John Brantingham ~ This Moment between Moments

Ebbie drops Clair off for karate at the strip mall dojo on Thursdays at 3:30 and takes an hour for her­self across the street in the cof­fee house where she can sit and stare out at the traf­fic or at the line inside and legit­i­mate­ly not think about emails or clients or tak­ing any­one any­where. She sits and specif­i­cal­ly doesn’t think about her hus­band or kids. She doesn’t think about the bills or home or her boss who has touched her thigh twice in the last month. She’s not think­ing about her moth­er who might final­ly be in remis­sion when she sees the teenag­er with a faux­hawk and pink polo shirt in line with his moth­er pull a prepack­aged sand­wich out of the counter and slip it into his backpack.

Only after he has done it does he casts around to see if any­one has seen him. She catch­es his eye, and she tilts her head and smiles at him. This is her time after all not to think about respon­si­bil­i­ties, and he smiles back with the hes­i­ta­tion of a thief, and she smiles all the broad­er, and she thinks right now that if he were ten years old­er, she might take him behind the strip mall and make love to him quick­ly in this moment between moments, but he’s almost cer­tain­ly still in high school, so maybe she has a lit­tle respon­si­bil­i­ty left in her after all.

She wish­es that she had weed or maybe a lit­tle bot­tle of some­thing to slip into her cof­fee, but she’s only got half an hour of free­dom left. He’s sit­ting at a table with his moth­er, chat­ting with her and sneak­ing glances at Ebbie, and when he’s look­ing, she smirks and heads for the counter her­self. She can hear his moth­er say, “Are you lis­ten­ing to me?”

She gets in line behind a busi­ness­man wear­ing Old Spice, which is what her father used to wear, and while he’s talk­ing, she slips a sand­wich into her purse, mak­ing sure the boy sees her and then orders a drip cof­fee, which she pays for.

Thirty min­utes lat­er, Clair gets into the car, and Ebbie says, “Are you hun­gry baby?” and she hands her daugh­ter the sand­wich. She watch­es the boy across the street get into the pas­sanger seat and dri­ve his moth­er away. But she thinks, maybe this isn’t his moth­er after all. Maybe he isn’t in high school. Maybe this is the woman that he has met and made love to. Maybe they need a boost of caf­feine togeth­er in this mid­day world. Maybe he’s giv­en her a whole new world and a whole new life. Maybe for that woman, this is the begin­ning of all of that.


John Brantingham was the first poet lau­re­ate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and his work has been fea­tured in hun­dreds of mag­a­zines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has pub­lished eleven books of poet­ry and fic­tion includ­ing the col­lec­tion Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). He teach­es at Mt. San Antonio College.