Runner Up: Jennifer Baker
Jamaica Estates, New York
A native New Yorker, Jennifer Baker has been writing since she entered the academic institution and continues to do so every moment she gets. Jennifer received her MFA from The New School’s graduate program in Creative Writing and is an alum of The City College of New York’s baccalaureate program in English.
She works as a production editor in academic publishing, while also freelancing as an ESL tutor, proofreader/copyeditor, and editor.
Her flash fiction has been published in Boston Literary Magazine and Eclectic Flash, and her articles/essays have been published on AroundHarlem.com and most recently Poets & Writers magazine.
Jennifer is currently working on a variety of flash fiction in addition to a multi-generational linked story collection centered around race and family. She enjoys baking & updating her blog (www.jenniferbaker.com/blog) with articles, food/book reviews, giveaways, interviews, and writing information.
I ask the kids if their father is picking them up. Evelyn shrugs. Jack is more amiable. Every day before he steps through my door he says “knock, knock” and I feel like a complete bitch. Because of what I do, what I think about while they both attempt to get a grip on past participles, articles and prepositions.
The kids’ hair is straight. It’s dark and hangs like a curtain over their wide eyes. Their lips are thin, noses round, fingers delicate like a pianist’s.
These are their father’s features. Alex isn’t dark in the traditional sense nor is he a joker or too serious. He’s a fine balance, which is why I noticed him in my class. A man eager to learn but not in a sycophantic way that would guarantee I wrote him a nice recommendation because his boss paid for the lessons.
“You don’t need me.” I told him.
“That’s nice to hear,” he said.
His hand found mine and squeezed.
“No need for anyone to get hurt,” he said that first night. He grasped English perfectly. It made me wonder if keeping me at bay was something he learned or if it was inherent in men.
Teaching the kids wasn’t my choice. When I leaned in on Alex’s side of the car to welcome him my fingernails scratched the door.
“It’s my wife’s idea,” he said while pop music blared. I stared at the shiny black heads in the backseat.
Once inside Alex gestured towards my kitchen. We were all whispers.
“I told her I had my lessons. But she wanted them to come. Said it would help their grades.” He seemed at a loss, couldn’t look at me as it was revealed he had little power.
He rubbed both children’s heads before leaving. Neither child seemed to notice. Instead they surveyed their surroundings.
“How come you don’t have paintings or glass toys?” Jack asked. It wasn’t until he said it that I realized how bare my home was. I was basic, their mom gaudy. It was the only thing I knew about her.
Their father came by, alone, that night. He hung his head in submission. I was focused and wouldn’t give in. But his thumb hit a point on the back of my neck, more fingers followed. The pressure was the good kind. After, I held Alex’s head against my breasts like a child.
I have dreams about her. When she turns around her face is a blank canvas, no features but she has black hair like the children and Alex. Hers is in a braid because Evelyn wears her hair like this.
His wife sits on my couch with her hands in her lap wearing a dress that is both conservative and lovely. It covers her entire body. I want to say my peace but everything is a whimper. Though she is faceless and I am mute she is assessing me, just like I do with my students.
I peek out the window. The compact car their father usually drives isn’t there. The vehicle parked is wider, probably American-made to fit in with the family’s assimilation. A woman saunters up my walkway. Her arms swing, her chin’s up, and her face is covered by oversized sunglasses. This is a woman with a purpose.
Before she hits the bell I swing the door open.
Her hair is a clownish orange. “Kids ready?” she asks.
“Y-yes. Kids!” I shout over my shoulder and feign a grin. She doesn’t return the smile; instead she looks at her watch. I absorb every inch of her. I want to know where the lines on her face begin and end. I wish I could see if she has crow’s feet like the ones burgeoning on my face.
She taps her foot along and shouts for them to hurry.
She wears denim that complements her body and a shirt and blazer that pull everything in. I can tell from the slight pudge peeking around her waistband.
Evelyn brushes past me without a word but Jack smiles that gap-toothed smile of his.
“Nice to meet their mom.” I try to shut the door before I say something else, apologize, or lose it.
She arches an eyebrow. “I’m not their mother.”
I stop the door mid-swing. “Excuse me?”
“I’m only here because Alex was running late and my sister said she’s too busy. Always too damn busy.”
I hold on to her face, but know my dreams won’t be alleviated yet.