A Quality Of Loss
by Keren Ziv

"Is my mama here?"

Allison ignored the little girl following her around the grocery store parking lot, drawing closer to her the two children she was watching. She didn't have time for it today, not with Marie sick at home and the girls still lethargic after last week's cold.

"Is she?" the child tried again, her bob bouncing as she nodded her head to Allison and her lacy bib following a more sedate example half a second behind. "You know, don't you?"

Ariel looked right past the tatty-headed brunette talking, but Bridget wanted to linger. Apparently, Bridget had learned enough not to talk to people who weren't there, but she hadn't learned to ignore them yet. Her little red galoshes squeaked more and more sluggishly until she was almost stagnant. Something in Allison's heart slowed with those steps.

"Come on, Bridget, hurry up!" Ariel whinged, pulling on her mother's hands more urgently. "Mommy, tell her to hurry."

Allison phrased her words carefully; after all, she didn't want to discourage whatever her daughter was receiving, but neither did she want her daughter to obsess over the smallest little haunts that would crop up. Maybe, she mused, my daughters are lucky in that they don't have to go through it alone. It would have been even more lucky, though, if they had been passed over altogether.

"Bridget, honey," Allison said, getting on her knees and facing her middle child. Ariel crossed her arms and tapped her foot. "Sometimes we just have to go home and put away the groceries."

"But Mommy --"

"You heard her!" Ariel said. "Come on."

The little girl with the brown curls stood to the side, chewing on a strand of hair. Allison didn't have to look back to know that she would stand there and watch them until they had driven away -- perhaps would continue to watch long after the car had disappeared down the road. This had happened before.

"Mommy?" Bridget asked in a whisper as Allison opened the side door and began packing the bags in the car.


"One of these days, I'm going to help her find her mommy," Bridget said. "But don't tell Ariel, because she'll think I'm stupid."

"Oh, sweetie, don't worry about it. You have to learn to not pay attention to these things, okay?"

"But she's always asking. And sometimes after we put away the groceries, shouldn't we help little girls without their mommies?"

Sometimes, Allison wanted to say. Sometimes not, because it was impossible. This little girl in the parking lot was dressed like a child out of Our Gang, decades and decades too late for Allison to do anything. She grabbed her daughter in a bear hug and squeezed her tight.

"I love you, you know that? Because you're the sweetest little girl in the world."

"Oh, I know, Mommy," Bridget said. "I've always known."


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