My wife’s uncle lived in a county known for exporting glass, colored sand, and lung disease. When I said the time had come to export her uncle Clarence to a place where professionals could tend him, Misty threw a bronze statue of a cat at me. I ducked, and it demolished our mantlepiece display: a village of ceramic, Victorian houses with quaint, frock-coated residents. I swept up the shrapnel while Misty drew up the grocery list.
One of them had asked Cheryl once, “Do you like children?” Cheryl had chuckled. “Who doesn’t?” It was an easy, polite answer. And it was the right thing to say given the context. The real answer, though, was much more complicated. It wasn’t that Cheryl hated children. They simply didn’t interest her enough. What would she talk to them about? What did one talk about to someone who had lived for such a short time on this planet?
“You’ve never thought about going to a foreign country?” Jessica asked.
“I can’t believe that.”
“Jessica, right now I’m making ten dollars an hour seating people at IHOP..."
Trying to go back to envision my past life was like trying to walk on a slippery surface. You had the illusion of movement, but couldn’t make any real headway. The hotel elevator was almost always filled with Georgian men who stared at my cowboy boots and asked me for my room number. I knew that everything that went on in that hotel, everything that was said and done was being observed by some invisible eye hiding behind a mirror or a double wall.
Her gaze into his eyes was private; outside, she was all brisk new-mom business. She tucked him face-first against her chest on walks and at the grocery. She bought a car seat and a baby jogger; in motion, no one asked questions.
Personally, I thought Philadelphia was a beautiful place. But I had to confess something too. I needed light as much as I needed darkness. So on days like this, when the sky was somewhere in between heaven and hell, and the clouds were up there, loitering with bad intentions, it didn’t feel like it threatened my fate. I needed days like this, even looked forward to them. Explain that to somebody.
Four days after the bar encounter, a gun arrived to my dorm as promised. I unpacked it in the locked bathroom and hefted it, all black and snug in my grip. A little practice, I’d hit a flea on a fence.
This September afternoon, though, she was bored in the house, eager to put off the task of making dinner—tacos yet again, Roy’s favorite, which meant dicing tomatoes, chopping onions, grating cheese, frying mediocre ground beef from the local Acme that stank at first with an aroma only the dog could appreciate.