How to Hum in Public Politely
Chelsea Hogue

After the mastectomy, my mother's breasts float in formaldehyde. She said it was important to remember her womanhood, so they made their way to the bookshelf of family pictures, in front of my dad's face.

Roberto's 19 and he's lost a leg and not really over it. We started taking baths together when my mother leaves, and I scrub his body, his legless hip, with a loofah. He sings songs about his phantom leg and I bop my foot up and down, seesawed over my other leg.
Roberto, I think we're going to get married.
Oohhhh, he continues with hollow croons.

After my mother left him, my dad wrote a novel in English and then used one of those Internet translators to get it into Japanese and then back to English. He had it self-published. It included a Polite Public Humming Manifesto. He told everyone that he first wrote it in Japanese but translated it for the American reader.

Roberto was adopted by our neighbors as a baby. We think Roberto is Mexican. He's dark-skinned and has dark hair, and they are all red-heads. The McMullens. When they're all together, Roberto silently screams, I'm adopted!

I decided that I needed to get famous and I've gotten close a few times. I was on television once. A Christian group was interviewing students about their faith and I let them ask me a few. They wanted to know if it was hard to be a teenager in today's sexed-up world and I told them how hard it was to not give in to temptation and then they asked me about the mercy of Jesus Christ and I told them a few things I knew about that. It felt good too. Like they must have just known that I was wholesome looking and I would be the one they should ask about that sort of thing. They screened the film at a mega church, to thousands of people, and they all saw my face. My dad wasn't there, but he called to let me know that he heard about it.

My mother's boyfriend, Oliver, looks like a half-interested bank teller. He comments on the elegance of a flat-chested woman.
I found myself outside when they were thinking of having sex and saw him through the window swirling his fingers over her breastless chest, just swirling and massaging non-existent nipples. Her blouse was draped between her elbows like a Miss America sash exposing her star-shaped stitches.
I waited out there until she unzipped his pants. His penis wasn't hard and it was laid across his linen trousers and I thought, now, that is something to tweet about.

Roberto asked me to go to the graveyard with him to go see his friend. We both cried over the molded stone and then spent the rest of the day making each other feel better. The next week we cried over another. Then another.
I'm glad you empathize with me, he said.
We're two secrets, me and you.
Roberto crutches everywhere so we can't hold hands, but leaving the graveyard would be the perfect moment to hold his hand. There will be an antiqued photo of a sepia graveyard, Roberto hobbling and I sashaying between headstones.
The two of us sat on the patio. I was filling up his glass of lemonade when I started in with little gunshot hiccups. The glasses were clanking like pool balls.
I have to tell you something, I said.
Ok, he said.
I'm pregnant with owls.
I kind of thought so.
I think I may get rid of them.
I kind of thought that, too.
I don't know though.
I put my fingers across my slightly swollen belly and looked up at him. A little wing rippled beneath taut skin.
I will help you, he said.
He put two hands beneath mine, across my stomach. He had hands like a statue.
It feels cool, he said. Another baby wing rippled.
I know, I said.

I saw Cindy Groom interviewing people at the Midnight Madness Shopping Spree and it was the second time that I got close to fame. I made eyes with her. I'd seen her the other evening on News Channel 12.
She was there and I felt secondhand fame because I saw her and smiled. And she smiled back, like she meant it, like she'd practiced it just for me because she knew I would be there. And I thought about how I was going to call my dad, who would call my grandmother, and tell her how I talked to that news anchor on the evening news.
It was later that night that Cindy Groom died.
In a fatal carjacking was how, if you're wondering. I don't know but let's say they drove up beside her van. I imagine they pulled her by her blond hair to the floor. Got a peek at her breasts and probably said some really lewd things while making kissing noises to one another. And I knew where they would drive to some dingy apartment complex with her and her wimpy cameraman, some art major at some artsy school. And that was probably the last thing she saw, molded carpet and bad teeth. And her colleagues would want to do a special. And they would want to interview the last who'd seen her. The last encounters. Her parting impressions and acts of kindness. Me.

Last week my dad started building a bird's nest in his attic. He said he thought it was conducive to families and he wanted to see my mother come back to him. Inside, he tacked up a poem that my mother had written while they dated:
Beneath my dress lies a sweet, hot forest.
That's how I remember him. Knee deep in twigs and dryer lint, hands outstretched toward me, not recognizing anyone.

We started bringing picnics to the graveyard and I brought peaches for Roberto. I knew they were his favorite. He kept the stringy pits in his room and made tinfoil hats for them. It was like having children or a dog together. Little products of our love.

I overheard my mother on the phone with my aunt. She was planning how she would tell me she was pregnant with my new brother. Oliver was going to make gnocchi and we would talk about it over dinner.
I've been anticipating this famous dish of yours, I said.
The milk slid from my hands onto the floor and I stood there shocked. I was wearing rag socks and the milk chugged out of the carton and around my feet.
Don't just stand there! Do something!
So I stepped out of the growing white and took my off my socks.
Mmmm. . . mmmm, Oliver hummed as he ladled my portion onto my plate. He was wearing an apron with a bikini on it.