Bottle-and-Daughter Swap

Father never spanks but sometimes threatens to return me.

"I may just have to trade you in at the Bottle-and-Daughter Swap," he says, after dinner. He'll lick the last bit of ice cream from his dish while I sit across from him without dessert. Because I didn't eat my corn or my peas or my brussel sprouts.

He tells me that on Saturday afternoons when you return your bottles to the store, you can also return bad daughters. You can choose a new daughter and your favorite six-pack of soda from the selection out front.

He is always telling me about things that might happen. Like because I love waffles so much, one day he'll come home and I'll have turned into one.

"There on that chair cushion will be a waffle instead of my daughter," he says. He shakes his head and chews on a yard stem picked off his shirt. His face looks sad as if I'm already changed over.

Or how when I was first born I was so tiny he carried me around in his shirt pocket. This one I can imagine better than the waffle.

When he brings up the bottle swap, I think I'm safe. I never do anything bad enough to be turned in for another daughter. Still it is true that I hate peas and one time hid them in the phone book next to the table and I think they're still there. And yesterday Timmy Jones and I took off all our clothes in his tree house.

I imagine the stacks of six-packs in front of our market 7 Up, Pepsi, Nesbitt's green, brown, orange, the long-necked bottles with their tiny metal hats. In between I can see the place I'd have to stand. Alongside the other little daughters perfectly still in plaid jumpers and uneven braids. All of us trying to look pretty for the taking, knees jiggling. To my left and to my right, I'd hear their tiny hopeful chant, "I'll be good. I'll be good this time."

About the author:

Martha Clarkson is a poet and fiction writer, originally from Oregon and now receiving mail in Kirkland, Washington. The fruits of her labors have appeared in Monkeybicycle, Literary Salt, and forthcoming in descant and Nimrod. She was never traded in for soda bottles as a child.