Hanging in the Balance
By Deb Reeves
Acrylic and vinyl on canvas, 12″X24″
Painted using Lisa M. Reutzel’s story (below) as inspiration
Milkshake on a Sunday Afternoon
By Lisa Reutzel
Down at the Dairy Queen, Jake holds an unlit Camel and Eileen has her hand
in his back pocket while Eddie flicks a quarter into the juke box and Beth says
she has to go change her tampon and you take my hand and pull me toward the counter
and I order a chocolate malted and you get a burger and Mick Jagger sings Satisfaction.
You goin’ to the game, Eddie asks.
Naw, you say, as we pass by.
We sit in a booth in the corner and you take a straw from the wrapper and wad the paper
into a little ball and flick it across the table but I don’t put my hands up to make a goal
and so it lands in my hair and hangs there for a minute before tumbling to the seat.
Come on, you say, don’t be that way.
What way, I say, but you just shake your head and say,
You know what I mean.
The waitress brings our food and Beth comes out of the bathroom snapping her purse shut and Eileen takes her hand out of Jake’s pocket to examine her cuticles and you
stare down at the burger on your plate and peel the pickles off the top of the bun.
Girls do it all the time, you say. You know they do.
I know, I say and sip my malted and stare at the straw wrapper on the seat.
Ain’t no big deal.
Beth swats Eddie on the arm and tells him to pick another song and the girl behind the
register pops her gum and wipes the counter with a dirty rag and you take a bite of your burger and stare out the window at a rush of angry clouds above the theater across the street.
I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of it, you say.
Who’s making a big deal out of anything?
Aw, come on, you say, don’t be that way.
The next table over, a woman sits with two little kids, one boy and one girl, and the boy
licks a vanilla cone and the girl has a trail of chocolate dripping down her chin
and I stir a spoon through my malted while Eileen puts her hand back into Jake’s pocket
and Jim Morrison starts to sing Light My Fire and Beth smiles.
My sister had one, you know, you say.
Said it didn’t even hurt.
Said it wasn’t any big deal.
The matinee across the street lets out and people swarm like ants down the sidewalks and
a bolt of lightning cuts a clean arc across the darkening sky as Jake shoves the unlit
cigarette behind his ear and the girl behind the counter pops her gum.
You ain’t havin’ second thoughts are you, you ask.
Who’s havin’ second thoughts? Did I say I was havin’ second thoughts?
Aw, come on, now.
I sip my malted and think about my little brother who only has nine toes and wonder
if my baby has nine toes or ten or if it’s even big enough to have toes at all and Beth
digs through her purse for a tube of lipstick and you finish your burger and take a sip of
It’ll all be over by tomorrow, you say.
You’ll still be able to cheerlead next year. That’s something.
Yes, I say, that’s something.
Eddie comes over and leans his elbows on the table and takes one of your fries and drags
it through the ketchup and you swat his hand and the little boy at the next table over
drops his cone on the floor and starts to cry.
We’re goin’ down to the lake, Eddie says.
And you look at me and raise one eyebrow and I sip my malted and feel the cold ice cream drip down my throat.
What do you say?
I don’t know.
Aw, come on, don’t be that way. What do you say?
The mother wipes the ice cream and the dirt and the tears from the little boy’s face with
the hem of her shirt and Eddie swipes another french fry and you stare at me and wait
like everything from this day forward hangs on the very edge of whatever I say and finally I just shrug and say,
Okay, let’s just go.
And you smile and take my hand and I let you lead me out the door because
Tomorrow it will all be over.
By Deb Reeves
Acrylic on paper, 14.5″X30″
Inspiration Piece provided to Lisa Reutzel
By Lisa M. Reutzel
They’ve gathered at the train station in Dulcet, Utah to see Andrew off. There’s his mother with a basket of cookies and muffins clutched in her hands, his father playing nervously with his tie, his four little brothers in their scratchy Sunday attire, his two baby sisters in their patent leather shoes and best church dresses. And then there is his sweetheart, who stands slightly apart from the rest, clutching a little purse tight against her chest. The station is crowded. There are people heading into the city for a day of shopping and other families also dressed in their Sunday best even though it’s Saturday, come to see their missionaries off. There are other boys like Andrew, in their white shirts and ties with shiny name badges pinned above their hearts. There are other mothers with baskets of food and tears in their eyes, other fathers carrying their sons’ suitcases, other younger brothers and sisters anxious to get back home and change into their play clothes. There are other sweethearts stealing last glances at the beaus they will not see for two years, beaus on their way to Provo and then some exotic corner of the globe – England or Guatemala or Thailand or Florida – places the sweethearts have never been.
“Well, this is it,” Andrew says, standing close to his sweetheart, but not so close that they touch, because that is already forbidden.
“Yes,” his sweetheart says. “This is it. Are you nervous?”
“Not really,” Andrew says, but he looks nervous. “I’m off to do the Lord’s work. Heavenly Father will provide.”
The sweetheart nods, because this is what she has been taught her entire life as well, though she isn’t sure how she feels about it at the moment.
“Now, don’t forget to take your vitamins everyday,” Andrew’s mother says, reaching up to straighten his tie.
“Be diligent son,” Andrew’s father says. “Listen to your companion and read your scriptures everyday.”
“I will,” Andrew says.
“And don’t forget to send us stuff,” Mikey says, the words whistling through an empty spot where a tooth recently hung.
“I won’t forget, squirt,” Andrew says, tousling his youngest brother’s hair.
The train pulls into the station and the brakes heave a sigh. It is the sigh of a dozen mothers hugging their sons goodbye and trying not to cry, the sigh of a dozen proud but nervous fathers, the sigh of a dozen sweethearts trying to be brave, the sigh of countless children dreaming of the day when a train will come for them and whisk them off to someplace more exciting than Dulcet.
Andrew’s sweetheart glances around at the other sweethearts, girls who are also wearing modest knee-length dresses and sensible flats, girls with their hands clenched around purses or knotted tightly together to keep them from inadvertently reaching out to steal one last touch from the boys they think they love, girls with tears glistening in their wide, sad eyes. She wonders which ones will wait, which ones will return to this platform two years from today still wearing the promise rings on their fingers that the boys have given them. She wonders which ones will stay faithful and which ones will pen some version of the infamous “Dear John” letter and marry some other boy while their first loves are off serving the Lord. Most of all, she wonders which one she will be.
Andrew looks at his sweetheart one last time and there is something earnest and pleading in the squint of his eyes. “Don’t forget the promises we made,” he says.
“I won’t forget,” his sweetheart replies.
“You’ll wait for me, won’t you?” he asks.
His sweetheart nods. “I’ll wait.”
There is a flurry of hugging and crying then, and Andrew’s sweetheart steps back with the other sweethearts so that the families can say goodbye. She clutches her purse close to her side and watches her first love disappear up the steps and into the train with the other boys in white shirts and ties and new name badges. A moment later, she sees his face pressed against one of the glass windows, his eyes frantically searching for her in the crowd, and she waves and he smiles and waves back.
In three months, she will start classes at BYU. She will take Chemistry and Statistics and Intro. to Literature this semester. She will be called as president of the Relief Society in her single’s ward. In six months, she will meet Roger, who has just returned home from serving a mission in Kansas, not an exotic place at all, even to a girl from Dulcet. Roger is kind and tall and loves music and plays trombone in a jazz band and wants to be a teacher. She will write to Andrew and tell him all about Roger. She will tell him how sorry she is as she plans her wedding. She will tell him how she never meant for any of this to happen and Andrew will write back and assure her that it is okay, that it is all just part of the Lord’s plan, that Heavenly Father must have some other girl in mind for him, some girl out there just waiting for him to find her. When Andrew returns home from his mission, his sweetheart will not be at the train station to meet him. She will be at home instead, nursing her brand new baby, a tiny girl named Sophia, whom she loves more than she ever thought she could love anyone in the world.
But today, she stands on the platform at the train station with the other sweethearts, some who will wait and some who will not, waving as the train pulls away, dragging their girlhoods and their hearts along with it, heaving one final sigh as it slips out of sight.