Reserve Champion

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*Reserve Champion originally appeared in Puerto del Sol.

 

It was the eye of the deer that Delia saw first. A cold black button which was a fixed mark, looking into her sewing room window. Delia sat down in front of her Bernina and looked out the frame. Her neighbor, Chip Boe had come back from hunting all right. And what a straggly deer! Its coat was mangy looking, the rack broken. Chip must have come home in the night. Where was his license for? Up near the Big Horns? The Absarokas? Delia had forgotten. His wife, Carol Boe had prattled on, cigarette in hand, about how she and her daughter Margaret were going to have girl time while Chip was hunting.

“Mags and I are going to watch movies and do facials,” Carol had said over the fence. “Aren’t we, Mags?”

Margaret was five and probably didn’t even know what a facial was.  Her nose was running and she looked over at her mother from the seat of her three-wheeler. She continued to circle the patio with her trike. Her too-big pink helmet fell over her eyes. Her blonde hair was matted.

“It must be a regular girl’s night for you and Ivory over there,” Carol said looking over to where Delia’s daughter was playing.

“Yeah, well, with Ivory’s rehearsals and all, we get to bed early,” Delia said. “The weather sure is turning.”

“Yep. It’s getting cold all right.  Poor Mags. She loves that bike, and come the snow, she’s only got this patio here to ride on. I keep telling her she’s gonna wear a rut in the concrete.” Carol laughed her smoker’s laugh and lit up another cigarette. “It better stay warm enough for Chip to bring home the bacon. If it snows, he’ll just sit in a cabin with his buddies drinking beer.”

Now looking at the gutted deer, she thought Chip had brought home the bacon, but why had he hung it there? The Boe’s yard had a few straggly cottonwoods which in the summer blew a fine down into Delia’s yard. But Chip had hoisted the deer from the rafters over their covered patio, right above the track where Margaret rode her bike. The carcass dangled miserably close to Delia’s window. The deer hung by its back legs, its flanks spread wide. Was it a mule deer? It must be. They were in season. It was mid-October and already the ground was frozen.

The deer’s eyes were wide open. From its mouth, Delia could see a wedge of pink tongue. Delia’s eyes moved down to her machine. She began work on an embroidered piece of trim. She was sewing a kind of lederhosen for a doll. For a Dress-Doll-Competition. Her hands shook as she moved the foot of the machine down onto the fabric. The eye watched her. There were no drapes to close across the window. Delia needed the hard prairie light to sew.

 ***

When Ivory came home from school in the afternoon, she regarded the deer through the window. She chewed on an apple and looked to Delia.

“Why are they hanging it there? Ain’t they going to eat it?’

“Don’t say ain’t. They’re going to eat it all right. Chip’s just waiting to butcher. He’s tenderizing the meat. It’s freezing outside. It’ll be okay. Don’t look at it.”

“You can see its tongue. Look, Mama, it’s sticking out its tongue at you.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s frozen that way. It’s sticking out its tongue at Chip and Carol.”

Ivory and Delia watched through the fence as Margaret came outside. Her winter coat was wide open. On her feet were church shoes, black patent leather ones. Her nose was running and she held her hand up to mouth and coughed. Margaret had a chronic cough. She got onto her bike and began to circle the patio. Ignoring the deer, she looped and looped under the carcass.

“Ivory, you go practice the piano now. You got lessons at four. Then swimming after that. Pack your suit. We don’t have time to come home in between. You need a protein shake to tide you over?”

“Nah.” She headed to the piano. “You think Katelynn will like the new piece?” Ivory was ten and had played the piano since she was four. Her long brown hair hung down her thin back. Delia put her hair in curlers every night so each end hung like a helix next to Ivory’s bright face.

“She’ll love it.” Delia’s stomach turned and she looked down at her shaking hands. She went into her sewing room and closed the door. She looked around the room. Against the window was her machine. She rested her hands against a large table she used to cut patterns, stacks of fabrics sat folded like books on the edge of the table. Next to the table was her trophy case. It was stuffed with ribbons from the county and state fairs, contests and competitions – all from her handiwork. Reserve Champion. Reserve Champion. Reserve Champion. The pale pink rosettes made a garden in her case. Reserve Champion. It was better than 1st place all right, but not quite the best. It was a kind of purgatory of ribbons. People understood champion, they even understood 1st place. But Reserve Champion? All Delia could say was it was like 1st Runner Up in a beauty contest. Only it wasn’t – the Reserve Champion went on to the state fair as well. Just under slightly lower expectations. Only one trophy lay in the case. An ornate cup with a flat gold square pronouncing her achievement. Delia Chalk, The Lazarus Award, Natrona County High School, 30th Class Reunion. The Lazarus award. Last spring, plain as day, her reunion newsletter had come. And there she was, listed as dead in the newsletter. Deceased, 49, Chalk, Delia (Coffey). Deceased. She wasn’t dead. She called the school and her old class president, Joe Weeks. I am not dead, she kept saying to herself. I am Delia Chalk. I have two girls. Katelynn and Ivory. I make clothes. My girls are talented. One’s going to be a country star, the other can do anything – play the piano, tap dance, swim, paint, sew, ice skate (her head spun when she thought of all of the classes she drove Ivory to). I am not dead.

She had gone to the reunion in a green silk suit which had taken her two weeks to sew. Her frame was heavyset and she cut the skirt on the bias so as to look slimmer. She dyed her hair a toasted chestnut and dug through small bullet-shaped white lipsticks samples from Avon till she found one that made her lips look like cherries. When she checked in, Marla Stamps, who was now Marla Weeks, looked at Delia with surprise.

“Delia, we thought you were dead.”

“No, didn’t Joe tell you? I am alive and well. I even had another child since the last reunion! Ivory’s ten. My Katelynn’s almost twenty-five. She lives in Nashville now. Trying to make it in the music industry.” Delia combed through her purse for pictures of the girls. Marla smiled.

“Sounds good. Say, you’re going to have to make a nametag. We thought you were dead. All the rest here are printed.” Marla pointed to a neat row of printed tags.

Delia wrote her name in big block letters with a black marker. DELIA CHALK. Then she worried that people wouldn’t know who she was, so she took another tag. DELIA COFFEY Chalk. Her husband Walt Chalk had been dead for almost eleven years. Killed by a heart attack. He was chopping their winter firewood and had died in the forest.  A man died in a forest and no one was there to hear him.

The reunion was a wash and a full weekend to boot. Delia moved from group to group. All of them regarded her warmly. She was Delia. She was never class president, but secretary. Not prom queen, but she had been in charge of the decorations. She wasn’t unpopular, she had always been invited to things. Delia had been at parties. Gone to the dances. She had even made dresses for other girls in her class. But she wasn’t who people remembered when they thought back to high school. Marla was. Reserve Champion. Even Marla’s senior prom dress had been the deep purple of a champion ribbon.

Delia had stayed in Casper all her life. Through boom and bust.  She prided herself for living in the city and raising Ivory where there was culture. In Casper, there was community theatre, a mall (the largest in Wyoming), a community college, and the symphony. She was born out near Alcova and spent her first school years in a one room schoolhouse. She had got her hardship license when she was 15 and drove the hour into Casper every morning, determined to go to a real high school. But, at times, Casper seemed, well, so small to her. When in fact, for a small town , it spread wide across the prairie. From the lookout point on the mountain, Casper looked like a large black stain against the taupe plain.

It was at the awards ceremony the final night when Joe called Delia up to the podium.

“And this year’s Lazarus Award goes to Delia Coffey. Delia Coffey Chalk. We all thought she was dead. But it turns out she is alive and well. Why don’t you tell us what you’ve been doing, Delia?”

Delia smoothed down the taffeta dress she was wearing for the last night’s banquet. The black fabric had a pattern of swirls that looked like fingerprints. She moved to the podium and gripped the trophy. It was heavy. Looking at her was her remaining class. Their eyes fixed upon her. Delia’s mouth felt dry. Stop staring, she thought. Her hands shook.

“Well, I am indeed alive. I have two girls. One of them is going to be a country star…the other’s still in elementary school. Actually, I think we should spend a minute of silence for those in our class who have truly died. Pete Sims. Maewille Schwandt.” Delia bowed her head. Her classmates looked down to their banquet tables laden with tough chicken and sweating iced tea glasses. Delia was glad she had made them uncomfortable. She racked her brain for other dead class members. “I think we should all just thank the Lord that we are all here and alive. These thirty years sure have flown.” Delia moved down from the stage clutching the shiny cup. She would show them she was alive all right.

Yet now, leaning against the sewing table, she felt sick. She looked out the window. It was that the deer didn’t blink. Its cold look didn’t move. Snow fell down from the sky and Delia saw that that was why Chip had hung the deer from the patio. He didn’t want to deal with snow. The doll she was dressing lay on the table. Its head was full of golden curls, her lips lightly parted, eyes closed. Her eyes opened when you moved her from lying down to sitting up. Fraulein Gretchen thought Delia. She was making a whole German outfit for her. Right down to the petticoats. She had even knit little socks. When The National Bank of Wyoming had announced the competition weeks ago, Delia knew she would win. The contest was to dress a doll in some sort of international outfit. Walt years ago had been stationed in Germany. She’d seen enough to know that this contest was in the bag. Who else would win? Three weeks ago they’d all gone to the bank to pick up their dolls, and she saw her competition. She knew Patti Combers’ sewing. Sloppy. Jen Ruiz. Good, but she didn’t have the time Delia did. The bank manager handed each lady a doll.

“Here you go.” The manager had handed Delia a black doll.

“This is nice. But I think I need a white doll. One of those.” She pointed to Patti and Jen who were clutching dolls the color of putty.

“Well, hmmm. Are you sure you put that on your registration?”

Delia smiled. “I fill out registration forms all the time. I am regular at this sort of thing. I know I specified white.”

“Well, perhaps you can trade with Mrs. Gupta there. I think she wanted a darker doll.” The manager pointed at a small brown woman who was skulking at the back of the room. “She’s the new doctor’s wife. From IN-DIA,” she said slowly.

Delia turned the doll over in her hands. Its mechanism was broken; its wide eyes remained open. There was no way Delia was keeping this doll. Delia approached Mrs. Gupta, who held in her arms a naked white doll.

“Ms. Oates here says you might be interested in a trade?” Delia held out the black doll to the woman. Mrs. Gupta looked deep at Delia, her black eyes rimmed in kohl. She took the doll and handed Delia her own. Delia wondered if she could even speak English. She brought Gretchen home and began work. She had even fashioned a hat with a small feather in it.

Delia picked Gretchen up. Her eyes opened. The deer looked in from outside.

“Ivory!” Delia called. She couldn’t sew now. “Get your things. We’re leaving early. I’m just gonna go talk to the Boes first.” Delia gathered her purse and headed next door.

Margaret answered the door. The smell of smoke and heat moved onto Delia.

“Your mama here?”

Margaret nodded and closed the front door, leaving Delia on the stoop. Good God, thought Delia. Carol is such a bad mother. The smoking. She didn’t cook. She saw how often the Schwann’s truck stopped at the door. They often had loud parties and had a fire pit in their yard. When they had first moved in over ten years ago, they were a newly married couple. Delia had brought over food, offered to help Carol wallpaper. Now look at them. Margaret was always in a mish-mash of clothes, boys’ clothes, that Carol’s sister had given her.

“Hey there, Delia. What’s up?” Carol said as she opened the door.

“It’s the deer. I see Chip’s done all right.”

“Yeah, well, you know usually Chip takes it right in for processing. But it’s so cold and all. He thought he might do it himself this year. His brother Abe’s coming down from Afton to help. But he can’t come till the weekend.  Maybe Sunday. You and Ivory want some meat?”

“No. I don’t like game.” Delia looked to Ivory, who sat in the idling car, reading a book. It was Tuesday. “Listen, it makes Ivory nervous. She feels bad. You know, cartoons and all,” Delia lied.

“Sorry, Delia. We’ll butcher as soon as we can. Mags here hardly even notices it. She thinks it’s a new pet.” Carol looked past Delia to the car. “You tell Ivory that when Chip hunts, he’s real humane. One shot, maybe two. You sure I can’t send over some deer steaks? You like antelope? I think Abe might bring us some antelope.”

“Yeah, well, no. We don’t eat game.” A bitter taste rose in her throat as Delia went to the car. Delia thought about her own father, who hunted antelope every season. Delia had hated the taste of the meat. It was so sagey. You could tell the antelope had a diet of sagebrush. Her mother would make chili with the meat, trying to mask the taste of sage and the antelope’s adrenaline with tomatoes and kidney beans. But that taste of the prairie was in every bite. Delia felt herself start to gag. She spit into the snow.

***

By the second day, the deer’s eyes had started to cloud to an opaque shade, almost like a blind man. Delia hung a piece of fabric over the window and brought in a halogen lamp from the music room to sew to. Her spirits were lifted. Today she would take the doll to the bank, by tomorrow the Champion ribbon would be hers. Right after her class reunion had been the county fair, which Delia had entered. Technically, Ivory had entered, but Delia made the outfit. She sewed a suit – all out of wool that was  Wyoming raised (she had liked that touch). Ivory complained that no ten-year-olds wore suits. But Delia held firm. It was tasteful. Delia oversaw all the sewing projects for Ivory’s 4-H group, and in her group (The Baker’s Dozen) none of the girls were going to wear anything disrespectful. Suits, skirt and culottes. All respectable separates. When the prizes were announced, Delia was crushed. Ivory only got a first place ribbon. Although the sewing was good, Ivory flubbed in the interview as to how she made it, and even worse, had not done well in the fashion show. All the kids were made to model their outfits, and Ivory walked down the runway in a straight line, not smiling, looking miserable. Delia even got her a leather briefcase. She swung it like a machete. It was no wonder. Yes, August was a terrible month. But the bank was a chance in the winter to gain something back. Delia looked at Gretchen. Fraulein Gretchen.

She began ripping out the seams of Gretchen’s vest. On her sewing table were the cut out pieces of Ivory’s new skating dress. If only Ivory was better at things. She’s not at all like Katelynn, thought Delia. Katelynn was natural when it came to everything. Singing. Dancing. She was singing the national anthem at rodeos and monster truck shows before she was Ivory’s age. She’d now been in Nashville two years. She sang at bars and who knows where else.

The threads unraveled with ease. Delia squinted at the tiny stitches. She thought again to Katelynn. She closed her eyes.

Two weeks ago Ivory had called into her sewing room. “Mama!”

“Yes, baby?”

“Mama, Katelynn’s on the phone. She says she’s got news.”

Delia’s heart had pounded. Katelynn. Could this be it? She picked up her extension.

“Hey, Mama,” Katelynn’s voice echoed over the line. “Guess what, Mama – I’m getting married.”

“Married. To who? When?” Her hands had begun to shake. A bitter taste filled her mouth.

“Can I come to the wedding? Can I be a flower girl?” Ivory chimed in from the kitchen phone.

“Yes, of course you can, Ive. Mama, what do you mean, to whom – to Jerry. You remember Jerry. You met him. Jerry from the insurance office. And we’re not getting married right away. We haven’t set a date. We’re gonna wait, cause I want to look good in my wedding pictures. And you can’t look good pregnant,” Katelynn laughed into the phone.

Thinking now about her laugh, the lightness in her voice, the same sourness came up her throat. Delia spit on the floor and gripped the ripper. The piece of calico covering the window slipped down. The deer spun a little in the wind. Its eyes moved back and forth like it was nodding at her.

Delia had called for Ivory to hang up the phone. Ivory groaned and the kitchen extension had clicked.

“You’re pregnant? Katelynn. Why? What about your career?”

“I can still have a career. Mama, I am having twins. Boys. Due in March. You’re gonna be a grandma.”

“I already am a grandma. Or did you forget that?”

“No I didn’t.” Katelynn’s voice grew cold and clipped. “Look, Mama, I thought you’d be happy for me. I got to go. I got to get back to work.” The phone clicked dead.

“No. Katelynn. I am sorry. Of course I’m happy. Twins? Are there any other country stars with twins? You could write lullabies,” Delia had spoken to the dial tone.

Ivory slinked in out of nowhere and had stood in the doorframe. “Mama, are we going to the wedding? Will she get married in Nashville or here? Can I sing at the wedding? Am I going to be an aunt?”

“I don’t know anything, Baby. Your sister’s got a mind of her own,” Delia had replied. “You go now. Read. Go play with Margaret. Just go.” Ivory disappeared into the mouth of the house. Delia had sat with the phone in her lap for the next two hours.

And now Delia opened her eyes. She ripped and began sewing again with quick strokes. She had to take Gretchen to the bank. Delia picked the doll up. Her eyes looked at Delia, looked outside. The deer continued to nod. No, it seemed to say. Shame on you, its shaking head implied.

 ***

By the evening, Gretchen was propped up at the bank next to teller station #3. The bank was one of the few buildings downtown that seemed full of activity; the rest of the downtown had a deflated air that began when the mall opened on the East side of town in the 80’s. The atmosphere inside the bank was one of modern efficiency. A popcorn machine greeted bankers in the foyer, inside were tables full of brochures on everything from financing a college education to opening an IRA. The bank was all blues and white, it gave Delia the feeling of being at sea. The teller’s high desks formed a horseshoe around the floor. Delia thought Gretchen’s location was quite central. She had been the first to bring her doll into the bank. Patti and Jen had also brought their dolls soon after – a Hawaiian doll and English one. Both were weak compared to Gretchen. Patti looked at Delia’s doll and laughed.

“Delia. It looks like it’s snowing in the south on that doll.”

Delia laughed. “Her petticoats are supposed to show. Look I used the Serger to scallop the edge.” She lifted Gretchen’s skirt. But already Patti had turned away and was talking to Jen. The results would be posted tomorrow by noon. On Friday would be an awards ceremony in which the winner would not only get a prize but a hundred dollar savings bond. Delia thought she’d give the bond to Ivory, but now wondered if she should start a savings account for the new babies. Would Katelynn like that? Her head catalogued the fabric she kept in the basement. She could make christening outfits for both of them. Sailor suits. Real suits. She grew excited thinking about the possibilities.

The snow that had begun yesterday had tapered off. Corn snow. The flakes were big and icy. Delia set the dinner table and lit candles. She always cooked dinner and insisted that she and Ivory used cloth napkins and ate like ladies. Ivory put down the forks and put a spoon above the plates for dessert. Delia and Ivory ate every meal off fine bone china.

“Mama, you know at the fair, they have a table decorating category. You can set the table up real fancy.”

“I know. Maybe next year you can do that. I don’t think we should do sewing. You want to make jam? Though it might be too late to get crabapples… We should think about getting some sort of animal. A bunny? Maybe we could keep a chicken.”

Ivory looked out the dining room window.

“Look. Margaret’s hitting that deer.”

Delia looked out the window and squinted. It was already dark, but floodlights lit up the patio. Margaret held in her hands a large cottonwood branch. She was hitting the deer again and again. The frozen body moved back and forth. Delia walked out through the back door and up to the fence.

“Margaret. Why you hitting that thing? Stop it.”

Margaret stopped and looked at Delia. “It’s my piñata.” Her stick poked into the flanks. Ivory ran up behind Delia.

“It ain’t no piñata. You keep hitting it and guts and blood will come out,” Ivory shouted.

Delia looked at the girls. “No blood will come out. It’s frozen. It’s just not humane. It’s not nice, Margaret. It’s not what a lady does.” Close up, the deer’s eyes were milky. Delia averted her eyes to the Boes’ wrought iron picnic table that was littered with ashtrays.

Carol came out the back door. Her blond hair was in a messy ponytail. She wore a pink sweatsuit and was holding a cigarette.

“I was just telling Margaret here that it’s not lady-like to hit an animal,” Delia explained.

“Ah, Delia. It ain’t going to hurt it. Look at that coat. We ain’t keeping it. This poor guy looks like he had a hard life. I think Chip put him out of his misery!” Carol laughed.

The pitch in Delia’s voice rose. “But it’s not lady-like. Little ladies don’t hit things.” The deer rocked back and forth like a pendulum. The low chain link fence between them was cold to Delia’s touch as she gripped it.

Carol’s eyes squinted into Delia’s dark yard. “I don’t think you’re one to talk about the ways little ladies work.”

Delia let go of the fence. “It’s cold,” she mumbled. “Let’s go eat, Ivory.” She walked back into the house. From the outside, the dining table was illuminated by the candles. Delia turned back to Carol. “I’ve made stew tonight. You guys want some? Did you cook?”

“That’d be real nice, Delia.”

Carol turned to go back inside. Margaret took another swing.

***

When Katelynn got pregnant, she was 14. Walt had just died and Delia was distracted. Walt, who had been older than Delia, was supposed to work for years more. Delia had never had a job, she’d never gone to college. Delia went to work at a fabric shop and began her sewing business on the side. They had some savings, and Delia was ready to be prudent. If only she had a son. Her own father was an old fashioned man and was happy to leave her money, as long as she had a son.

Katelynn was wild that summer. She sang that national anthem regularly at little league games and went around singing at small rodeos and rodettos. She had a regular gig at the funeral home singing two hymns for fifty bucks a pop. Delia was happy Katelynn was earning her own money. Happy that her daughter had friends she could pal around with. And then by August she was three months pregnant. The father was a kid from Star Valley who was spending the summer in the big city of Casper, working for the park service and doing rodeo at night. He never knew he was a father.

For Delia, the decision to have the baby was never a question. The baby would be born. But Katelynn was still a child. Her life would be over with a new baby. Delia withdrew Katelynn from school and told the district she would home school. She arranged that the baby would be born in Denver. Katelynn was small and up until her seventh month didn’t look that pregnant, as long as she wore baggy clothes. Well into that fall, she still saw her friends and no one knew. Instead Delia told everyone she herself was pregnant. Told them it was a miracle. That Walt had left her with this gift. She was a big woman, and with all her extra fat, no one questioned her. She told her father he’d now have a grandson. Her mother worried that Delia, who was nearing forty, was too old to be having a baby. Delia laughed and sewed. She hoped no one really did the math.

When Katelynn neared eight months, Delia kept her close to the house. She told her this was for her career. Katelynn didn’t care. She watched satellite TV and talked on the phone, telling her friends she had mono. Delia drove Katelynn the 280 miles to Denver for routine check-ups. Ivory Alice Chalk was born in Denver at the beginning of March. Delia told friends that she and Katelynn had gone down to Denver to shop and the baby just came. And that was that.

 ***

The National Bank of Wyoming dominated the downtown of Casper. It was a squat structure built in the 1960’s. It sandwiched in-between solid buildings built during the second World War.  The masonry was brick and poking off the roof was an antennae-like clock which proclaimed the time and temperature. Delia maneuvered her van into a parking space outside and checked her reflection in the car mirror. Ivory sat sullen eating a granola bar in the passenger seat. Delia left the car running and Ivory sulking. Entering the bank, her thick glasses fogged at the warmth. She stood blinded for a moment. Taking her glasses off, she waved them in front of her, her eyes scanning to Gretchen. Her gaze stopped at the doll. A pale pink ribbon hung from her raised arm. Honorable Mention. Delia looked at the other dolls – the same pink ribbon hung from all of them. At the center of the bank, on a table on its own, by the deposit slips, stood the winning doll. Delia approached it.

JASMINE, said the name beneath the doll. I AM FROM INDIA! A sign beneath the doll proclaimed. Mrs. Gupta had wrapped Jasmine in a toga. Her black curly hair had been oiled down and smoothed back. Fake white flowers crowned her head. Mrs. Gupta had painted a red dot in the middle of black doll’s forehead. A purple ribbon hung pinned to the silk. The fabric was bright red and was woven with gold thread. Small peacocks danced across Jasmine’s shoulder. Delia lifted up the skirt. Jasmine was barefoot. Barefoot!

Ms. Oates sidled up next to Delia. “Isn’t she beautiful? So exotic.”

“She’s barefoot,” Delia replied.

“Oh, don’t you know. In India, they don’t wear shoes. They’re too poor.” Ms. Oates shook her head and pursed her lips as if she was saddened by this fact.

“But, I don’t think she sewed anything.” Delia began to touch the doll. Except for the little midriff top that Jasmine wore (belly exposed), there was no sewing.

“You didn’t win.” Ivory too sidled up to Delia. In her hand was the limp Honorable Mention ribbon from Gretchen’s arm.

“No, your mama didn’t win this one. The Indian dolly did.” Ms. Oates picked a piece of sugared granola oats off Ivory’s coat and pointed at Jasmine.

“Delia, this wasn’t a sewing competition. It was a dress-a-doll. You didn’t have to sew anything. But I sure like what you brought in. Reminds me of the Sound of Music. You know, when they run in the fields, on top of the mountain. You should have put a little guitar in her hand and named her Maria. That would’ve been a hoot.” Ms. Oates tidied a stack of errant deposit slips.

“Is there a second place?” Delia let go of Jasmine.

“Nah, just the one big one. But come to the bank tomorrow. We have some prizes for all of you.”

“Yes, thank you.” Delia looked at Gretchen, whose upraised hand made her seem as if she was saluting. She took the ribbon from Ivory’s hand and put it over Gretchen’s shoulder like a bag.

“You should have picked a better country. That wasn’t such a good choice,” said Ivory.

Bitterness filled her mouth. Delia gagged. She needed to go home.

 ***

Only the Boes ever knew that Katelynn was pregnant. Carol and Chip were newlyweds, they moved into the house next door in November. The house had been empty for almost a year, abandoned by an oilman’s family who hadn’t survived the bust. Carol was always coming over to ask Delia for things. Coffee. A hammer. Delia would always keep her in the living room, telling her that Katelynn had mono and was contagious. But one afternoon when Delia came back from the fabric store, clear as day, Katelynn and Carol sat at the kitchen table eating Christmas cookies and drinking Kool-Aid. Katelynn’s tummy strained from under her small All-State choir t-shirt.

“I see you’ve met Katelynn,” said Delia, putting down a sack of groceries.

“Yeah. Katelynn and I were just talking about her hair. I don’t know how she keeps it so long.” Katelynn’s hair had grown thick and glossy with the baby.

Katelynn looked down. Carol stood up and crumpled her napkin into a ball. “Well, I better be getting home. Chip’ll be home soon.”

Delia walked her to the door. “What are the odds? That we would both be pregnant? I only wish my husband was here to see this. The thing is,” Delia paused. “We can’t have two new babies. And Katelynn being so young and all. She’s giving hers up for adoption. We’re just not telling people this. Can you understand this?”

Carol looked at Delia in her quilted winter coat. On her lapel were a large poinsettia brooch and a smaller pin that proclaimed Jesus is the Reason, for the Season!

“Yeah, sure. I understand. Must be tough, though, for you. To give up your own grandchild.”

Delia’s face fell. “It is.”

And once Ivory was born, Katelynn seemed barely interested in the baby. She looked at her pink face and black eyes once Ivory was all wrapped up in a thin blanket then asked Delia to get her a Coke. When they came home, Delia herself began to feel as if she had given birth. Katelynn slid right back into life. By that summer, she was singing at rodeos again, but coming home by midnight. She told Delia as soon as she graduated from Natrona County High School, she would blow this popsicle stand. And that’s exactly what she did. Delia helped her pack her car. Ivory clutched onto to Delia’s leg and barely registered Katelynn’s absence. She moved to Denver, then onto Nashville. Delia had been happy to see her go. She hated being in the same room with both of them. She was glad to have Ivory to herself. To try again.

***

That night Delia sat in her sewing room with the lights off. She began to cry. The scraps of Gretchen’s dress sat in a neat pile on her table. She always did what was right. Wasn’t she right about Ivory? And now Katelynn was getting married and having another family. What about her dreams? She was going to make it, Delia knew it. She stared at her trophy case. Reserve Champion. The snow and moon outside illuminated the room. The trophy winked at her. Her gaze moved out the window. In the light, the deer looked like a cameo against the Boes’ house. A white silhouette against the onyx of night. Delia picked up a piece of Ivory’s skating skirt and blew her nose.

 ***

The ceremony at the bank was scheduled for ten o’clock. Delia took out the green suit she had worn to the reunion. A small mustard stain was next to the row of buttons. She scrubbed at it. Delia glimpsed outside. The snow was all melted. The day was well above freezing. That deer’s going to thaw, she thought. She went into her sewing room to take a better stare out the window. The deer was gone, only frayed ropes hung from the rafters. Guess somebody can’t wait till Sunday to butcher, she thought. Delia dressed.

At the bank, the ceremony was running late. Mrs. Gupta was nowhere to be found. Ms. Oates had set up a table of cookies and punch. She had tried to add a festive air to the bank. Looping like uddered teats in front of the teller stations was a twist of blue and white crepe paper. The heady scent of popcorn filled the air. Teller #3 kept an air freshener at her station. When Delia walked by Gretchen, she caught a whiff of something vaguely tropical. She suspected this might have given Jasmine the edge. The tellers looked bored. Delia made small talk with Patti and the other girls. Ivory stood at a tall desk, filling out deposit slips which she took from a large stack in front of her. Last week Delia told the school that Ivory had a doctor’s appointment as she wanted her there for the ceremony. Now Delia wished she had left her at home with a video.

“It is nice fabric on that Jasmine. But there’s no real workmanship. No sewing. I don’t think that should be allowed.” Delia sipped at her punch.

Patti, dressed head to toe in a tight velour track suit, crinkled her nose. “Gosh, Delia. It’s good that she won. She probably needed the money. India’s very poor.”

“Her husband’s a doctor,” she replied. Delia couldn’t believe the sympathy!

Half an hour later, Mrs. Gupta came into the bank with her husband who was a short man wearing a suit and looking stern. Mrs. Gupta was wearing her own version of Jasmine’s toga, with a pilled cardigan on top. Delia noted she was wearing sandals with socks underneath. Ms. Oates spoke loudly to the group. The few people depositing their paychecks or waiting for a loan officer looked over with mild interest then went back to their business.

“This year, it is my pleasure to award Meenu Gupta as the champion of the National Bank of Wyoming’s Dress-A-Doll Competition. This year, as many of you know, we had an international theme. Mrs. Gupta’s doll represents her native county of India, where her doll, Jasmine, is from.” Ms. Oates paused on the word India as if she was turning it over in her mouth like candy. “The bank would like to award you this savings bond for $100 and this trophy.”

A trophy! Delia’s eyes traveled to the cup. It was big with a golden doll affixed to the top like a lone bride on a wedding cake. Delia wanted to scream at the injustice. She should have kept the black doll. Maybe done Africa. That was poorer than India. Wasn’t it?

“Look mama, that trophy’s bigger than yours!” Ivory pinched Delia’s side. She held a half-filled cup of red punch and a fist of deposit slips.

“Shh!” said Delia.

Mrs. Gupta took the trophy and began to speak. Her accent was British and she spoke English perfectly well. “Thank you, Ms. Oates. It is a pleasure to get this. My husband Dr. Gupta and I are always happy to share things from our native land to yours. Jasmine’s sari is though not perhaps practical for Wyoming winters.” She paused. “We’d like to donate this savings bond. To the Lion’s Club. For the blind camp on Casper Mountain. Thank you.” She moved away from Ms. Oates.

Sari? Delia was sorry. That this woman had basically gift-wrapped a doll and won.

“I want one of those dresses Mama. Maybe I can sew something like that for the fair next year,” said Ivory.

“There ain’t no sewing in that,” Delia replied.

“Maybe Katelynn can wear something like that when she gets married.”

Delia took Ivory by the arm and headed for the door. In her other hand, she clutched her plastic bag of prizes. A bank Frisbee, a keychain, and a plastic coffee mug. She dropped them in the trash on her way out the door. Ivory shook off Delia’s grip the moment they moved outside.

“You’re hurting me.” She rubbed her upper arm with exaggerated motions.

Delia thought she didn’t begin to know what hurt was.

***

It was after lunch while Delia was cutting out the rest of the pattern for the ice skating dress that she saw Chip outside. He was on the lawn, knife in hand. The deer was skinned and the head cut off. The legs were cut off as well. The deer looked small and its flesh marbled against the browning lawn. Chip tied ropes to the leg stubs and tried to hang the deer from a low cottonwood branch. The pelt, which Chip had not cut carefully off the carcass, lay like scraps of fabric around the body. Delia felt sick. As sick as she had been when she was pregnant with Katelynn. When everything she ate tasted like fat and the smell of any meat made her vomit. Walt brought her cola and cold compresses. He told her she was beautiful. That she was his girl.

Delia thought about the doll again. The trophy. Of Katelynn and her new babies. Of being dead but really being alive. About the deer’s eyes. She put down her scissors. She wasn’t going to leave Gretchen in that bank one more minute.

It was near closing time when Delia arrived at the bank. Some of the tellers had already left. It was beginning to get dark. Delia walked with purpose through the front door. She saw Gretchen’s raised hand had been moved down to her side. She was standing on her honorable mention ribbon. The grey wool of her dress, the petticoats – she looked so dignified. She belonged there. Yet, there was something sneering in her expression, in her fixed face. Delia walked toward her and then turned past the row of dozen or so dolls. She veered to the center table where Jasmine stood. Delia kept walking and grabbed Jasmine. She meant at first to just take the ribbon, but the silk felt cool to her touch. She tightened her grip and squeezed. She stuffed the doll into her coat.

The black bubble behind which the ceiling cameras rolled watched Delia. Fixed ebony blisters. The hard unblinking stare. Delia moved through the glass doors of the lobby out into the winter air. It was warming up, it was well above freezing. Delia ran and as she did, the doll fell from her grasp. Where had she parked? The silk unfurled like a flag from her shaking hands. The doll dropped nearly naked into the snow. Its bright, clear eyes closed.

 

 

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About Author

Nina McConigley is the author of the story collection Cowboys and East Indians. She was born in Singapore and grew up in Wyoming. She has been awarded a work-study scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2005-2009, and received a full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. She was granted a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction at the 2010 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. In 2011, she was a Scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, Memorious, Slice Magazine, Asian American Literary Review, Puerto del Sol, and Forklift, Ohio.

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