Emily Vogel

Two Hundred Pumpkins

This morning, at 5 am, my daughter wakes up beside me and leaps onto my head. In my stupor
of sleep, I tell her to go back to bed. The room is dark, still a kind of outer-space in the abeyant lapse of quiet prior to a late October dawn. “Diddly-dee!” She cries and takes a dive bomb back onto my head.

Later in the morning, I dress her in a knitted dress and take her to the dentist. On the way, there are three elderly people crossing the street. I slow to a stop and let them cross, and then just afterward there is a man pushing a baby in a stroller and a blind man crossing at the next intersection. I think we’re going to be late and inhale. I forget to exhale. I begin to wonder in a sinister way if the blind man is faking in order to get extra disability benefits, and if the man pushing the baby in the stroller is a kidnapper. At the next intersection, an enormous produce truck makes an illegal left turn on a red light and cuts in front me, then moves up the hill at 10 miles per hour. “We’re going to be late,” I think.

My birthday is this weekend and I will be thirty-nine years old. I’ve gained weight, and I suspect that it isn’t my diet, but that I must be pregnant. The birth control must have failed itself. I take a pregnancy test, all the time thinking about vans, additions on the house, and college funding. I think about knitted hats, the sweet stench of a baby’s skin, and little fingers, and distressed trips to the maternity ward at one in the morning, after having eaten Indian food and worrying all night about whether my husband is having an affair with his student. The test is negative and I’m both grateful and disappointed.

When the dentist comes in and examines us, she tells me I have a broken wisdom tooth, and my daughter, not yet three years old, has three cavities. I ask her what dentists normally do when toddlers have cavities. She says, “general anesthesia,” or “laughing gas” if she isn’t too uncooperative.

I become the world, sinking beneath itself. While she’s talking, my daughter is screaming, and the air becomes a buzz around us. I can barely hear her muted voice. I’m watching her lips moving.

“Aren’t there risks associated with that?” I ask; “I mean what would happen if she didn’t wake up?”

“Well,” the dentist says, shifting her weight, “there are always risks, but the benefits outweigh them.” She gives my daughter the little hand mirror she used to examine her teeth, and lets her play with it. I want to tell her it was a misdiagnosis—to check more carefully.

My husband has been building things lately—coat racks and shelves, shrines to the Virgin Mary. We live the waltz of daylight to dusk like moons circling Jupiter. The house is a friendly chaos of socks, drills and screws, hamburgers, and the treble pianos of Sesame Street on the TV.

The hygienist brushes my daughter’s teeth. She kicks and screams the whole time. I don’t want
my daughter put to sleep, and I don’t want her teeth to rot out of her face. She is immediately
the trembling damsel walking the pirate’s plank.

When we leave the dentist’s, there is a large woman toting an oxygen tank in the way of the door. I resist the urge to light up a cigarette when we finally move past her. I’m trying to quit and feeling relatively misanthropic. I’ve been listing my grievances in my head because of the deprivation from nicotine.

On the way, while we are driving, I am waiting at a red light for a good five minutes. I decide the traffic light has malfunctioned, and eventually drive right through it, crying the entire way to the grocery store, where my daughter and I are going to buy shrimp and rice to cook for dinner.

I’m hungry and feeling fat. My daughter doesn’t always follow instructions at pre-school. She talks to invisible fairies and does not talk to me. It’s late October, and I’m grateful it hasn’t yet begun to snow this year. The dead leaves blow wild in the wind. There are also at least two hundred pumpkins on sale outside of the grocery store. They look like an economy and they look like a childhood. They look like a culture too distracted for pumpkins. They look festive like doorsteps.

I lift my daughter out of the car and strap her into the cart. I tell her we can’t buy ice cream, because the sugar will rot her teeth. Today, we buy sugar-free popsicles instead.

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About the Author

Emily Vogel’s poetry, reviews, essays, and translations have most recently been published in Omniverse, The North American Review, Salt Hill Journal, Main St. Rag, The Paterson Literary Review, Lips, City Lit Rag, Luna Luna, Maggy, Lyre Lyre, The Comstock Review, The Broome Review, Tiferet, The San Pedro River Review, 2 Bridges Review, and PEN, among several others. She is the author of five chapbooks, and a full-length collection, The Philosopher’s Wife, published in 2011 by Chester River Press; a collaborative book of poetry, West of Home, with her husband, Joe Weil (Blast Press); First Words (NYQ Books); and recently, Dante’s Unintended Flight (NYQ Books). She has also been published is recent anthologies such as Alongside We Travel (on topics related to autism, NYQ Books), The Misrepresented People Anthology (responses to Trump’s presidency, NYQ Books), and Fiolet and Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulism (Poet’s Press). She is the recipient of The Academy of American Poet’s Prize (Binghamton University, 2008). She has a collection of poetry due to be released soon entitled The House That Wailed (NYQ). She teaches writing at SUNY Oneonta.