Heather Fowler

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Heather Fowler received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University.  She reads a lot, writes a lot, and sometimes teaches, most recently at UCSD. Her work was among short-listed stories on the 2009  storySouth Million Writers Awards Notable Stories of 2008 list.  She has recently published stories in the following journals and anthologies: Surreal South 09(Press 53, October 2009); DOGZPLOT (Fall 2009); decomP (August 2009); JMWW (Summer 2009); Etchings (7, ilura press, July 2009); PANK Magazine (4.6, June 2009); Night Train (Issue 9.1, Spring 2009); The Abacot Journal (Spring 2009); Underground Voices (November 2008); A Cappella Zoo (Print: October 2008, Volume I, Online Reprint June 2009). KeyHole (August 2008); Trespass (August/September 2008, UK); and SubLit (August 2008). For a full linked-in bio, descriptions of works in progress, and news of forthcoming work, please visit her webpage at http://www.heatherfowlerwrites.com/








Old Glamour Girl



for Nona


The old woman, if unwatched, saves her soiled, disposable diapers by hanging them around the house in odd places.  They are children's diapers, the largest size, worn inside her pretty floral cotton panties like large pads; she will not wear the garments that require being pulled on. She likes to dress up. She does not know who she is. 

She does not know her caretaker's name, though she requires this caretaker to sing, on many occasions, "The sun'll come out, tomorrow.  Betcha bottom dollar that to-morrr-owww, there'll be sun."  She asks for this each time this caretaker is present, which seems to imply memory. 

Out of curiosity, his caretaker has asked the other two caretakers who come if the same thing happens to them—but no, they admit, the old woman does not ask them to sing. The singing is a game played normally before the young woman leaves for the day.   Sometimes, the old woman sings with her.  The old woman has a walker.  And she smokes, one after another, lighting them up. 

Aside from the unfortunate fact that the girl comes home reeking of stale smoke, this particular caretaker, paid by a business hired by the family, is unsure what to do about the mess and the danger--the mess from the diapers, the danger from the cigarettes left to burn, frequently, all over the house.  As the lady naps, the caretaker empties the ashtrays and takes the diapers down, one by one, puts them in a black plastic trashbag, and carries them out to the cans to bury below other trash. 

She then listens to check if the old woman will notice.  If the old woman does, no one is censured.  Perhaps, for a brief moment, despite that she create them, she, too, is relieved these things are gone.  "Girl," she says.  "Girl!  Will you get me my robe?"

"Why does she do this?" this girl asks her husband one night.  "Is she thinking this is the Great Depression again, that each diaper must be used twice?  Does she not understand the concept of disposable?  Even the ones she shits in, she dumps into the toilet and then props up like the others.  If she washed them, they'd split and fall apart.  Maybe she has tried…" 

The husband nods, says nothing, falling asleep as he lounges where they watch their one show together before sleep.  In the morning, he will head for the air-field but has now grown accustomed to listening to such rants from his wife, without much upset, because the children are quiet in bed, because, in his head, he is always flying in the clouds, taxiing planes onto runways and informing imaginary passengers of safety rules.  A hundred more hours, he thinks.  If only that...  My license.

"And she needs to stop smoking," his wife says.  "The house could catch fire.  She doesn't ash neatly.  She wakes up in the middle of the night and smokes right in her bed.  An insomniac!  I can't even sleep while I watch her in case she wakes up.  But she is a sweet old gal.  The sun'll come out, to-morr-ow!  Did you know she makes me sing this for her before I leave?  She smiles when I do.  And I did her nails the other day and she positively glowed.  That old glamour girl!"

But when the girl next arrives, the diapers are clipped to the shelves with clothes-pins and left on counters, hung over the showerhead, and abandoned on the floor in sunny spots.  The old woman smokes again.  Again, the house reeks of smoke and urine and maybe the old wildflower air freshener can that was almost out the last time the girl came.  "Hello," the old woman says.

"Hello," the girl says.  Slowly, the girl brushes the lady's pale hair and then her own.  In the trashcan where the hair cleaned from the brush falls, the black and silver mix.  They watch I Love Lucy reruns and the girl cooks lunch.  In the living room, the old woman lifts her skirt and pulls off another diaper.  She thinks she is unobserved, but the girl watches from the corner of her eye as the old woman takes the newly soiled thing to an area where the sun meets the faded carpet in the hallway and leaves it laid flat.  Urine, the girl thinks.  Then the old woman goes to the box and gets a new one.  It is a seven minute process before the old gal has donned the new one.  Ham fries in a pan on the stove; toast toasts.  These good smells counteract the others.  In the kitchen, the girl cuts oranges.  These good smells take over.

The sun comes out, pokes free from behind cumulous clouds that have covered the good light all morning.  The girl does not stop cooking.  She makes more than enough for two.  There is something relaxing in the smell of food prepared and her ability to make it in near silence and without the children screaming like they do at home.  It's true that her husband zones free when overwhelmed by his thinking of high planes, but she, the young girl, can launch far past her lifestyle while cooking food that creates this fine aroma, enjoying, in this quiet, the time to think about her carefree days when she went to the Goth clubs in small clothing and took pleasure in applying make-up to her ochre eyes.  While she cooks, the old woman doesn't look at her or expect anything, but she doesn't seem to have gotten her new diaper on right because it is now a bulge below her dress.

"Do you need any help with that?" the girl asks, imagining urine spilling onto the couch if the diaper is not fixed.  Imagining cleaning it.

"No," the woman says..

"It's on crooked," the girl says.

"So it is."

The girl is not sure why, but the lady's smug look suddenly gets to her.  She feels her voice go shrill, blood hot as she asks,  "Why don't you throw those away?" pointing to the diapers strewn down the hall.  "They aren't any good to you!"  And the girl thinks of the boys she has at home, their diapers, and how her life is just a full shitstream of other people's diapers while her husband is too busy thinking about planes to pick up any slack.  But the old woman looks right at her.  Maybe, she thinks the girl is a niece or a favorite daughter; oh, her eyes are soft.  It's gentle how she looks at the girl cooking food, almost charming. 

"I don't because you do that," the woman says, lighting another cigarette.  She sparks to smoke three in a row before saying softly, so softly that her voice is variegated like sun poking only a flimsy few pinions through the weighty grey clouds, "They think I need you. It keeps you coming back."