Surreptitious, Canary, Chamomile

Leesa Cross-Smith

We'd moved to Arizona because of my allergies. It wasn't working so far but I lied to Luke when he asked. And I lied to myself when I turned the air filter knob from three to one.

Luke's bright morning breath smelled like rust. I didn't mind it in my face.

“You should start to feel better. It's drier here,” he said from his side of the bed as if he were discovering gold—holding out a crinkled, thin pan of nubby nuggets. “It's the desert air.”


I didn't have any friends yet. I got so bored while he was at work painting houses, while the twins were at school, before the three of them came home in the afternoons smelling like their days.

Luke: coffee, paint, and sage.
The girls: fruit-scented erasers, crayons, and hand sanitizer.

Sometimes I'd stand at the kitchen window, take forever to do the dishes, watch the home-schooled brown boys swimming next door. They were all halfway through high school, as slim-Jim and long-legged as colts. Sometimes I'd take forever to water the Kool-Aid-colored geraniums and lantana—watch the woman across the street come out at the same time every morning in her visor and flowery garden gloves, her collared shirt and pale candy-heart-pink pleated shorts.


I wandered in the dry heat, went shopping. Bought a hat.

“It's good for the sun,” the man at the store told me. I had lived long enough and been married long enough to know that men were always telling women what they already knew. I nodded kindly and wouldn't let him give me a bag. I put the hat on before I left—the brim was so wide it made me feel like a mushroom.

I stopped for allergy medicine. Beer and a pair of new sunglasses too. I tore the tag off and put them on, pointed to the blackheart lenses.

“They're good for the sun,” I said to the cashier without smiling. That's what I always did when I was annoyed, passed it off to someone else. Like, tag you're it. Gave it away like it was the Cheese Touch.

I chased the antihistamine down my throat with a smooth river of so-light-it-was-basically-non-alcoholic beer I'd poured into an empty coffee cup. I sat in carpool and waited for my babies to come out of the school gym, to fill the back of the car with their secret language and giggle-bubbles.


Over oatmeal dinner, I told Luke I wanted to have another baby.

“If it's a boy let's name him Gunnar. Or Shotgun. Make this whole desert cowgirl thing a reality.” I blew off my finger guns and laughed, looked across the table at our twin second-graders named after twinkling jewels.

“I'm already jealous of the new baby,” one of them said.

“I'll hate him,” the other one said.

“Don't say that,” Luke and I said at the same time.

“Jinx!” the girls squealed.

We drove out in sunset-glory, got Jinx Coke Slushies for dessert.


I sat on the edge of our bed wearing nothing but a pair of lust-red suede wedges and my new hat. The air filter, a peaceful plastic monster in the corner, humming and humming. I was reading one of Luke's nature books, underlining the words I liked with a hideous yellow pen. Surreptitious. Canary. Chamomile. I meant it as an act of aggression. Rebellion. Claiming my territory, pissing on a bush. Luke never wrote in his books. I whispered the words to myself. Surreptitious. Canary. Chamomile. I loved how they made me tongue and lips and teeth, quietly tip-tapping.

“Hey, Brooke,” he said. He rarely said my name. Hearing it bloomed my heart, crept fresh yellow-green ivy up and around the bone cage protecting it.

“Hey, Luke,” I said as he closed the door. I'd already checked on our sleeping girls to make sure they were still breathing.

“Do you wanna stay out here or go back home?” he said. He seemed kind of sad. I didn't want him to be. Selfishly, I wanted to see him smile. Wanted to light the firecracker-swish of his happy face. The sex was always better when we were both in a good mood. I wanted to do this right. I wanted my Arizona Baby—to have him cowboy-swagger right out of me with a tiny gun on his hip. I was ovulating. Maybe that was why I was feeling so dizzy and lonesome.

“I'm naked and you're still asking questions,” I pouted.

“I'm sorry. I'm just worried about you,” he said. Cloying. I told him to stop. Told him he was giving me a headache. I shut him up by writing surreptitious, canary, chamomile in his mouth with my tongue. He pushed me back and I spread across the bed slowly. Like a flag unfurling on the Fourth of July. Like every damned army in the world was watching, standing to salute.

Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker and writer from Kentucky. Her debut short story collection, Every Kiss a War, was published by Mojave River Press (April 2014). Her work has appeared in places like Midwestern Gothic, Carve Magazine, Word Riot, Little Fiction and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. She and her husband run a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. Find more at