She works the night shift boiling laundry at the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel. It's dawn when she clocks out. Empty beaches blurred by morning fog. A sea wind carries the coming fire of summer sun. She coughs into the mist, swallows the burn of disinfectant. Her back is bent by passing years. Her son is head bellhop. Her daughter is blind.
A milk bottle anchors the telegram. A cold wind slaps her face like an open hand. "June 6, 1944. Ma, don't worry. It's better where I am. When I'm ready I'll call."
She enters the heavily curtained rooms, changes into torn slippers, and shuffles back outside to the bus. She returns in the gloom to tell her son.
He leads her to Virginia Avenue and the unnatural bright of the Steel Pier. A billboard for victory in Europe is bordered in blinking light bulbs. A faded poster for the Marathon Dance Contest sails past the silent merry-go-round, into a gray and choppy sea.
They weave through morning strollers. A midget is carrying boxing gloves. A gypsy pushes a carriage with a monkey wearing a blue bonnet.
Her son walks fast. She swings her arms and aims with her head to keep up. A man yells. She collides with a couple riding a rolling chair. Truck-carrying ferries bellow from the bridge.
They pass coin-toss games, gypsy fortune-tellers, a waving Mr. Peanut, Fralinger's saltwater taffy, the Premature Infant Exhibit where incubated babies are a catchpenny freak show.
Music on the merry-go-round starts up for another day. Her son points toward a glittering sign. A quarter horse stands on a platform flooded with white lights. "Steel Pier Water Circus." He takes her hand, pulling her toward the water tank.
She recognizes the hooded eyes when the helmet comes off. Unbound hair falling to the waist. When did her hair grow that long?
Thick muscled thighs, strong back. She's not seen so much of her daughter's body since bathing her in the tub as a child.
"The horse knows what to do," her son tells her. "He'll take care of her. Biggest problem is getting it to stay on the platform to build suspense."
She climbs from the tank and walks toward her with the tap-tap of a white cane.
Zena says, "Ma, stop crying."
"How high?" she asks her daughter, patting her own trembling lips with a crumpled handkerchief.
"That horse just got up there and jumped," he says to his sister.
"Forty feet, Ma. Forty feet."
Zena smiles at her brother. "He's my favorite." She waves to the crowd. "Ma, there's worse things than being blind."
The wind lifts her hair like wings.
About Iowa Writes
Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.
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Margot Demopoulos attended the 2008 Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Her work has appeared in Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac Review, The Briar Cliff Review, Mondo Greco, and other literary journals. She is currently working on a novel.
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