. Sarah was sitting. She had never danced.
“Saskia doesn’t do puppet shows,” said Keisha. “They freak her out.”
“Whatever,” sighed Sarah.
Abby stretched her arms overhead and yawned. She’d kvetched earlier: A rough night with Dash and screenwriting hubby was off in LA pitching a script to the Weinsteins. “I’m cool with anything, but maybe we can skip the toffee. The last thing I want to do is clean that shit out of Dash’s hair. Otherwise, awesome idea, Sare.”
“Awesome sauce idea!” blurted Mae. She’d overheard this exclamatory adding of ‘sauce’ recently. Albeit, the exclaimer was a teenage actress on TV selling smartphones.
The Imperfects glanced at her as if she were a slight, inconsequential breeze, suddenly arrived.
“Isn’t that what the kids will cook?” Mae plunged against the tide, against her better judgement. “Awesome Sauce? Magic Marinara? Holy shit Hollandaise?” Mae’s bleating hurt her own ears.
“Um, ah, I don’t think so.” Sarah said in a sober, conversation ending tone.
Mae half-heartedly sucked down another punishing kombucha. She felt everything but her merest outline fade away.
Mae was alone in the house, listening to Courtney jabber away on the phone. Courtney was Mae’s only friend left from her Kappa days at Duke. Courtney, southern to the core, was a doctor. A radiologist.
“Why do you hang out with those gals anyway?” asked Courtney, totally non-medically.
Crumbs were flying from Mae’s mouth as she made her way through a bag of Chips Ahoy. She’d had a brainstorm at four a.m. If she binged regularly she might put on a few pounds, pad that perfect belly of hers. Get a nice mommy pooch going. Earlier in their conversation, when her mouth had been empty, Mae had mentioned the upcoming trip to Tofu Tots.
“Everyone loves them.” Mae paused before stuffing a twentieth cookie in her mouth. She examined the list of ingredients on the side of the bag. Lots of dangerous, highly caloric ingestibles.
“Yeah,” drawled Courtney, “Everyone but you.”
“I love them like Sandy Bradford,” Mae sighed.
“Who?” asked Courtney.
“No one. Forget it.”
Courtney was quiet. In the background Mae could hear riffs of ‘Fur Elise’ played, not too shabbily by one of Courtney’s unquestionably talented daughters.
Finally Courtney spoke. “I think you’ve landed in the wrong circle Mae-Mae. You need to be adored. All those young bucks at your old job? I remember when I visited you there, before Adelaide was born. Those guys would’ve licked your big-ass platypus feet if you’d asked them.”
“Aha!” Mae cried. “See? What you just did there?”
“What?” Courtney asked.
“You jabbed me about my feet.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Courtney lied.
“These ‘gals’ as you call them, they don’t do that. They don’t jab. They don’t snark. They’re, like, perfect. Perfectly Imperfect.”
“Well they sound boring as all git out to me. And that trip ya’all are taking to, what again? A vegetarian cooking school?”
“Vegan. Not vegetarian.” Mae corrected.
“Whatever. All vegetables. That sounds like the ultimate snooze.” Courtney paused and called away from her phone, “That’s wonderful, Addie! You’ve done Ludwig Von proud!”
Mae stared out the living room window. Just then Julian and Cassie cruised up to the stoop, each on a scooter, Cassie wearing helmet, wrist guards, and knee pads. Mae watched as Julian lovingly removed Cassie’s protective armor. Other dads hurled their kids around caveman style, urged them to run ahead on sidewalks, let them sit in cafes in pajamas with hair and teeth unbrushed. They were men who gladly handing over their smartphones in exchange for some peace and quiet. At the very least, some dads let their kids go hat and gloveless on winter days. Julian did none of those things. Mae was doomed.
Once again that night, Mae was ragged and wide awake while Julian lay beside her in an enviable oblivious stupor. At 2 a.m. she got out of bed to go to the bathroom. Not to use the toilet, but to look at herself in the mirror and see if maybe, hopefully, she looked as shitty as she felt.
Sleep deprived and cookie-poisoned, hair mussed and face purposely unwashed, Mae still looked gorgeous, even in the glare of fluorescent overheads.
She stumbled out of the bathroom and tip-toed instinctively, maternally, past Cassie’s door. Mae didn’t want to wake her baby up. Or hey, maybe she did. A cranky kid at TofuTots might provide a kvetch-worthy step towards Imperfection.
Mae approached Cassie’s toddler-sized canopy bed, a bed to adore, an over-stuffed, overflowing, fluffy fest of rosy duvets and frilly euro shams. All in 1/4 size. Mae stared down at her perfect slumbering child.
“Cassie,” cooed Mae. “Oh Cahhhseee.”
Cassie was down for the count, a charming pool of drool on the pink flannel pillow case next to her plump little lips.
Mae’s own mother had never woken her up like this, with such bad, selfish motives. Really, it was no better than a kidnapper coming through a window in the dead of night! But then again, Mama never actually woke Mae up at all. Not for school in the morning, or church on Sundays. Mama had been an early adopter of Jazzercise. She took morning classes religiously, bounding back home afterward in puce and magenta spandex, a few stray blonde hairs clinging to her flushed and dewy forehead. Mama returned energized and chatty. Nicer, in fact, than she would be later in the day, when the mundane aspects of domestic life pulled her back down like a weighted stone.
And so, Mae’s wake up came from her Disney Cinderella Magical Light-Up Storyteller Alarm Clock with Color Changing Night Light instead.
Grown-up Mae was now desperate. She reached down and rattled her daughter as if she were testing a lightbulb, waiting to hear that tell-tale, tinny little broken sound. Cassie stirred, her eyes opened, googly and dazed.
“Hi Cassie-doodle,” Mae chirped. “Wanna play?”
Cassie stared at Mae, zombie-blank. She wasn’t awake. Not at all. Just as Mae realized this, Cassie’s eyes closed again.
“Damn it,” hissed Mae, clawing her head, plucking at hairs that belonged on a shampoo commercial. She walked out of Cassie’s room and ripped out a nice little tangle.
The next day the Imperfects boarded the subway bound for TofuTots.
Saskia and Cassie sat angelically across from Mae, little feet straight out and hands linked, gabbing like a couple of old ladies on a park bench. Abby’s Dash and Sarah’s Jake slipped and slid all over the seats like a couple of plastered sailors during Fleet Week while Abby and Sarah were deep in an intimate conversation. A splinter kvetch.
Mae reigned in her protective urge to corral the two boys while their mothers ignored them. Imperfects were never, ever overprotective. She could do it. Pepper her parenting with benign neglect. So what if Dash and Jake stumbled and concussed on the disgusting, sticky train floor? Mae imagined a scarlet O appearing on her forehead to stop herself from lunging towards the vulnerable little boys. She traced the circle with her finger over and over again, until Cassie looked across at her and cried out, “Mama! Whatchya doin’?”
Mae dropped her hand from her reddened forehead.
Keisha sat next to Mae playing Candy Crush, admirably self-contained. Mae got out her own phone and poked at it, trying to look busy. She scrolled through her photo albums, and came across snaps from her honeymoon in Tahiti, a blissful trip that now seemed as if it had occurred in another lifetime on another planet. To another Mae.
One photo in particular shouted to be shared, and in a fit of desperation Mae thrust her phone under Keisha’s nose.
A pig roast. A corral of chubby grass-skirted Tahitian men. Mae stood in the center, string bikinied, an orchid lei draped around her bronzed neck, wielding a spear pointed sadistically at the sizzling pig’s rump. “Think the vegans will put me in jail if I show them this?” Mae asked.
Kiesha stared blandly at the image.
Mae went on. “Whip it out and holler ‘take a look, soybean suckas’?” Now that, that was good, she thought. Really good.
Keisha finally looked up at Mae, her eyes treacly with pity. “That’s harsh, Girl.” she shook her head and frowned. “Like, really harsh.”
TofuTots was housed in a decrepit looking warehouse, the kind of place Mae associated with 1990’s cop shows.
Stolen goods. Decomposing bodies.
But inside the formerly industrial space had been scrubbed clean and spruced up. TofuTots was sanitized, Eco-style. Mae resisted the urge to bend down and lick the gleaming floor.
“Hey, I’m Gus,” said the squeaky clean, but not clean cut twenty-something who greeted them at the door. Mae imagined Gus might strut his stuff down a J.Crew cat walk if he got rid of the swirling mass of indecipherable hieroglyphs running up and down both his arms and snarling together under his chin, shaved off his weird little goatee and surgically repaired the earlobes stretched circularly with what looked to Mae like Nutter Butter lids.
Gus poured enthusiasm towards the toddlers gathered in a restless, rumbling group. “Are you guys ready to cook up some yummy treats?”
“I’m ready to eat you, Gus,” Abby stage-whispered saucily to the other moms.
Keisha belly laughed, luscious and adorable. Sarah poked Abby affectionately in Abby’s pudgy ribs.
Mae stood off to the side, pawing her hair. She had gathered a few more palm-sized tumbleweeds stashed in the pocket of her jeans.
“Okay then,” Gus sang-said. “Come with me little dudes, come with me!” He skipped away, deflating his hipster aura with big galumpy strides. The kids followed.
“Angling for some kind of tip, Gussie?” Mae snarled as the Imperfects ran past her to catch up with the scampering boy-man and toddlers.
“What did you say?” Abby asked as she stumbled by.
“Mr. Tats,” Mae said, as she too started running.
Lemmings, all of us. Scurrying to the edge of a cliff.
“The Pied Piper of bean curd,” Mae continued as the Imperfects slowed their pace. She jerked her chin towards Gus. “No doubt he wants us to slip some twenty’s down his organic cotton briefs once this show is over.”
“Um, hello?” Sarah piped in. “Gustav Streller is like, a renowned vegan chef. He owns Pear & Chestnut. You know, the new place down by the waterfront.”
“Gustav?” The neck of Mae’s schlumpy wool sweater was too itchy. She tugged at it, stretched it so it hung around her neck like loose elephant skin.
“Yes. Gustav. ” Cyborg Sarah scowled.
Wienerschnitzely name for a vegan vunderkind, yah?
Mae’s hands migrated from the distended collar back to her scalp. She plucked some nice little tufts, swirled little strands.
“Mae. What the fuck are you doing to your hair?” asked Keisha.
Mae dropped her hand and pocketed another blonde mess.
Gus corralled the kids by a giant vat at the far end of the cavernous TofuTots. They were going to make toffee after all.
“Moms,” called Gus, “If you could all grab caps and smocks for your kids, and the same for yourselves, that would be super rad,” he pointed to an array of green sacks clipped to a line with old timey clothes pins and exuding a slight scent of lavender.
Once everyone was TofuTots smocked, and all hair was tucked under TofuTots caps, Gus led them to slop sinks to wash their hands. There were no towels.
“Now shake, shake, shake,” cried Gus as he waved his manly paws around in the air, demonstrating the TofuTots approach to hand drying. It was, all of it, vaguely surgical.
The kids went apeshit spraying droplets of water on each other. The Imperfects shook their hands too, abiding by Master Gustav’s instructions. Mae tried her best, but she was weary. So, so weary. Her hands wouldn’t dry. They were wet, and cold too, so she surreptitiously put them behind her back and wiped the remains on the rear of her smock.
“Cassie’s mommy did a no-no,” whined Jake, pointing at Mae. “She wiped her hands on her tushy.”
No one seemed to notice. No one seemed to care. They all skedaddled away from Mae, over to the toffee vat, where Gus handed out large wooden spoons and bags of brown sugar. Mae staggered towards them. Cassie had already found her place on her own, atop a wooden step stool. Part of the gang. Mae came to stand beside her.
“Having fun, Sweet Pea?” Mae asked in a strained and high pitched voice.
Cassie looked up at her mother, perplexed, with an expression that said, who are you anyway? Then Cassie turned back to the vat, where Gus instructed all the kids to pour, pour, pour! their bags of brown sugar into the muddy pool.
Mae had no bag. She had no spoon. She’d been left out of the distribution. She looked around at the expectant faces of the kids and the smirky, contented faces of the Imperfects. Her own woozy swirl, her ragged edges, her spent psyche, punched her drunk.
The others dipped their spoons, stirring.
A cabal of witches.
Mae stared down at the gloppy toffee mass. She inhaled the sickly sweet fumes; brown sugar, vegan butter replacement, toddler glee, maternal joy. She was overwhelmed with desire. The TofuTots smock and shower cap came off first. Then she released her feet from the sweaty, toe-pinching fleece-lined clogs and pulled the schlumpy sweater over her head. Off came her jeans. She stepped out of her thong, unsnapped her bra, released her pert, stretch-mark free breasts.
Mae’s big feet went in first.
“Oh my fucking God, Mae! What are you doing?” Was Abby’s tone appreciative? Envious?
Mae no longer cared. She was on her way to a tea party. Mae slowly lowered her glorious body into the lukewarm caramel goo and thought, “Good shit in here, but it needs Perfection.”