Steve Rhode CC
Where to Begin
“It has not been every day this week,” Julie says to no one in particular, and no one responds. This is true, she knows, because she purposefully did not go to the hardware store on Wednesday. “Besides, I actually need twine and eye bolts today.” She tugs her long, brown bangs down over her right eye and crosses through the house, determined.
In the living room, Mamma watches her shows. She wears her usual tan polyester pants and button-up blouse. The buttons, once pearly white, shine with a distinct hue of tobacco stain, though she hasn’t smoked in three years. Still, a pack of menthols and a glass ash tray sit on the side table near her elbow. “Like sands through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives,” Macdonald Carey says on the TV, and Julie thinks, That’s no shit.
In the kitchen, Pops leans with one arm on the tabletop, a coffee mug snug against the palm of his hand. His other hand rests lightly in his lap. Steam does not rise from his cup. The coffee is long gone. For years he has worn the cardigan Julie gave him for Christmas when she was thirty. She wouldn’t let anyone forget it: I’m thirty, she said. Can you believe it? Thirty! The others may have rolled their eyes or said give it a rest, but Pops patted her head—she always liked it when someone touched her head—and he put that cardigan on as soon as he opened the box. Now, she’s going on thirty-five and still single, but when she mentions it no one rolls their eyes.
In the garage, Bobby’s legs protrude from under the old Chrysler. Making repairs after the accident is proving to be complicated, and he’s been at it quite a while. Serves him right, Julie thinks as she passes by.
She climbs in her little Dodge Dakota and hesitates to turn the key. The thought of doing this scares her. Not to mention, she doesn’t have time for it. But tomorrow she turns thirty-five, and she can’t bear the thought of Bobby being right about her. What does he know about growing old alone anyway? She looks in the rearview mirror to make sure her bangs are still in place.
Julie lingers in the fastener aisle, a favorite of hers. She finds it fascinating how many eye bolt options line the shelves. They vary in material, form, size, color, and threading, but they’ll all assist with vertical lift in a pulley system. If only someone could pull me up, she thinks. She runs her fingers over the packaging, considering possibilities, but mostly she waits for Don, the new hardware store employee she met on Monday.
It was the way he looked at her that did it. She was mussing aloud to herself about whether to buy several colors of electrical tape or to go with basic black, and she hadn’t seen him walk up beside her. When she finally pulled a package from the shelf, he said, “You’re right. It is better to have options. Besides, we all need a little color in our lives.” Startled, she turned to him. She was not prepared for the way he was looking at her. No one had locked eyes with her like that in a long time. He smiled and his face was soft and kind. She told herself he was just doing his job, but that didn’t stop the tingling in her scalp.
Now, as she waits for him, a couple wanders down the fastener aisle. A husband and wife, Julie figures. The man holds a list at arm’s length, squinting, and the woman bends down looking for something.
“Morning, Julie.” Don’s voice takes her by surprise. She’s been distracted by the couple, wondering what joint venture awaits them, thinking again of how her brother Bobby used to tease her that she’d be an old maid one day. That she’d still be single when she turned thirty-five if she didn’t change her ways.
“Looks like you could use some help.”
“Yes, well, no. I mean, I’ve come after some twine,” she says, tugging at her hair again.
“Twine’s a few aisles over.”
She knows. She’s spent some time here lately. She decides on quarter-inch stainless steel eye bolts, pulls a package from the shelf, and turns to him. “Which way?”
They walk slowly, shoulder to shoulder. “You have a project you’re working on?” She tells him she does, that she’s developing a lightweight pulley system for her family. He nods and makes eye contact and her scalp goes tingly again.
When they reach the twine, she asks his opinion regarding brands and weights though she already knows what she will buy. They go to the front of the store together and she chooses the longest check-out line. He tells her about the time he and a friend built a chair lift in science class. She thinks, He’s the kind of guy who lifts people up. When she reaches the counter, her items beep as the cashier slides them over the scanner, and she wishes she’d had more to buy so it would take longer. “Thanks for stopping in,” Don says. He locks eyes with her and smiles again before turning away.
I’ve missed my opportunity, she thinks half disappointed and half relieved. On her way out the door, though, she stops. No, I promised myself I would do this. She takes a deep breath and turns back into the store.
“Forget something?” Don calls out, walking toward her.
“Yeah, no, I mean, I was wondering, would you like to get a cup of coffee? Or something?” She wonders if her hair’s standing on end and smooths the long, thick strands down again.
A few minutes later, in the parking lot, she waits for her heart to slow and her hair to feel normal again. Then, she looks at herself in the rearview mirror. She’s noticed something different in her eyes since Monday when she felt Don looking into them. They seem more alive. Suddenly, surprising herself, she smiles.
Back in the garage, Julie kicks Bobby’s shoe and says, “Guess who has a date. Not an old maid!” She laughs and sticks her tongue out at him though he can’t see it.
She nearly skips through the house, swinging her bag of eye bolts and twine and making her way to the rest of her tools and the new shipment she left stacked in the hallway. She’s been planning this addition for a while, and it will be the most elaborate she’s attempted.
“We’re meeting at the bakery over on Clay street,” she says leaning back to poke her head in the bedroom off the hall. Kim sits in the rocking chair with baby Elise, her head tilted down in adoration. Julie and her sister-in-law had been close since the day they met, so naturally she’s excited to tell Kim that she made a breakfast date with Don. “I’m nervous,” Julie admits. “I don’t date. I don’t even know how.”
During college, the competition for high marks and quality recommendations in her department was tight. Julie spent her time in the graphic design studio or in front of her computer screen perfecting page layouts. She made no time for dating. Whenever Bobby teased her, she would say, “I’ll start dating to celebrate when I get my first design job.” But when she landed her dream job with Bunker and McClellan, she found out she still had a long way to go to prove herself if she wanted a promotion. By the time her position at Bunk and Mac was secure, everything changed and she put her dating plans on hold again.
A few hours later, she’s ready to test the pulleys in the hallway. This one she calls Henry and he’s a skater. Not a skater skater, a rollerblader, but she still thinks of him as a skater. He wears tight dark denim, a faded Vans tee, and an unzipped hoodie. When she stands at the far end of the hall and pulls, the twine slides effortlessly through the eye bolts and he comes to life, his arm swing and bipedal motion smooth as the rollerblades glide back and forth along the hardwood floor. “Henry!” she shouts, throwing her hands in the air, which of course causes his hands to drop to his sides. She laughs, pulls out her phone, and plays Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi,” bouncing up and down, running the pulley, singing along. Her voice echoes through the otherwise quiet house.
She plays the song on a loop and goes about her daily cleaning routine. As always, she starts in the room with Kim, chatting to pass the time. “I have no idea what to wear. I’ve never been on a morning date. Not that I’ve been on many at all. I don’t want to overdo it, you know.”
She runs her duster across Kim’s head and down her face, careful not to damage her eyelashes. She made that mistake once on Mamma and had a terrible time plucking the bent ones so they didn’t draw attention. Next, little Elise. Julie removes her blanket, shakes it out, and swaddles her again, before placing her back in the crook of Kim’s arm.
Julie makes her way around the house. She takes pride in remembering the details. She lifts Danielle’s hands to dust the piano keys beneath them, swipes a dust rag down the length of Graham’s video game controller cord, and turns the page in Nolan’s book. At first, this routine didn’t take much time, back when it was just Mamma and Pops, Bobby and Kim. But then the baby arrived. And then and then and then.
Still, she doesn’t rush. The plush monkey in Camille’s crib needs fluffing. Corbin, playing with pots and pans on the kitchen floor, always takes longer than she expects. Julie has thought about putting away some of the pots, or at least the lids, but she can’t bring herself to spoil the fun. When she finishes the cleaning, she adds a few white caps to the ocean in Mariah’s painting and rearranges Damon’s blocks to spell AUNTIE on the living room floor.
Three years ago, on the day she found out she would be an aunt, they were all in the Chrysler on their way back from dinner. Bobby and Kim had taken the whole family to the new steakhouse across town to share their news: They were pregnant! Bobby drove with one hand and sometimes his knee so he could talk with his hands. Kim, in the passenger seat beside him, occasionally reached over to take the wheel and guide them back to the center of their lane. Julie sat in the back with Mamma and Pops who were as excited as everyone else.
“Are you going to tell us? Boy or girl?” Mamma wanted to know. Pops shushed her and reached across Julie, who sat on the hump in the middle, to pat Mamma’s knee. “We’ll know soon enough,” he said.
Bobby turned the radio up, rolled his window down, and sang along at the top of his lungs, drumming his palms on the steering wheel. Everyone’s hair blew wildly around their heads and headlights from on-coming vehicles cast shadows like wraiths on the upholstery.
“Bobby, pay attention!” Julie leaned forward and hollered over the sounds of the wind and the radio and his wailing. “Traffic’s picking up.”
He turned to look at her over his shoulder. As he did, a pickup truck whizzed through a stop sign and bam. Julie’s head swam as they spun, tires and metal screeching. They slammed into the barricade and tipped, in slow motion it seemed, over the guard rail. Julie felt weightless for a fraction of a second, her hair floating in the air around her face. Bobby cranked helplessly on the wheel, Kim wrapped one arm over her head and one across her stomach, Mamma clawed at the seatback in front of her, and Pops pressed heavily into Julie’s side. Then the seatbelt cut into her thighs and everything sped up again. She screamed, and the sound was a flame in her throat. When they hit the ground, everything went black and silent.
Julie woke in the hospital hours later, but the others never did.
The bakery, bright and comfortable, turns out to be a great place for a date. They sit in the corner under the front window, sinking into overstuffed chairs as they talk across a small, round table. It’s just big enough to hold her muffin, his bagel, and two coffees. Julie doesn’t mention her birthday. She doesn’t want to think about growing older while her family never will.
The discussion turns from Don’s recent employment at the hardware store to his unsure plans for the future. “I like the work, and I’ve certainly enjoyed meeting some of the customers,” he says. Julie blushes and touches her hair. “But I also want to stay open to new opportunities.”
“One thing I’ve realized with my own family is how endless the possibilities are,” she says.
“How do you mean?”
“Before someone’s born you don’t know, you can’t know, what they’ll be interested in or what they’ll become. Anyone could do anything. Be anything.”
“What about you?”
Julie hadn’t thought of her own possibilities in a long time. After the crash, she too stopped living in many ways. With no remaining relatives, the house and all the life insurance payments went to her, so she was free to hole up at home and avoid her life. She resigned from Bunk and Mac, and now only does a few odd jobs that don’t require real-life interaction. She evaluates websites and takes surveys to make a little cash, which she uses to splurge on the nieces and nephews. A new scarf, baseball cap, boots. Or bigger items. She bought the piano that way. And the bedroom set for Elena, a typical teenager who spends all her time lying on the bed, feet in the air, glued to her phone. But what about her?
“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” she says and swirls the dark roast in her cup.
Don laughs lightly. “Maybe a science teacher?”
She looks at him, confused, and tugs those bangs down, careful to cover the scar along her eyebrow.
“I was just thinking of your pulley system. How did that turn out?”
“Oh, right! I made it for my nephew Henry. It actually works great.”
“Do you have a big family? It sounds like you’re a fun aunt.”
Julie opens her mouth, but no sound comes out. Not knowing what to say, she takes a drink. Her coffee has gone cold, but her throat burns and her eyes brim with tears. Finally, she says, “I do what I can for my family. How about you?”
“Only child,” he says, and Julie notes with wonder that he’s smiling.
They talk more about hobbies, where they went to school, where they’ve lived. Morning slips into afternoon.
When they finally leave the bakery, they stand outside. “I’d ask you to the movies,” Don says, “but I don’t even know what you watch.”
“Maybe sometime we could do lunch and talk about movies,” she says.
He suggests they meet the next afternoon for a late lunch at his favorite Italian restaurant, and Julie’s hair feels like it’s standing on end again. “Sounds great,” she says without thinking.
But back at home, all she can do is think. The day passed so quickly and she hasn’t even started the routine. Kim, Elise, Danielle, Graham. She’s not able to get through the rest that afternoon. Her schedule is all off. She stops to make dinner and then finishes up late.
Finally, Julie falls into bed. A few minutes later she realizes she forgot to fluff the monkey.
Her alarm buzzes early. Julie drags her feet over the edge of the bed and heads for Camille’s monkey. It lorded over her dreams in the night. She’s never skipped a step before, has always taken care of the details. Details matter, she thinks. Hands on the wheel. Ten and two. Nolan’s ten and Corbin’s two.
She fluffs the monkey, but instead of continuing from there, she starts over at the beginning. Kim, Elise, Danielle, and so on until her timer sounds. She has to shower now if she wants to be on time for lunch with Don. She hasn’t gotten to Henry yet, hasn’t adjusted his hoodie or spun his wheels. Rushing down the hall, she slows as she passes him. “I’m sorry,” she says. “Tonight. I promise.”
Dressing for a lunch date proves to be as challenging as dressing for breakfast, and Kim’s not offering any good suggestions. In the end, Julie settles on jeans. The ones with gems and sequins on the pockets. She’s seen women wear them for lunch dates in movies. Oh, no, the movies! she thinks and worries that she won’t know what to say when Don asks about her preferences. Or worse that they won’t like the same kinds. At least, she thinks, we both like Italian food. That’s a start.
Luigi’s serves family-style meals, which means the portions are enormous. Too big for a single person. “That’s one of the things I love about this place,” Don says. “It makes you feel like you’re at home.” For a few seconds, she pictures herself warming a microwave dinner and feels her stomach tilting, but then he suggests they share the chicken parmesan, Julie’s favorite, and the feeling those thoughts of the frozen dinner evoked subsides. When she asks if it’s all right to get cheese on their garlic bread, he says, “Is there any other way?”
Though it’s midday, the rich colors of the restaurant—burgundy fabric and cherry-stained wood—make it feel like evening, dim and cozy. A tea light flickering in the middle of the table plays off Don’s eyes, his teeth, the silverware in his hands.
“I don’t watch much T.V. anymore, but I do go to the movies,” Don says. He admits he loves a good chick flick. They’re both into historical dramas and documentaries. She needs a comedy featuring Saturday Night Live alum once in a while. He’s sure to catch all the superhero movies. She thinks at first about saying she watches them too. But then, instead, she pulls at her bangs and says what she really thinks. “In real life, heroes aren’t always there when you need them. And besides, I don’t like all the smashing.”
Their server brings out dessert. As he clears their dinner plates, Julie suddenly thinks of Pops sitting at the kitchen table, his coffee cup pressed against his hand. She realizes she hasn’t taken the time to sit and drink a cup of coffee with him since she went to the hardware store for eye bolts and twine.
“Are you okay,” Don asks. “You look a little flushed.”
“Yes, fine,” she says, pushing back from the table. “I just need to get going.” Her hands shake and she clasps them in her lap. She leans forward so her hair falls in her face.
They split the bill and walk outside. He stands close to her and says, “I was hoping maybe we could catch a movie.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I can’t.”
The coffee cup clatters in the sink. Julie flutters around the kitchen, making apologies. She dries the cup and sets it in front of Pops. She kisses the top of his head. Down the hallway, she tugs Henry’s sweatshirt back into place and adjusts the jeans on his hips. The problem with him being so mobile is that his clothes shift and fall out of place. She spins the wheels on his rollerblades and walks to the end of the hall to pull the twine for a few minutes, until her arm tires.
She makes the rounds, checking on everyone. She turns the page again for Nolan and sits with him, reading the new pages aloud, flipping the page once more. Her phone buzzes. It’s Don: I had a nice time today. Hope we can see each other again.
She holds the phone to her chest, focusing on her breathing, but she doesn’t reply. She promised Mariah she would help with highlights on her tree leaves.
Julie dabs white paint on the palette and dips a thin brush. She works at a few leaves, keeping in mind the light source. She’s never been good with highlight and shadow. Plus, her hand keeps shaking. The white glops off the brush onto the canvas. She tries to lift it up, to thin it out, to cover the mistake, but nothing works. She steps back to look at the damage. “Damn it,” she says, her eyes filling with tears of frustration.
She covers a card table in old newspaper, lays the canvas down, and opens a can of base paint. “Oh, I’ve ruined it,” she says. “I tried to do too much.” She rolls over the scene, wiping it clean.
With a box fan facing the canvas, it doesn’t take long for the new coat of paint to dry. She mixes a dark gray and layers in a rock foundation. While the rocks are drying, her phone rings. She answers. Don is concerned that he’s done something wrong or that something is wrong with her. “I hope the food was okay,” he says.
“It was,” she says. “Better than okay. And the company was great. I just have so much to take care of here at home.”
“When you get caught up there, maybe we can catch a movie.”
She wants to say, Yes! Yes, to the movies and dinner and more. But the shaking in her hands has traveled to her bottom lip and she’s afraid her voice will quake.
“Julie, you still with me?” Don asks.
She wishes she was with him right now. But she messed up the highlights and has to make it right. Finally, she says, “I can’t be away from home so much. I’m sorry.” And she is truly sorry that things aren’t different.
“If you aren’t free to leave, maybe I could come over some time?” Don asks.
There’s that tingling again, a rush during which she nearly says, Yes! Come over! The idea of them popping corn, shuffling a skillet on the stovetop burner together, sharing a bowl in the living room, brushing up against each other on the couch. The idea of them chopping salad and marinating meat, setting the table, smiling in the candlelight. But she also thinks of Mamma watching her shows in the living room and Pops in the kitchen, the whole house bursting with inactivity. Bringing someone home to move through her life feels impossible.
“I really am sorry,” she says.
Don texts to say good morning and to share when something funny happens at work: Janeece dominoed a shelf in the storeroom; Andy lit up in the bathroom setting off the fire alarm; Tammy announced a storewide moment of silence for her dead cat.
He calls to say goodnight.
His texts and calls become part of Julie’s routine. She takes her cell phone to bed with her, lying awake anticipating his call. On Thursday nights, he asks her to join him for dinner on Saturday. “No,” she says. No and no and no. “I’m sorry.” So sorry. On Thursday nights, she doesn’t sleep well.
One Thursday night, she doesn’t sleep at all. She lies awake, waiting. But Don never calls. She worries that she said something wrong, worries that he’s tired of hearing no, worries that there’s been an accident.
In the morning, her phone buzzes. A text from him: Hey, sorry. I fell asleep last night. Hope you slept well.
She wonders if he’ll ask her to dinner when he calls that night. He doesn’t. But it’s Friday, she reasons. He never asks on Friday, always Thursday.
The week is long. They text and talk, as usual, but she is unsettled, still waiting.
That Thursday night the phone rings. Her heart beats hard. Her scalp tingles. She has to learn to breathe before she can answer. When she does pick up, she doesn’t say hello. She says, “Yes. Dinner on Saturday.”
Her alarm rings early on Saturday. She is determined to make it a perfect day, attend to every detail, double check. And she does. Days of Our Lives isn’t on because it’s the weekend, but Mamma enjoys the Hallmark Channel. Pops has his coffee and Julie takes time to drink half a cup with him. She turns book pages, paints happy little trees, pulls twine. And all the rest. She texts Don to let him know she’s running a few minutes late but she’s on her way.
They meet at another Italian restaurant. This place has individual portions. She gets chicken parmesan and he orders shrimp scampi. They share. The talk is easy and thoughts of her family drift to the background. While they talk about favorite books and dream destinations, Julie finishes a second glass of Merlot. Her whole body feels warm and relaxed, and she wonders if it’s the wine or the company making her feel so comfortable. Maybe a bit of both.
“What else do you like?” he asks.
“Museums,” she says, realizing she hasn’t taken the time to go in years.
Don laughs and Julie worries that she’s said something wrong. “Uh, oh. Do you hate museums?”
“No, no. Not at all,” he says. “It’s just that the last time I went to a museum I left my wife.”
Julie’s face pales and her shoulders tense as the word wife bounces around her brain.
Don’s expression turns to concern as he looks at her. “Are you all right?”
She swallows hard and finally manages to say: “I didn’t realize you have a wife.”
“I’m so sorry! Ex-wife,” he says. “I’m divorced.”
“Oh. Now I’m the one who’s sorry,” Julie says.
“I’m not. Marci, my ex-wife, and I had different priorities, I guess you could say.”
“Have you ever seen a live art installation?”
Feeling a little off balance and trying to follow his train of thought, Julie says, “I don’t think so. What’s it like?”
“Well, for me it was life-changing.” He laughs again, and the tension in her shoulders dissipates.
“We were in Chicago and I went to MOMA. Marci didn’t go, she stayed at the hotel. So, I went by myself and I saw this artist watching TV on a loop.”
“Just watching TV,” Julie says, thinking of Mamma and Days of Our Lives and sand slipping through an hourglass.
“Sounds crazy, I know. She just sat there, but there was something about it, and I felt things inside me…shifting, I guess you could say.”
Yes, Julie thinks, shifting, like when you looked at me in the electrical tape aisle and I could tell you really saw me. “So seeing this artist, you realized how some people sit on the sideline and watch life go by?”
“Oh my gosh, yes! Yes! That’s what I was trying to tell Marci when I got back to the hotel.”
“She didn’t understand what you were saying?”
“It’s not that she didn’t understand. She didn’t even listen. She just sat on the bed reading a copy of Cosmo. Meanwhile, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet, my whole body buzzing, and I was trying to tell her, but she wasn’t listening, you know?”
I do know, Julie thinks. Don tilts his head and one corner of his mouth turns up. As she looks into his eyes, she gets that now-familiar tingly feeling.
“Finally, Marci put the magazine down. I thought she was going to say something. But instead, she grabbed the remote and started flipping through TV channels. Pretty ironic.” He stares down at the napkin near his empty plate and curls a corner of the cloth around his finger.
I know the feeling, she thinks, watching his face. What she senses in him is not quite anger, more like a mix of frustration and sadness. Maybe disappointment and longing. Or reluctant letting go. She can’t name it, but she knows the feeling well and her own mix of emotions rises to the surface and she wonders whether either of them will ever be free from what came before.
Then, when he looks at her, his face transforms and the little crinkles around his dark eyes are soft and sweet. She realizes she’s seeing the same thing in Don’s eyes that she’s been noticing in her own since the day they first met. It’s the look of someone living.
When they stand to go, her head swims delightfully and she steadies herself on the back of her chair. They both laugh, and he rests his arm around her shoulders. “I only had one glass. Let me drive you home,” he says. They agree he will drive her truck and take the bus home. He can pick up his car in the morning. During the drive, Julie leans back against the headrest, oddly content with this feeling of someone taking care of her for a change.
Don turns in the drive and pushes the garage door opener on the visor. The door slides up. Suddenly, the truck’s headlights reflect off a metal heap, maroon and gray. It looks a bit like a wad of paper you might try to shoot in the trash can. The old Chrysler. “Holy shit,” he gasps.
Julie’s eyes snap open. “Oh, hey, no need to pull in. You can just leave it here in the driveway.” From here, Bobby’s legs aren’t visible.
“It’s fine, I can park inside.” The truck bump bumps as he pulls into the open space on the right.
Julie’s head still swims, but it’s no longer delightful. She feels sick, and stupid. She silently curses herself. How could I have let this happen? I should have been more responsible. There’s no place for Don here. He doesn’t belong here. “I can walk you to the bus stop,” she says, fumbling with the door handle.
Don steps out of the truck and turns to the wreckage. He runs his hand along the collapsed roof, walking toward the front end. Julie trips as she crosses around the truck. She grabs hold of the hood and steps in front of Don, filling the space between the vehicles, blocking his path before he reaches the point where he’ll see Bobby’s legs sticking out from under the front end of the Chrysler.
“What happened here?”
“I guess I needed a hero. But there wasn’t one around.”
“I wish I were there,” he says.
“Yes, maybe things would be different if I’d known you then.” She steps toward him, intending to push him away, out the garage door and to the bus stop, but when her hand meets his chest, he covers it with his own.
He says, “Looks like it was serious.”
She stops pushing then. “It was,” she says. It is.
He sweeps the hair back from her face and tucks the strands behind her ear. She knows her scar must be visible, glaring under the overhead light, but she likes the feeling of his touch and his eyes stay with hers until she feels dizzy again and sways. “Are you all right?” he asks.
Julie pulls him around the backend of the truck, releases his arm, then rushes up the steps to the door. “If you just step back outside, I’ll shut the garage door from here,” she calls over her shoulder as she rattles the door handle.
“Your keys,” he says, holding them out and crossing to join her on the steps.
Her hand shakes and the keys clatter as she fumbles with the doorknob.
“Let me help you,” he says and reaches out to open the door.
The moment he steps into the front room, she becomes as still and lifeless as the others throughout the house. She doesn’t move or breathe. She imagines the next words to come from his mouth, fears his next move. Will he cry out in disbelief, laugh at her, run screaming from the house—out through the garage and trip over Bobby’s leg’s? No, no, no, she prays, silent and still.
Say something, Julie, she thinks. But what can she say? What can she do? Perhaps she’s done too much already. From where they stand, just inside the door, it’s apparent what she’s done: Mamma watches TV on the couch. Pops drinks coffee at the table. Nolan reads a book. Graham plays video games. Mariah paints a picture.
“My god,” Don says, the words barely audible.
“I can explain,” Julie says, and she’s determined to, though she doesn’t know where to begin. She scans the room. Down the hallway, Henry balances on his rollerblades, ready for someone to help him start moving. On the living room floor, Damon leans over his building blocks. And there’s Danielle, hands hovering over the piano keys, frozen but poised to play.
Jen Ippensen lives and writes in Norfolk, Nebraska. Her work can be found in Every Day Fiction, Midwestern Gothic, Collective Unrest, and Spelk among other places. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. You can find her at www.jenippensen.com or on Twitter @jippensen.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.