me at 13
Paper Girl
by Leah Mueller

Delivering newspapers
from my three-speed bicycle,
I could pitch a perfect
arc from sidewalk
to front porch. The thick,
folded wad always skidded
to a halt, just before the
doorstop. Housewives waved to me
cheerily from thresholds,
offered me warm soda
and chatted about trivialities
while babies hung from their hips
like drooling barnacles.

On Saturdays, I collected
the subscription money.
I skulked door to door,
pounded on the glass,
and stared inside warm houses
as other, luckier children
sat cross-legged on the carpet,
watching The Monkees
and gobbling cereal.
The mothers were less friendly then:
they told me to come back
in a couple of hours,
then refused to answer my knock
when I returned.

One afternoon, as I tried
to ride my bike no-handed
with a bag full of newspapers,
the front tire twisted
in the gravel. I toppled
from my bicycle, plummeted
to the asphalt. The pedal
ripped a deep gash
in my exposed left thigh,
and I lay on the cement,
head spinning, newspapers beside me
in a fluttering heap.

I rose to my feet, looked down
in detached wonderment
at the sudden tear in my leg, noted
the surprising lack of blood.
A tiny, dark trickle
ran down my kneecap,
but I covered it with my skirt:
carefully, like a spelling error.

It seemed logical
for me to deliver
the rest of the papers
to the other houses
on the block, before knocking
on my mother’s friend’s door
to lament my injury.
Several customers waved
to me from their porches
and I waved back.
I felt very responsible.

While I languished at the hospital,
a customer on the next street
called my house, to complain
that he hadn’t received his paper.
My mother told him
to go to hell. I received
a dozen stitches, and the man
never read the news that day.

He didn’t miss anything.
It was 1972, and Nixon
would be re-elected by a landslide.
I delivered papers for
a few more months,
clutching the handlebars
carefully in both fists
as I waited for my injury to heal.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, Summer 1972, age 13.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have had many crappy jobs, but I think the stage was set when I accepted employment as a newspaper  delivery girl for the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette.  It was an afternoon paper, which meant I could deliver it as soon as I returned from school.  The work was grueling, and I grossed about ten bucks a week.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, Queen of Dorksville  (Crisis Chronicles Press) and Political Apnea (Locofo Chaps) and two books, Allergic to Everything and The Underside of the Snake. Her work has been published in Blunderbuss, Memoryhouse, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Origins Journal, Silver Birch Press, Cultured Vultures, Quail Bell, and many anthologies. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.