by Courtney Clute
Our mother brought home two pogo sticks from a garage sale. We were young, my sister 10, and me 7, and our mom hadn’t bought us anything new in a long time. The padding on the handlebars was peeling, and the exposed metal was spotted with rust. They both still had hand-written price stickers on them: $5.
The sun was setting and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet, but our mother loaded our new pogo sticks into the bed of her pick-up truck and took us down to the neighborhood park, my sister and I riding in the bed, holding out our hands to feel the wind slip between our fingers.
Our mother parked the pick-up between a minivan and a sedan. Other kids were gliding down the slide and dangling from the monkey bars. A cluster of moms and dads sat at a picnic table and chatted. They wore baseball caps and fancy yoga pants. Our mother told us to play. She sat at the picnic table furthest from the other parents. Our mother looked like she belonged more on the seesaw than at the parents’ tables. She pulled out her e-cigarette and took a long inhale, then blew the smoke towards the sky, like a wolf silently howling at the moon.
My sister and I found a patch of concrete and struggled to mount the pogo sticks. We didn’t know we had to start bouncing as soon as we got our feet on the base. We kept tilting and falling, but caught ourselves before we smacked into the ground.
“No, no, you girls aren’t doing it right,” our mother called from her table. The other parents stopped talking for a moment and looked her way. She zipped up her hoodie and crossed her arms tight.
My sister tried one more time but failed.
Our mother took another hit from her e-cig and walked over to our patch of concrete. She blew the vapor out, and we waved it away so we could see her clearly.
“Here, give me that,” she said, grabbing my sister’s pogo stick. “Hold this.”
My sister took the e-cigarette. She tossed it from hand to hand, like she was scared it would burn her palms if she held it too long.
Our mother mounted the pogo stick and tried to bounce, but my sister and I could see then that the spring was coated in rust and wasn’t going to budge. Our mother lost her balance and fell forward, landing on her side. “Fuck.”
The kids on the playground froze. A father from the picnic table ran over. Our mother shifted and we could see blood seeping from scrapes all down her left leg and on the palms of her hands. She looked like a child, small, hurt, delicate, like she could have been a friend of my sister and mine. If she was a friend of ours though, we would have run to get a grown-up. But who gets a grown-up for the grown-up?
The father arrived. “Are you okay?”
My sister shoved the vape in her pants pocket before he could see.
Our mother was silent, unmoving. He reached to pull her up, but she flinched. “No.” She wouldn’t look him in the eye. “I can handle myself.” The father nodded, held up his hands in defeat, and returned to his table, where the other parents were whispering. My sister and I each grabbed an arm, and our mother let us hoist her from the ground. I wiped the dirt from her shorts.
She smeared her bloody palms on the stomach of her hoodie and retrieved the pogo sticks, one in each hand, like a samurai about to go to battle. She headed for her pick-up and my sister grabbed my hand and we followed.
Instead of going straight home, our mother stopped at a house in our neighborhood that was getting its roof redone. It had a large dumpster in its driveway. From the bed of the truck, my sister and I watched my mom throw the rusted pogo sticks into the dumpster. We jumped at the sound of them hitting the debris at the bottom. My sister gripped my hand tighter.
At home, we led her inside and into the bathroom we all shared. We cleaned her wounds with a washcloth, soap, and hot water. She winced at our touch but we told her we needed to clean the cuts so they could get better.
Courtney Clute just completed her MFA at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, where she studied flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Passages North and Z Publishing’s “Florida’s Emerging Florida Writers: An Anthology.” You can find her on Twitter at @courtney_clute.