Featured Fiction Writer: August 2012 Vol. 4 # 10

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Teresa Milbrodt


Teresa Milbrodt grew up in Ohio, where she developed an odd affinity for Midwestern flatness and gray skies.  She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University.  Milbrodt is the author of a short story collection, Bearded Women: Stories, published by ChiZine Publications.  Her stories have appeared in numerous literary journals, and several have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Milbrodt is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, where she lives with her husband Tristan and cat Aspen.  She is still adjusting to absurdly sunny January days.  You can read more of her work online at her web site: www.teresamilbrodt.com



Nine Years, Two Months, and Eight Days After Him,

I Order a Pizza in Rosebud, South Dakota


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          The TV in the corner of the pizzeria has the news on.  It's playing the usual things—death, tragedy, and the weather.  There's a story about a drug sentencing, Todd County's largest pot bust ever.  Policemen walk out of the courthouse patting each other on the back.  It's their job, who can blame them, because only people in a few precious states can swear by their medical marijuana.  I have never smoked anything and probably never will, but my cousin claims weed has kept his weird colon disease at bay, so it's a good thing he lives in California.  I know a few people on the reservation who could probably get him hooked up if he were in a pinch, but you didn't hear me say that. 

            I crinkle the straw paper down and blow it to the other end of the table.  My husband hated it when I did that.  I smile, grab another straw, and do it again, then stick both straws in my diet cola.  Sometimes it feels good to be a tiny bit wasteful.


            Consider the pizza.  If you're clever it can encompass all four food groups and you can call it healthy.  I could eat half a large pie at one sitting and no one would care.  There's no one I want to look good for, which is more of a relief than not, but I have to pacify my doctor and a scale so I'll only eat a quarter of the pizza and take the rest home where my cats will be waiting.  I will give them some sausage because I am a bad pet owner, and because I like to think my cats love me. 


            I will have pizza for lunch tomorrow at the dental clinic where I am the receptionist.  I have always loved cold pizza, and it will be pleasant to eat it and nod while my best friend and dental hygienist Lena continues to tell me the saga of how her sister Bernice got sent to jail for check forgery and how could she have ever been so fucking stupid?  I have listened to this rant for a month at least.  I am good at shrugging in a helpful, confused, and ultimately supportive manner.  For lunch, Lena has a cup of yogurt, five cigarettes, and a few good rants.  Combined, these substances compose eighty percent of her body.  If you cut her open, she'd be full of strawberry-flavored smoke and the word “fuck.”


            I know a lot of people on the reservation with family members in prison.  My friend Janine who works at the tribal office sometimes visits our dental clinic on her lunch break so she can chat with me and Lena and give us updates on her nephew.  He was sentenced for theft and drug possession since he wasn't good at lifting TVs from appliance stores or hiding his weed and meth when the cops came for him.  He used to spend half the day on Janine's couch eating her food.  Now he writes her letters from prison asking for money to buy a TV. 

            “He's not mooching off my Nutter-Butters and nacho chips anymore, so he thinks I owe him,” Janine says while rolling her eyes.  She sends him Catholic saint cards, and occasionally a Jesus picture she gets down in Valentine when Mormons happen to wander through, but that's not often.  There aren't enough people out here to convert and make it worth the effort, and when ranchers get mad at you, they tend to spit.  They have good aim.


            My pizza arrives.  It's good.  It's hot.  It burns the roof of my mouth but I don't care.  The TV continues to drone with death, violence, and the weather.  Once on the news I heard a statistic that said Native Americans made up ten percent of the population in South Dakota and twenty-five percent of prison inmates.  That did not make me feel safe.  It made me feel depressed.  But safety is all about illusions, and justice is about being in the right place at the right time with the right skin color.  You hear about people being pulled over for DWI all the time.  Driving While Indian. 

            I have a little red car, a Ford Taurus with reservation plates, and I've been pulled over three times while going the speed limit.  The officers look smug when they walk up to my car, and shocked when they find me, a fifty-five-year-old white lady.  I smile and ask what the problem is.  After some verbal fumbling, they tell me my rear brake light is out.  I thank the officers and tell them to have a nice day.  They stumble back to their cars.  My brake lights have never gone out. 


            My friend back in Ohio was married to a police officer who was verbally abusive, hit her with words instead of fists until she could barely stand.  He was not a racist that I know of, just an asshole.  He also should have been locked up and never will be.  Instead of studying meteors or frog mutations or the metabolic rate of infants, a couple scientists should throw their brains behind trying to calculate the percentage of the population that's locked up and shouldn't be, and the percentage of the population that should be locked up and never will be.

            My friend's police officer ex-husband will cause a lot more harm to people in his lifetime than Janine's weed-smoking TV-snatching nephew.  Janine would say her nephew needs to be locked up for being a whiny sponging bastard, and he's learning a trade.  How to build bookshelves.  The theory is that when he gets out, he can sell bookshelves instead of meth.  Good luck with that, I say, but you still have to ask how much harm would be done if we let the drug dealers out of prison and figured out some other form of punishment.  I vote for probation, closely monitored sobriety, and teaching seventh grade algebra. 

            Some people will hate me for saying that on the larger scale, drugs and drug dealers aren't bad.  Soft drugs lead to hard drugs.  Drug addiction leads to theft.  Drug smuggling leads to guns, and news reports on the death and tragedy that come before the weather.  But if we forgot about drug dealers, maybe we'd think more about the people who should be locked up and never will be. 


            The cheese on my pizza has congealed.  I pick little pieces off.  He hated it when I did that, said I made the food look weird and got my germs on it.  Now I can say who cares, but I couldn't back then.  The lady in that marriage was not me, but if he hadn't found a cute piece of ass to chase and divorced my much larger ass, we would've still been married.  That's what I hate the most.  He changed my circumstance.  I didn't.  That came later. 

            On the news last week I heard a story about a judge who sentenced a men accused of domestic violence to take his wife out to dinner.  He was also supposed to buy her flowers and take her to a movie.  In court she said she was no longer scared of him, even though he'd shoved her and put her hands around her throat.  But they're always sweet before they shove you again, and the second time is harder. 


            I get a box for my pizza.  In the parking lot I watch the evening traffic, which is not much.  When we were married, sometimes I would stand at the edge of the curb while crossing Main Street, scanning the oncoming cars and squeezing my toes together so I didn't step into the street at just the right moment.  What kept me curbside was knowing that the driver would be haunted for life, even though it wouldn't be her fault.  She'd just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I never wanted to take anyone with me.  That saved my life. 


            In my best dreams, he is abducted by aliens and spends the rest of his helpless life in an alien lab.  He is never in pain, just not in control.  I don't want pain to distract him from that fact.  He is well-fed and cared for and his mental capacities are kept at a high-functioning level so the aliens can study his brain waves.  Janine would probably like to send her nephew to the alien lab, too, but I want my ex to be alone and spend all day with his perfect brain dwelling on the fact that his only food source is stuff that is nutritionally superior to anything we have on Earth, but tastes like rotten kelp.  He will live forever on rotten kelp and the kind aliens will be happy.   

            On the drive home my car smells like cold pizza.  I love the odor.  It means abundance.  It means my cats will be pleased.  We no longer have to share the couch with anyone else, and I've found that one fifty-five-year-old woman and three cats fit there perfectly. 



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