My go-to purse was a small, rigid box with a clam shell lid held closed with a tuck lock clasp. Its exterior a textured, burnt orange vinyl you might find covering a recliner at an elderly person’s house, next to a side table accented with a bowl of hard candies. The design of this thing exhibited more an exercise in upholstery than fashion. Sturdy and lovely. Lined with green felt, like a pool table. Without regular grown-up things, like a wallet, car keys, or tampons, I stocked the purse with colored pencils, a comb, playing cards, bookmarks, whatever fit. I carried it with me on errands with my mom, to friends’ houses, outside to play. I set it on the sidewalk while I played freeze tag. I wrapped the short strap around my hand as I roller skated on our driveway. I let it swing from my wrist as I journeyed through the woods behind our house to buy Now and Laters at the ballpark concession stand. Your purse. Where did you get it? I read their curiosity. I felt their envy. From my dad. One of his friends lives in a jail and made it. I was likely the only second-grader at the Methodist church to own a purse crafted by an inmate. My mother would insert That. If I still had That Purse, I would use it every day. I’d fill it with notepaper, a small book, spearmint gum. Maybe a cell phone. I would stash dry erase markers, coins for the drink machine, a spare pen or two for forgetful students. I’d place the purse beside the lectern. Visible to all. I’ll bet she bought it on Etsy, they would say. Perhaps with an eye roll. I suspect my dad’s friend who lived in a jail wasn’t a friend at all. Likely a cousin.
Amy Cates is a full-time instructor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She writes creative nonfiction and is currently working on a collection of micro-memoirs and flash nonfiction. In her previous life as a professional writer, she earned awards from the Associated Press, Alabama Press Association, and other organizations.