Jessica heard her young daughter crying from the other room. She stayed sprawled across her bed, the lights coming in through the red curtains made the room appear to glow. She missed the small wonder of it as she refused to open her eyes. Opening her eyes would force her to start a day she didn’t want to face. A day much like all the others from the past six years. Still lying quietly, she heard her daughter cry out again. “Mommy!” A long sigh slid between her lips, composed of the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. Rolling over, she squinted at the alarm clock. 6:30 a.m. squinted back at her, it’s slender lines mocking her poor eyesight. “Mommy!”

“Go back to sleep Katie. It’s too early to get up.” Her command was met with silence as her daughter laid down in her toddler bed. If Jessica had bothered to check on her baby girl, she would have seen a loneliness in the little girls’ eyes and a pout covering her lower face. But, she didn’t. Instead, she rolled on her back and closed her eyes again, going back to sleep. It wasn’t until an hour later at Katie’s continuous pleas that Jessica pulled herself out of bed and went to get the little girl.

“It’s too early to get up,” she said crossly to Katie as a morning greeting. “Well? Come on. Let’s go potty.” Frustration and exhaustion tinged her voice. Katie bounded out of her bed overjoyed that her limbs could move freely and ran past her mother to the bathroom. Jessica began straightening Katie’s bed.

“Mommy! I’m done now!” Katie called out, her legs swinging over the blue linoleum floor. Jessica dropped the pillow in place and walked to the bathroom. After doling out the four squares of allotted toilet paper and handing them to her daughter, she stood up and looked in the mirror. Her eyes had dark circles under them. Her skin was deeply tanned. Small wrinkles had grown larger over the last few years. Stress, she thought. I’m getting older too. She didn’t recognize the pull of too many forced smiles and too much sun.

Her bleached hair hung limp on the sides of her long angular face. She fluffed it, trying to infuse life into it. It fell in her eyes. Giving up, she grabbed a thick ponytail holder and pulled it back, pinning the long bangs back as well. She looked at Katie, who had dutifully got off the potty and started to put her clothes back on. Katie smiled up at her. “I’m hungwy mommy.”

“Hungry. It’s hungry, not hungwy. Say hungry.” She hated the little mispronunciations and poor enunciations that were characteristic of the typical three year- old. She worked diligently to make sure Katie’s speech was clear. It was a sign of intelligence. She wanted her little girl to be beautiful and intelligent.

Katie's dulled eyes looked at her. “Hungwy,” she responded with little thought.

“No. Hungrrrrrry,” Jessica responded. “Hungrrrrry. You have to growl a little, but just a little okay? Try it again.”

“Hungrry,” Katie said, brightened by the small triumph.

“Mmmm hmmmm. It’s time for breakfast. Go sit down. I’ll get you some cereal.” Jessica left Katie in the bathroom while she walked purposefully to the kitchen. If the day has to start, it may as well be productive, she told herself. Quickly, she pulled a pink bowl down from the cupboard and filled it with Cheerios and milk. Plain Cheerios. Never the fruity ones or any sugared cereals. Those weren't served at the Head start program and Jessica prided herself on saving money by bringing home the leftovers. She poured a small glass of apple juice and mixed in her daughter’s medication. “Here you go,” she said, setting the bowl and glass down without ceremony. Returning to the kitchen for something for herself, she sat at the table with  a well sugared grapefruit, a granola bar, and a glass of chocolate milk. Maybe she'd get a slice of toast if she was still hungry.

She looked at Katie. Her bowl was barely touched. “You better eat. We have a lot to do today.” Katie began eating, but eyed the grapefruit desirously. She knew better than to ask. She could have one when she could show her mother she could prepare it herself. Knives were off-limits. Still, the sugary fruit looked so good.

The End

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