A LIFE IN NUMBERS • by Emily Spreng Lowery

Seven years old: Two Barbies. Four hair bows.

Seventeen years old: One starry night. One hot backseat. One baby on the way. One plastic engagement ring. Hundreds of hushed conversations planning one perfect life.

Twenty-seven years old: Thousands of fights. One divorce. One confused nine-year-old. No job. No child support. Countless Barbies and scattered hair bows, which one mother lovingly picks up and puts away every night.

Thirty-seven years old: Another marriage. Another baby. One hundred decibels all the time. Four a.m. — the day begins. Eleven p.m. — momentary silence. More hair bows. More Barbies. One nineteen-year-old — still at home. One stepson — four tattoos, twelve piercings. One stepdaughter — four boyfriends, five hours on the phone each night — desperate not to end up stuck like her stepmother, who’s somehow eternally cheerful despite it all.

Forty-seven years old: Same marriage. No more babies. One weary twenty-nine-year-old, who — having finally moved out — had moved back in, with two grandchildren in tow. One recession. One stepson, who — having lost his job — moved back in also, with one stepgrandson every other weekend in tow. One stepdaughter rolls two eyes at the chaos whenever she stops by her former home. Three texts per visit sent to one of the four former boyfriends, who is now her husband. One text says she loves him. The second thanks him for providing normalcy to her life. The third suggests he pick up toasted ravioli and frozen custard for dinner. She puts away the phone. She sits across from her stepmom, who is paying bills at the kitchen table, and asks two questions — “How do you do it? How do you live like this?” Her stepmom smiles, pats her hand, and gives two answers — “You kids and your dad are my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Then the stepdaughter shakes her head, hops in her car, makes two left turns, one right turn and is home. She thanks her lucky stars she’s made better life choices. She eats dinner with her husband. They make love. Nine months later, a baby is born. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Twenty more reasons for one stepgrandma to count her blessings.

Emily Spreng Lowery received her MFA from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her work has appeared in Opium Magazine, Fiction Weekly, Cave Hollow Press’ Murder, Mystery, Madness and Mayhem anthologies, The Binnacle’s Ultra-Short Editions, Big Ugly Review, Red Wheelbarrow and Ladue News Magazine. She also received an honorable mention in the 2010 River Styx Schlafly MicroFiction contest.

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