Tisha Reichle



Tisha Marie Reichle is a Chicana, Feminist, Reader, Writer, Teacher, Student, and former Rodeo Queen. Currently, she spends her weekdays engaging high school students with socially conscious literature. On weekends, she writes. Her stories have appeared in 34th Parallel, Inlandia Journal, Muse Literary Journal, and Santa Fe Writers Project. For the past 24 years, she has been living in Los Angeles and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. Originally from a trailer on a dirt road, she is working on a novel about a girl who loves horses more than people and the parents who are ruining her life. 



Christina Alone

            Christina arrived to AP Biology just as the tardy bell rang. She struggled to catch her breath. Was that flight of stairs always so tough? Luckily her lab partner, Nobu, had already secured the best station by the window and close to the board. Together they reviewed the procedures; Nobu, a recent immigrant, always depended on Christina to understand difficult vocabulary. In exchange, Nobu offered to do the dirty work because body parts made Christina queasy. Before Mrs. Hill took the frogs out of the formaldehyde, Christina felt light-headed and dizzy. She barely heard Nobu’s request to follow behind with the dissection tools they would need. As Christina slid off the stool, her legs would not hold her; she continued until the cold linoleum stopped her fall.

            “Christina?” a raspy woman’s voice beckoned her as if through water or a cloud.

            Trying to respond, Christina’s teeth felt fuzzy, her skin clammy. In the distance a familiar bell followed by an eruption of muffled cheers.

            “Christina, can you hear me?”

            Christina recognized Nurse Nancy talking and could just make out her gray hair pulled back into a tight bun. After a few seconds, Christina was aware of the cool surface under her legs, butt, and back.

            “Did you skip breakfast?” Not a hair strayed as the nurse hovered over Christina’s face. The kids joked that she must use glue.

            Christina tried to shake her head, but the back of it hurt. She had eaten but had thrown up afterwards.

            As if from a great distance, she heard Nobu’s voice explaining frog, stool, floor.

            A cool roughness soothed Christina’s forehead and eyelids. The damp washcloth smelled faintly of bleach and baby powder. Nurse Nancy’s warm fingers held Christina’s wrist up off the ground, checking her pulse rate.

            “Christina,” Nurse Nancy’s voice echoed in Christina’s head, like she was shouting through a megaphone right into Christina’s ear. “You have to eat breakfast every day. At least get a juice and yogurt or fruit from the cafeteria.” She made a note on her clipboard and scanned Christina’s ID on some bar code reader. “I programmed your card for one snack a day. Okay.” Then softly to someone else she said, “Help me get her into this chair so I can wheel her to my office and she can lie down.”

            With tremendous effort, Christina tried to shake her head again and say no, but her tongue was too fat in her mouth and the pain from her fall radiated through her skull. She had no choice but to let herself be treated like an invalid until she landed on the green canvas cot that reeked of sweaty teenagers and old dirt. All she wanted to do was sleep.

            “Christina, you had a bad fall. Those lab stools are kind of high and the linoleum wasn’t so soft.” Nurse Nancy chuckled as she took Christina’s temperature and muttered something about helmets. “You could have picked a softer place to faint.”

            Christina tried to respond, but her request for water was not audible. She tried to stand on her own.

            “Wait, let me help you. Got to be careful and not jostle that brain too much.” Nurse Nancy walked Christina over to a gray ladder-back chair that reminded her of Grandma’s sewing chair and handed her a cup of water. “Sip slowly.” Nurse looked at Christina’s chart again. A list of previous injuries from ninth grade: busted lip when Christina looked at some girl wrong, elbow sprain in practice, fractured toe from soccer barefoot at the beach, and the forged authorization to give her ibuprofen for cramps; Christina never missed her monthly dosage.

            A cookie appeared next to Christina’s now empty cup. She nibbled a tiny bit and could feel the crumbs scratching her throat. She swallowed hard.

            “Would you like a yogurt?”

            Christina nodded. That had to be easier than the dry cookie. Its sweetness still lingered in her mouth when Nurse brought the second cup of water and a generic vanilla yogurt.

            “You’re getting color back in your face at least,” Nurse observed after Christina finished four spoonfuls of the creaminess. “When was your last period?”

            “Biology?” Christina choked on the last sip of water.

            Nurse Nancy waited, trying to get Christina to look up or swallow so the coughs would stop. Christina could tell Nurse Nancy was confused by her answer.

            Nurse Nancy asked again, “Your last period? Are you okay?”

            Christina covered her mouth and looked down. The answer was obviously no.

            “Mom, friend, or boy?”

            Christina turned in her chair to lean one shoulder against the tall back and just stared at the textured putty wall. Overhead, the fluorescent lights growled disapprovingly. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply before she replied to the earlier question. “Six weeks ago.” It was the first admission of guilt to anyone other than her reflection. Tears welled up in her eyes.

            Nurse Nancy raised a brow before she put one hand on Christina’s available shoulder. “So it’s boy trouble.”

            Christina wiped her eyes and could barely whisper, “I can’t do this.” Then she pulled her legs up to her chest and covered her face with her hands. “I don’t want it,” she said a little louder, the echo of it staying in the cool white air.


             “Mom?” Christina walked past piles of clean sheets and towels she had left at the foot of the bed the weekend before, the weekend she missed her period, the weekend she stopped talking to Alex.

            Her mother, Esther, was still curled up on her side of that bed in the opposite corner. She was wearing the same dirty denim shirt her husband had last worn three months ago, before he went to work for the last time.

            As Christina approached, mom’s stale breath mixed with the lingering smoke and aftershave of her father made her want to forget about her appointment at the free clinic and snuggle in the space between her mother and the laundry so they could be sad together, so maybe her mom would tell Christina that it will all be okay.

            Instead, Christina kneeled on the rug by the bed and put her face as close to her mom’s as possible without touching the bed. “Mom-mom,” Christina said softly, hoping the pet name would rouse the maternal instinct that lay dormant in Esther. Christina needed her mom more than anything now.

            Esther half-opened one eye, smacked her tongue a little, and shifted her shoulder that Christina knew must be numb by now. But she had no conscious response.

            Christina reached out with one finger and repeated softly, “Mom-mom,” as she traced the one accessible eyebrow.

            Like fire had touched her face, Esther drew her torso away, gasping for air and flailing her legs about as if trying to run out of the bed. Clean and folded linens scattered all over the surrounding floor. As suddenly as the fit had started, it subsided, and Esther was asleep again.

            Once Christina recovered from the outburst, she suspiciously checked the night stand drawer, between the mattress and box spring, and under the pillow’s edge. No bottles or signs of chemical warfare. Just grief. And loss. And the remnants of love.

            Christina finally gave herself permission to be done mourning her father. She couldn’t end up like her mom. She couldn’t be a mom without her dad.

            Borrowing Esther’s ATM card, Christina muttered an apology then left without talking to her brother, Thomas, and began the long walk up and down the hilly streets surrounding her house. She had to walk on the asphalt where the tree roots reached up through the uneven sidewalk squares like gaping wounds. Would they cut her open like that to remove the growth inside?

            Part of the neighborhood had identical crew cut lawns and white rock paths to the front door, shiny and undisturbed by the passing of time. Not her block: an overturned trash can blocked her way; bikes across a driveway angered one guy late for his shift at Costco. Christina half-waved as he drug one and kicked the other out of his way. Next door, the three hyperactive kids she hated babysitting screamed and waved from their front window. Their pajamas were covered in colorful character prints mimicking the animated stories on the giant plasma behind them. She waved and just kept walking. Their mother couldn’t do that.

            “Christina!” Kelly, the nosy eighth grade girl from the end of the block yelled at her. “Dang, girl. I’ve been yelling at you for like half an hour.” Kelly jogged up to Christina’s face, her sweaty hair stuck to one cheek and the top of her ear in freakish angles that looked like horns gone askew.

            Kelly was the last person Christina wanted to see. Even though they lived in the same neighborhood all these years, Christina usually avoided Kelly and her gossip. What if my kid looks like this? Christina wondered. Kelly was fat and tried to hide it with fitted shirts layered on top of brightly-colored lace bras and tucked into jeans that squished her rolls out over the top of her thick leather belt. And she wore the same boots every day.

            “I heard,” Kelly took a deep breath, smacking her gum and putting one hand on her hip. She tried to wipe the sweat from her forehead with the other hand, but just made the horns point in a different direction. “I heard that you and Alex broke up. That true?” Kelly had to take extra long steps to keep up with Christina. And that made her even more out of breath.

            “Broke up?” Christina felt that same kick of acid inside herself that she’d felt the previous morning. “We didn’t break up –”

            “Ooh, then he’s in big trouble!” Kelly shook out hair and its musty scent assaulted Christina’s nose even more. “Because I saw –”

            Christina covered her mouth and nose, faking a burp. “No, Kelly. We didn’t break up because he isn’t my boyfriend. He’s not anything.” Christina stopped walking, and turned to face her little annoyance.

            Kelly looked deflated, like she wanted to be the one to crush her neighbor with some devastating news. “But I saw you kissing him. After the basketball game.”

            “So?” Christina remembered that kiss and how she thought it meant that he must really like her. But that was none of Kelly’s business, so she kept walking.

            “So you just kiss random guys all the time?” Kelly asked accusingly and crossed her arms over her chest like Esther would have done had she bothered to care about her daughter anymore.

            Christina wasn’t sure how to answer. What would she want her own child to know about casual relationships at that age?

            “Christina?” Kelly wasn’t going to leave without some explanation.

            “He doesn’t have a girlfriend and I don’t have a boyfriend, so we just hooked up. Just that night,” Christina explained. And again after the next game. And again at the Taylor Swift concert when she finally gave in and had sex with him in his sister’s car. Then he stopped calling her or replying to her messages. “That’s it. Not that it’s any of your business.”

            Kelly looked at Christina as if examining a lab specimen under a microscope. “Are you freaking kidding me?” She shouted. A Chihuahua in the window across the street yapped in response. “What are you? Some kind of slut?” Down the block, a Rottweiler echoed the outburst.

            Inside, Christina felt the burning of guilt or was it her mistake trying to shame her too. She just smiled at Kelly and shook her head. “Think what you want, but like I said, really none of your business.” Her head felt light as she pushed past Kelly who spun on her heel to follow Christina.

            “Christina,” Kelly grabbed at her arm, “that’s why all the girls hate you.”

            On the corner of the busy street, Christina stopped. “What girls?” But Christina knew. She’d tried to ignore the whispers and stares, tried to pretend she didn’t care what those girls thought of her. None of her teammates had said anything, and in class she’d been too focused to worry about the gossip.

            “On facebook. My friends are all talking about you and Alex.”

            Her friends. She knew Kelly wasn’t really friends with those girls. But because Kelly was a cheerleader for middle school football, she sometimes practiced with the high school cheer squad. She would know what those girls talked about.

            “I think Julie is jealous because she liked him and he didn’t want to make out with her,” Kelly confided, as if Christina were her ally.

            Maybe Kelly knew more than Christina, but it was more than Christina wanted to know. She shrugged. “I can’t worry about Julie and all them, Kelly. I’ve got other problems to deal with.” The light changed and Christina crossed alone.


            As Christina returned to her house with the money, she felt tired. Absently rubbing her concave abdomen, she considered keeping her baby, becoming a mom, and just living in this familiarity forever. Slowly, like the nausea from the last meal she ate, the sobs rose, and she couldn’t keep walking. She had to sit on the filthy curb next to a beer bottle. She looked up to stop the tears from falling down her cheeks where their tracks would be most visible; instead they went from the corners of her eyes to the curve of her ears, eventually absorbed by her hair.

            “Christina!” a voice scolded from behind her. “Where the hell did you go? And what are you doing on the ground?”

            She looked up and faked a smile for her brother, Thomas. Oakley blades covered the anger that had built up in his eyes since their dad died three months ago, since their mother forced him to become the adult. Christina noticed his blue and gold football T-shirt was getting too tight, the snarling Viking stretched across his pectoral muscles. Lifting weights and football was all he cared about.  “I was resting,” she said.

            “Resting? From what? You out running a marathon?”

            The thought horrified Christina as she imagined shaking her fetus to death. She hadn’t even been to softball practice for the past few weeks. She was afraid the activity would make her decisions before she was ready. First she told Coach she had the flu, then really bad cramps, then problems at home. Blaming her mom seemed easiest in the end. Esther would never come out to contradict Christina.

            Thomas walked over and offered his hand for Christina to get up. “We gotta go to the store.” He walked back towards his truck without looking at her.

            Just like that, Christina thought. No please help me get groceries. Just the expectation. The obligation. What could be worse? She just stood there, staring at the ground.

            “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to eat?”

            Eating was the last thing she wanted to do. Maybe she could starve this thing to death. “I do,” she lied, “but I can’t go now.” She was still hoping to get to the clinic before it closed at noon.

            “Why not?” Thomas looked at his watch. “I can’t go later; I have to go to practice.”

            “On Saturday?”

            “Yes, Christina. Sometimes we practice on Saturday.”

            “But it’s not even football season.” She was stalling. She knew Thomas was obsessed with his training and getting ready to decide about football scholarships to Cal Poly or San Diego State. He would leave the week after graduation either way. How would she get to school without him? How would she buy groceries? How could she raise a baby? She definitely had to get to the clinic.

            “And don’t you have softball practice this afternoon?”

            Christina squinted at him. If he knew about today, he must be talking to her teammate, Tiffany. If he knew she’d been skipping practice, he’d definitely start lecturing her.

            “Don’t look at me like that,” he squinted back, then kept walking away. “I don’t get all in your sex life.”

            Maybe you should, Christina thought, worried he’d heard about her and Alex the way Kelly had. But he’d say something if he knew, wouldn’t he? Part of her wanted him to ask, wanted his help deciding what to do. Would he remind her about college and her future? Would he try to stop her? To remind her they are Catholic and don’t do that sort of thing? Well, they were Catholic. Before her mother decided to mourn her dead husband. They hadn’t been to church since his funeral.


            When she got to the truck, Thomas had some new rap song playing too loudly and it vibrated the partially open passenger window. Christina knew she couldn’t tell him about her problem. He put the truck in reverse before she even closed the door. Thomas worked the clutch and accelerator with his black Nike hi-tops the way their dad had taught him as soon as he was old enough to reach the pedals. He never taught Christina. Would Thomas? But that was on the old truck. This truck had been off limits. It was their dad’s gift to himself for twenty years with the Los Angeles Fire Department, and when their mom refused to drive it, refused to leave the house, Thomas just took over. Even if he only had a learner’s permit.

            “This music sucks!” Christina yelled at him. “Dad would never –” then she just stopped.

            Thomas turned it down a little, sighing, obviously annoyed at something or someone other than Christina and asked, “Why were you talking to yourself in the bathroom this morning?”

            “What? You heard me?” Christina worried for a minute that something was trying to escape via her throat so she covered her mouth. Her other hand rested on her abdomen.

            “I heard noise. Were you singing again, Taylor wanna-be Swift?” Thomas started his falsetto imitation, “Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone, you’ll be my prince and I’ll be your princess, all we need is a white horse – ” Normally Christina would take the teasing and mock the drug use and gang life in Thomas’s preferred songs. But that song was the one playing when she and Alex left the concert, the one that let her think he really loved her.

            “Stop it!” Christina shrieked, punching her brother’s arm. “That’s not even how it goes.” And she started crying. “You’re such an asshole.”

            Thomas laughed. “Don’t be so sensitive.” Then he mumbled under his breath, “God I hate PMS.”

            Unable to stop the tears and sobs and anger that filled her fists, Christina hit Thomas again. Hard. Twice to emphasize each word. “Shut up!”

            “Hey!” Thomas swerved a little too close to a Big Blue Bus and had to hit the brakes. Hard.

            The jolt made Christina lurch forward and some of her breakfast lurched out at the same time. Even that didn’t stop her from crying. The tiny chunks of grey-brown spittle on the floor mat made her even more upset. Her dad would be so angry. The thought of his disapproval made Christina double over and pull her long thin legs up under her; her pregnancy would have disappointed him more than the barf. But he would have helped her figure out what to do.

            “What the fuck, Christina?” Thomas pulled over in the red zone before the light at Cloverfield and put the truck in park. “Get your goddammed feet off my seat and clean that shit up.” He reached across to the glove compartment in front of her and grabbed a pile of 7-11 napkins. “And you’re paying for my next car wash.”

            Christina didn’t budge. Couldn’t respond to his orders. She pressed her cheek against the cool window. She’d have to clean that, too. Makeup and salty tears would streak and stain Thomas’s clear view.

            “What the hell’s wrong with you anyway? You on your period or something?” He took off his sunglasses, wiping the sweat from his nose and forehead with the back of one hand; the other hand still had a death grip on the steering wheel.

            His accusation stopped Christina mid-sob and she lifted her head, looking her brother right in the eyes. Anger found its way into her throat again. “No.” She shook her head violently and stepped down into the napkin-covered vomit.

            Thomas groaned.

            Christina grabbed his wrist. “No period. At all.” 

            “Why are you acting all crazy then?”

            “Crazy?” Is that what pregnancy does to people? Christina tried to remember anyone she knew ever being pregnant, ever acting irrational.

            “Moody,” he added with an exaggerated pout then giant fake smile.

            “Moody?” She couldn’t keep it.

            Thomas put his blinker on and looked over his left shoulder.

            Christina grabbed her bag and jumped out of the truck.

            “What’re you doing?”

            “I need some air,” Christina growled back at him. She cleared her throat and reached for the mints she had left in the door. Then she slammed it. Thomas hated that. “Get the groceries yourself!”

            “Don’t blame me if you’re late to practice!” he warned.

            “Fuck you!” She yelled from halfway down the block. When she got to the stop sign, she realized she was too far from the clinic to get there before they closed. She slowed her pace and turned towards school. Maybe practice would make her feel normal again. At least now she didn’t have to be so careful about protecting what’s inside her.


            Christina hurried out of the locker room before the sweat and stale deodorant made her nauseated all over again. Several of her teammates were already warming up so she grabbed a ball and joined them.

            “Over here Chris,” Tiffany yelled. Until she hooked up with Thomas earlier that year, everyone assumed she was a lesbian.

            Christina jogged over, tossing a ground ball ahead of her. She was a little jealous how easily and quickly Tiff sidestepped, scooped up the ball, and returned it before Christina could get into position. She almost missed the toss, stumbled a bit, cursed at herself. She shouldn’t feel this out of shape after only three weeks. But the stress of her decision and not eating much made her weak. She was too nervous, worried about getting fat.

            “You need to stretch first?” Tiffany asked.

            Christina did, but shook her head no, wishing she’d brought some water. It was hotter than the last time she was out here. Too hot for March. The ocean breeze wasn’t wandering their way today.

            Tiffany stepped back a few feet and chatted with the other player near her, forcing Christina to throw a little harder, get the ball a little farther.

            Christina couldn’t hear what they were saying, only some murmurs over other girls’ chatter. Each throw sent sharp pains down her back; each series of steps left and right added to the ache in her legs; each short toss hurt her gut when she bent over to try scooping and running. But she ignored it all. Persisted because she had to.

            “Good to see you, Ramirez,” Coach said as she walked by Christina.

Christina smiled a little, feeling her teeth dry and tongue sticky with thirst. I should have at least brought a hat, she thought. That would make me a little cooler.

            Coach gathered them for the line up; they were preparing for a tournament in two weeks. By then, Christina would be back to normal. She accepted the bottle extended to her by a teammate, Nurse Nancy’s daughter. Forced a dry smile of thanks. But it was too late. She couldn’t keep her vision from blurring. She tasted red clay as she slumped down between her teammates, legs and cleats breaking her fall.

            The cool earth was not as hard as the linoleum in the science lab last week, but the side of her head and her shoulder hurt anyway.

            “Hey,” Christina tried to get up so the bodies hovering over her would know she was okay. They made a nice cool shady circle above her. She smiled and relaxed. “I’m okay,” she tried to say.

            “No you’re not,” the Nurse’s familiar voice argued. “Help me get her into the shade, Coach, then you and the girls can finish practice.”

            Christina tried to walk with them holding her arms, but her legs were wobbly under her weight. Her vision was still unclear and her mouth still painfully dry.

            After a box of juice from the emergency stash, Christina felt better sitting up. Nurse Nancy left her alone for a few minutes while she went to get supplies from her office. Good thing she’s here, Christina thought.

            From the crack in the locker room door, Christina could see Thomas’s cleated feet and dirty socks pacing back and forth. He was tossing the football from one hand to the other, smacking hard each time. Probably what he wanted to do to her. Surely he was angry because someone, probably Tiff, called him out of practice.

            He followed Nurse Nancy into the place he wouldn’t normally be allowed and no one was around to protest. He didn’t speak to her, but he looked more worried than angry.

            Nurse Nancy sat in the nearby chair holding Christina’s wrist and checking her pulse rate with an ancient Timex. She poked and pressed, examining Christina like she was that preserved reptile on the dissection tray waiting for Nobu to rescue it. That recollection caused Christina’s head to ache. The back of it. One concentrated spot. Dead center. How could she land on the same spot twice? “Ouch.”

            Nurse Nancy reached in her pack for instant ice and cracked it, shook it, then held it to Christina’s head. “Thomas, I’ll give you another one to take home.”

            He nodded, still maneuvering the football at chest level, like a magician preparing for a sleight of hand trick.

            From outside, bat met ball in a familiar crack; cheers followed. Christina closed her eyes and imagined she was out there instead of in here. But the sock and equipment smell nauseated her again. She turned away from Nurse and brother to expel all her juice on the cement floor nearby.

            Thomas stopped the ball movement and held it to his chest. Christina imagined him holding her baby like that. He would be more likely to than Alex. But there would be no baby.

            “You need fluids. Hydrate or it’s going to get worse.”

            “Nurse, she looks all pale,” Thomas said, like Christina couldn’t hear him, like she was some creature in a cage. He reached over to touch her forehead and she flinched back. “What?”

            “Don’t,” she croaked out, scared by the sound of her own raspy voice. Tears escaped her face and drew paths down her cheek.

            Nurse Nancy gave them each a bottle of water. “I’m going to check on practice and give you two a minute.”

            They watched her until the door was closed completely.

            “What the fuck, Christina?” Thomas asked, genuine concern in his voice.

            She couldn’t look at him. Couldn’t make her mouth say the words she’d practiced in the mirror.

            “Are you sick?”

            Christina nodded. “Sort of. But not for long.”

            “Is it the flu? Did Nurse give you a flu shot?”

            She shook her head which seemed to make the ice pack less effective. Her headache returned. She stopped shaking and looked Thomas in the face. “I won’t be sick anymore,” she took a deep breath and turned to face the wall, “after I go to the free clinic.”

            “The what? Why? The only girls who go there–” Thomas stopped and looked at Christina with his tilted head and palmed the ball at his side. His angry vein began to pulse. “Are you shitting me, Christina?” He stepped away from her and turned around to look at the door. Maybe he thought it would open and their mom would walk in to handle this crisis.

            Christina hoped their dad would walk in because that would mean he was never gone and she’d never have gone to Alex for comfort when Thomas retreated into his own rage and mom let sadness consume her.

            All Christina could say, barely squeaking it out, was, “I’m sorry.”

            “You’re sorry?” Thomas turned back around as the door opened and Nurse Nancy stepped back in the room.

            She squinted at them both, trying to understand what just happened.

            Christina looked up at her for help, support, whatever moms do when their daughters are in trouble. But Nurse Nancy wasn’t her mom. And Christina was definitely not ready to be one alone.

©The Acentos Review 2015