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"The Sweat in the Leather," short story excerpt

Monday 9/27/21

A woman wakes up on a Saturday morning and she has a daughter after not having a daughter the night before when she went to bed. The girl is eight. She’s precocious. The mother can tell that she loves her, but her second thought after her first thought of “How is this happening?” is how she can get away from the girl.


“Can we go out for breakfast?” the girl asks, coming into the room where the mother is still in bed. Clearly it means a lot to her. The girl’s face is like a lamp. Has that coloring of “hmmm, what is there to see here?”


She’s so familiar in her ways, her approach. She’s made her mother tea. It’s just the way she likes it. Squirt so small of milk you wouldn’t know it was there unless you’d put it in yourself or asked someone else to and trusted they would.


Maybe she was traumatized by a nightmare, she thinks as the girl gets in bed with her. Give it a minute. Give it five. It’s not working. The girl falls back asleep. The phone rings. It’s the mother’s mother.


“And how is my granddaughter?” is her first question. “Is she still dead?” is the second.

What a thing to say, the girl’s mother decides. What a rebarbative statement to make.


“How could you?” she spits into the phone. “Bitch.” She pauses. “Old bitch,” she adds.


Her mother apologizes. Says she must not have been heard correctly. The connection isn’t the best.


The woman wonders if her mother is implying a deeper message. The grandmother continues. She means her other granddaughter. Of course, she’s willing to take her for the weekend, if that would be easier, if she’d like a “break.” There’s an antiques fair over in the next town. In the old high school gymnasium. Which always smelled like pommel horses and balance beams, remember? Even after they’d been pushed away so the kids could play basketball.


The woman shifts her weight in bed. Quietly, careful not to disturb the sleeping girl.


Yes, it did, come to think of it. Must have been the sweat in the leather. “Everything is the sweat in the leather,” she may or may not hear her mother say.


But it’s that bad connection. One of those connections where leather sounds like skin and voices like wind in dry grass, if you let them.