The Blue Light Special

Dorothy Rice

My daughter-in-law posted a photo of my grandkids dressed in reindeer pajamas, lying on the flannel penguin sheets I bought for my son, their dad, one long ago winter in a Fort Wayne, Indiana Kmart. That trip was our first visit to my second husband’s family. We’d pawed over half-priced holiday merchandise and dined on the blue light special from the smeary glass case: two soggy sandwiches on white rolls, with fluorescent meat, American cheese and wilting lettuce. When they had announced the “special” on the loudspeaker—two sandwiches for a dollar—my ex said, “Sounds like lunch.” I wondered how long the sandwiches had been sizzling under the lights. But nobody got sick and we bought the penguin sheets. During that first trip to Indiana I found the photos in his wallet, a girl with moony brown eyes lifting her blouse, pressing her breasts together and staring into the camera like she knew him. “She was crazy, that’s all,” he said, when I asked why he kept them. Then later, back home, he said I shouldn’t name our daughter after my older sister like I’d always planned to, because that was his girlfriend’s name and I’d be pissed when I found out. So we plucked a name from a song playing on the car radio. It was another Kmart, the one near our house in Sacramento, where we found Frisbee in a cardboard box in the back of a station wagon in the parking lot. A couple kids were unloading puppies while their parents shopped. We took her home and she grew up barrel-chested and sweet—more Samoyed then Shepherd—with a coat so dense my ex shaved it in the hot Sacramento summers. I had five pink sweaters back then. But it was the blue knit pullover he liked, light blue with darker blue bands rimming the sleeves and hem. He once said I looked good in it. So I wore that sweater all the time, even after the yarn pilled and sagged. But all that was over 30 years ago. A different lifetime. We’ve been divorced forever. Good-natured Frisbee’s long gone. Maybe he’ll see our daughter at Christmas. He won’t touch the penguin sheets or the penguin figurines we collected, now lined up on the piano in my son’s family room for the grandkids to fondle, a new one chipped or missing with each passing year. In photographs from our years together, my hair is short and curly in front, long in back, a Midwest mullet. Dark liner circles my light pin-pricked eyes. I wonder if he ever really thought I was pretty in that blue Kmart sweater or if there was something he wanted that day, a washing machine, a gun cabinet, a new car, or maybe just the blue light special, two sandwiches for a buck, enough to feed the whole family.

Dorothy Rice has new work in Proximity Magazine, Jelly Fish Review, Split Lip Magazine and Literary Mama, among others. Her first book, The Reluctant Artist, a memoir/art book about her father (Joseph Rice 1918 – 2011) was published in 2015 by Shanti Arts, a small arts press. At 60, following a career in environmental protection, Dorothy earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside. You can find her at and @dorothyrowena.