Imperfect Fiction

Playing House

Playing House

Erika Mikkalo

        How do you love a parasite? Andrea knew that she was supposed to go gaga in anticipation of her imminent infant and, the truth was, she did feel somewhat stoned. She floated in her hormonal haze, with every daily task - from brushing her teeth in the morning, to going to her job, to editing reports once she got there - executed from behind a rosy and benevolent cloud. Science fiction body snatchers infected their victims through mists, she recalled from the movie about their invasion, as she tried to unroll pantyhose over the dome of her expanded stomach. The child’s conception seemed as foggy and far-away as infectious extraterrestrial vapors; ever since the diagnosis, her husband talked to this concretion of cells in her gut, simultaneously in her and of herforeign and her own, more than he did to her.
        “My son,” Charles said, when told the results of the amniocentesis.
        At the ultrasound, he had been sitting at Andrea’s left, combing her hair back from her forehead with his clawed hand as the nurse removed the reader from her jellied belly. Then the amniocentesis would come: they would stick her with the long needle, the invading syringe sucking out fluid. She feared they would puncture the fetus like a balloon, imagined a rapidly deflating scrap of translucent tomato-hued membrane ricocheting off her innards. For now she was hooked to a monitor and Charles asked the technician to get the focus right. Andrea did not believe he would have said, “My daughter,” with the same conviction. “My little girl,” perhaps, or “Daddy's little sweetheart,” but this “My son,”it sounded as if he were announcing the pope, the president and the emperor all rolled into one. My son, my sun, the light of my life, the apple of my eye, the joy of God's desiring, the fruit of my desire, the seed of my loins, the Word made flesh. Andrea's stomach flopped when she heard him say that. On the screen, the staticky fish swimming in its ultrasound blizzard, twisted, tooout of sympathy, Andrea hoped. She felt too drugged to protest, a theoretically typical condition, so she did not say that perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps it was a girl; and, just for her peace of mind, to feel less the vessel, could Charles say, “My daughter," with equal gravity?
        “Honey,” he whispered, bending over her and grabbing a shank of hair. Her husband hovered above like a thunderheada monochromatic mass bearing barely restrained humidity. Whatever had possessed her to marry a one-colored man? He was beige and billowing: driftwood-colored hair, pale hazel eyes, sallow tallow skin, even coffee-stained teeth. Carrying this son of his is not enough, she thought. He needs to possess me. Maybe he would yank her head back and stick his tongue in her mouth in front of the nurse, or pry her jaws open with both hands and start calling messages down to: His Son. Would he get a speculum for a bullhorn and yell up to her cervix? Elbow her thighs apart, bracing an arm on the soft interior of her leg, and insert the clear plastic duckbill to call, “Hello, hello, hello,” her vagina would echo. “Where is my son? We'll get you out of there, soon. Don't panic. Help is on the way. Lassie has been alerted, the CIA, the ATF. I’ve put in an APB with the FBI. Help is on the way, my son.”
        That night after the tests, at home, when he put down the glossy-covered news magazine he did not turn off the light immediately but rather leaned over her stomach, peeled back the thin cotton of her ancient T-shirt, and puckered his lips to place them on her belly button. He made a motorboat noise and Andrea wanted to scream, “It’s not out yet!” Instead, she said, “Are you going to talk to it?”
        “To him,” Charles corrected, placing his palms on either side of the pink globe and flexing them inwards before pulling the blue quilt over them both. Or over them three, now? In previous conversations, Charles assured the fetus that it could aspire to be a CEO, Nobel laureate, MacArthur genius, Mellon fellowat least a Pulitzer Prize winner. That all manner of trophies and delights could belong to it in this world.
        Now Andrea sees this übermensch of an ultra-achieving spawn twenty years in the future. Charles’ son mounts the steps to receive an Olympic gold medal in swimming and bends his blonde head to have the honor bestowed, but the ribbon band knocks his mortarboard askew. He bats at the official with a scrolled honorary doctorate, and the thin lines of blood from the Legion D’Honneur and Congressional Medal of Honor pinned into his chest flow in parallel rivers over perfect pectorals, fading into rose rivulets by the waistband of his trunks.
        Andrea wishes carefully, the hopes too profound for daydreams, so simple that they’re not thought of, but catastrophic when missed. “I hope that it has a full mind, an intact spine, a heart without holes, all its fingers and toes.” It sickened her to think of all the things that could go wrong with a baby. When she chopped onions at the kitchen counter, her hands froze with terror at yet another syndrome or chromosomal anomaly described over the radio. A rearranged bit here, or a missing arm at site nineteen, could mean she’s growing an unrecognizable mass inside her: a human born inside out, without skin, with weeping wounds for eyes, an infinite array of possible scars and deformations. And, of course, everything caused birth defects: not just caffeine or alcohol or household cleansers, bus exhaust, pipe smoke, too much sun, the wrong kind of bath oil or that deadly disease transmitted by cat litter. She waited to hear her doctor tell her that swallowing small amounts of spit over the nine-month period would cause irreparable damage to fetal neurons coalescing in the chalice of its cranium. She did not feel rich, calm, fertile, fecund, at one with nature. Rather, it seemed a terrorist had hijacked her body, an agent who was the bomb itself - a vial of nitroglycerine planted in her abdomen by the Mossad. She moved with utmost caution through her routine, the awesome responsibility of another life forcing her to tiptoe where once she had strode freely, calf muscles taut with each long step.
        “I didn’t volunteer for this,” she wanted to explain to the strangers who smiled at her on the street, or shriek at the passersby who felt compelled to stop and coo, pat her stomach, her person suddenly reduced to community property by demonstration of her inescapable biological condition. “I was drafted.” Glumly, she recalled the breakfast when he knew before she did,when, as she was toying with her omelet, fork tine spearing the fragile gills of a sautéed mushroom slice, playing with the idea of packing her bags and leaving him, she suddenly had to run to the toilet and vomit, barely making it in time. Afterwards, pale yellow islands of egg floated beneath her sore eyes.
        When she returned to the table, Charlie’s eyes sparkled. “Morning sickness!” he announced to the waitress refilling their coffee. He reached over the table and touched her shoulder, then over her heart, and let his fingers trail down between her breasts to the top of her abdomen. Andrea gripped the arms of the chair. Could she deny it? If she told him, then she couldn’t abort it. Or if she did, would he still want to be with her? Did she want to be with him? And was it conscionable to bring a guiltless third party into a nest of ambivalence? Maybe she’d miscarry and be absolved of the decision. If she was indeed pregnant.
        “No wonder you’ve been glowing,” Charles said, and pressed her solar plexus another half-moment. His thick lips were open in a simper. Andrea wanted to hit him, to curse him, to curse the bottle of Merlot and the romantic rainy evening three weeks previous, upend the table and run. Instead, she patted his hand and then removed it, passing it back to him.
        “We’ll see,” she said, picking up the coffee cup from its saucer. A green scallop pattern ringed the rim. “Maybe it was just something I ate.”
        “It was an accident.” She needed to tell an innocent bystanderthe old man at the train stopslouched in a too-large overcoat and stained navy and red-striped tie. “An accident. I didn’t mean it.”

 

        When she first saw the baby she wanted to tell the doctor, “Excuse me, Dr. Previss, but this is a mistake. Edgar is an error. This is not mine. It tore out of my bodya spindly-limbed, radish-skinned thing. It bawls more than it breathes and has eyes the color of a dead TV screen. The head is half the length of its body. Aliens have brought it and expect us to raise it to maturity so it can lead an army of huge-headed, dull-eyed thingscrawling out over the unsuspecting landscape in their infinite hunger for milk. Charlie, poor chump, doesn't know any better. He thinks that it's his, ours. He's wrong; this thing has its own purpose, and I don't know where it came from…Doctor, what is this and must I take it home?”
        She knew that he was a perfectly normal baby, really, just like all the books described. Andrea cradled Edgar in her armsbreasts painful, swollen and boundand inventoried his limbs and digits, studied the raw red knot of his navel. The baby looked underdone, as if he needed to be put back into an oven and checked at ten-minute intervals. Weeks passed, her own functioning so obviously comatose, robotic movements and mummified repose punctuated by crying jags, so bad that Charles called the doctor. They said post-partum depression. She knew that they would give her mild tranquilizers, matte oval pills colored a reassuring sky blue with an equatorial indentation, and make certain that she had plenty of help. She did.
        “How is my bonnie baby boy?” Charles lilted in an attempt at Monty Python Robert Burns upon his return home from campus, bouncing line of a smile breaking the pie-crust circle of his face, his khaki strips of eyebrows waggling as he clutched the cylinder of Edgar’s tiny torso in his suddenly huge and clumsy fingers, moving his arms up and down from the elbow as if testing the infant’s weight. He zoomed his face in to touch noses and then moved back, bouncing the boy again. “Where is the wee bairn of the McClelland clan?” Sometimes his sweetness was too much for her, a flow of insipid honey drivel. She knew that Charlie and Edgar were supposed to mean the world to her, to be her world, her alpha and omega, world without end, amen. But hearing Charlie natter on was like having your ears and eyes and nostrils and mouth mortared with crusty molasses. She underwent Chinese water torture with Karo syrup, was coated and then smothered in maudlin treacle, drying to a hard shell, locked up in a small box marked “Mother.” She could not move, she was an automaton pulling plastic-coated Pampers from a box, snapping up the legs of the buttercup yellow sleeper with the dancing teddy bear on the chest, boiling bottles for sterilization and patting Edgar’s back until he gently belched or spewed lumpy half-cheese formula onto her shoulder.
        At first Charles sprang to his feet with the first bleat of a nighttime feeding. He brought her tea on weekend afternoons and toweled her forehead on occasion. The child mewled less, but she still felt as if her sleep was not sleep but a state of suspended animation from which she could be wrested at any second by a thin cry. Charles' initial solicitousness evaporated. Edgar called to be fed and she would roll onto her side to face her husband’s blind back.
        “Charles?” she would whisper. “Could you, this time?” The response would be a shrug and a mumble.
        Andrea was ready to write a message, stick it in a bottle, and throw it out the window. The summer heat melted the asphalt to soup, so the bottle wouldn't shatter but could float across town on the ashen crests of concrete waves until someone read it and came and rescued her.

           

        “Edgar cries, Edgar laughs, Edgar weeps, Edgar smiles with delight at the simplest things,” Andrea thought, picking at some crusted pureed carrot stuck to his fat cheek with her own dampened fingertipmaternal saliva: the universal solvent. It exhilarated and demoralized her, alternately, to see an infant attempt to absorb the world. The flecks of food came off beneath her nail. “We’re going to go to England, Eddie,” she cooed at him. “You’re going to get to see the Tower of London where Henry the VIII he was he was chopped off his wives’ heads and the Parliament and then London bridge, falling down, falling down,” she held his pudgy thorax in her hands and bounced and dropped him on each 'down,' trying to remember what else was in England. Edgar gurgled. “And moors with stone fences, and wool, and Stilton cheese, and ancestral castles that hid the deformed or insane offspring of the finest families in their attics behind windows with iron bars. Won’t that be fun?”
        “We’ll be in the country, so it will be mostly the fields.” Andrea started. She had not heard Charlie come in. He placed two books down on the tabletop. They were fabric-covered and water-stained. Sometimes her husband struck her as so old, prematurely elderly, and anachronistic: he actually reads books. And not only that, reads books from libraries, not glossy soft-covers stacked like bales on best-seller tables, backsides laced with fawning blurbs of mutual endorsement, but books about people who have been dead for centuries, or the things that they themselves wrote. Who cares for rhyme, anymore, unless it’s in a rap? Her spouse was an irrelevancy, a man fighting in the footnotes for an audience of the half-dozen others on the face of the planet who were similarly concerned with the reverberations of the spondaic trochee when applied to metaphors for the divine. She was frankly jealous of the luxury, the indulgence, the play instead of the pragmatism of her stolid editing jobs. Andrea had no doubt that she could wax poetic-philosophical just as adeptly, instead of moving semicolons in the minutes of committee meetings. She would return to some employment after this trip to England, a jaunt for Charles’s nerves, she told herself.
        “Well, the fields will be fun, then,” she smiled and jiggled the baby at her husband. “Won’t they, Eddie?” She drew the child back to her, bugged her eyes out and leaned forward until their noses touched. Lately, Andrea was really trying to think positively. Therefore, many things were ‘fun.’ It was a good word. And of course, it was an honor that Charles had received this grant to finish his book. But she already felt so trapped, so confined in their apartment, and there she at least had the balm of some support, occasional coffee with girlfriends, places to which she could legitimately escape. “Quiet and secluded,” Charles had said, describing the place he had found for them. “Perfect!” She had cringed, imagining further isolation. Why had she agreed to go? Edgar burbled and she passed him on to Charles. “I was just telling him how much fun we’ll have in England,” the terry cloth of the sleeper bundled between her fingers. “Why don’t you tell him?”

 

        Off the family went on vacation for Charles’ nervesthe sensory network shivers like a frail maiden aunt, one that must be sheltered from drafts, given a wool afghan for her lap and a hot water bottle, too, during her annual visit. Charles, the cautiously wrapped bundle of his nerves, Andrea, and Edgar, now a toddling two year-old, took off. Heathrow was hellish, and they took the train directly to the town of Bundleton-upon-swine, Andrea had been calling it in her mind. They unpacked in the picturesque cottage and spent the first calm evening reading in front of the fire.
        The next morning, Charles told Andrea that he was going bird watching, but instead hiked up to the granite ridge to spend the day spying on her and Edgar. So much fun: he felt like an anthropologist, a good-natured observer at the human zoo. Charles could hear a BBC announcer intone, “The young human is notable in its curiosity and drive, testing the patience and energy of its mother with its constant demands and inquiries.” He watched Andrea watching Edgar, placed like little figurines on a toy train set, but a country setting without rails in sight. The cottage, the mother, their child. A safe place, himself the benevolent protector and provider. He could make things good. She sat on the back steps reading a novel, and intervened when it looked as if the toddler was about to eat too much dirt or suck on a stone instead of a clod. Tuesday he went out 'bird watching' again, and felt as if his heart might burst from the great burning sticky sugar lump of happiness and delight in his wife and son: the one, his discovery; the other, his creation. He swallowed the sun and could belch fire in the ardor of his joy. That evening he came back to the house and prattled about the lark and the thrush and the rehabilitative aspects of the Lake Country. Wordsworth was right all along: there is a sublime rapture in nature. “Edgar's diaper is full of the naturally sublime, dear,” Andrea responded, her snub nose twitching as if from the weight of the red braids pinned over the top of her head. “Your turn this time.”
        The third day he packed a sandwich of some bitter rye and nondescript local cheese along with the red plaid thermos of coffee and marched up the jagged teeth of the hill to continue his ruse. Cross-legged on the ground, he took a notebook from the backpack to review the list of floral imagery in Paradise Lost, flipping through the blue-lined pages and occasionally lifting his head to peer down his nose into the valley to see if Andrea had brought Edgar outside. Charles left for a stroll and came back, sufficiently convinced that he was indeed surrounded by fences of broken stone, fields in bloom, profoundly stupid sheep placidly grazing, hills, and the promise of some mist-veiled ruined abbey. The sun was about to roll down the slope of afternoon descent, when he saw Andrea emerge with their child into the full warmth.
        Charlie watched the scene, at first a diorama, this countryside idyll, a bucolic Madonna with child. This is what he was supposed to be: a good father, shepherding his charges away from the drab grind of convention. Didn’t Andrea understand? She seemed so cold, so removed, quiet except for the caustic barbs that diminished his entire pursuit. But seeing them like this, close and tender, gave him hope. They were a family, after all. In a couple of years he and Eddie could toss around a softball: then there’d be little league, or soccer, and maybe he and Andrea could have another child. When she was up to it. He sees their figures, little dolls on a field of green.
        She plays with Edgar, swinging and tottering, tossing him up in the air and setting him down, bouncing him on her hip. Now Andrea grasps the whole of his hand in her palm and dances with him. One, two, three, dip and spin. The child shrieks and she repeats. She bends to place him down on the grass and watches him pick daffodils by making a fist around each flared trumpet within reach, screeching, and then collects him to dance again. The dog bounds around them, yelping and shaking his tail, and Andrea clicks in her head when she trips on the woolly terrier. You and me and baby makes three. A trinity. They had become more than themselves through this act of hope, the pudgy-armed entity first falling on the sod before her, now coiled in her arms. One plus one equals two. One plus one equals three. A one and a two and a three, and. A sliver of possibility explodes and condenses in the same instant. If it wasn’t for the child, would she stay? If there was no little boy for her to take care of, would she run away? Andrea could say that the grief, the loss, had torn them apart. She stumbles to the edge holding Eddie over her head, and suddenly the bolt turns in the lock, for God has given her a terrible key. Should she trip? Or should Edgar fall? She can put it off on the dog, stumbling, she can say that she dozed off, concoct a dozen explanations, but for now there is only this moment in which she must be brave, a final embrace, this bundle of bones and pink meat like rubbery veal, and then a kiss on the forehead. Good-bye, my love. Courage, little one. You will fly, and in your soaring you will release me, and never yourself know this vale of tears, this long road, this lonely road, the door closed after midnight. Courage. Freedom, at what price? A pound of flesh. She smells his young animal scent, plus ivory soap and a trace of applesauce. Another bounce on her hip, and she looks down at the demented polka-dot puppy appliqued on the front of Edgar’s corduroy romper. The dog barks. “Do it!” the puppy whispers, wagging its embroidered tail. Andrea tosses the child up, flips him over, and catches his ankles. She sees the postcard panorama from between his upended legs, gentle hills framed by sneakers. Having a time, wish you were wonderful. The valley a long dimple of a few miles, the river behind her, rippling a mere couple of yards away, the purplish stones and drop of the embankment. Edgar yells, “Oh-AH!” and reaches for the hem of her skirt. Her thumbs touch the tips of her index fingers when she grasps. Not too far to heave, but she swings him a couple of times to gain momentum, upper arms bundling, plotting the trajectory in her mind. A line of white dashes drawn through the air in a gentle arc, out and over to the twenty foot drop onto the hardness lining the bottom of the water. She swings back and forward and the defining moment is a non-action, a refusal. Andrea declines to hold on anymore, and some force takes the baby in its invisible hands and passes him out into space, into the eager palms of gravity. He squeals with delight at the game as he falls out of sight, red-striped tennis shoes showing their soles to the sky. The baby’s voice gets higher and thinner before it ends. Then all she can hear is the gently sucking run of water over rocks.
        Charles stands, a statue of disbelief. From participant-observer of domestic bliss to mute witness of atrocity. The yell stuck in his throat, the terror of seeing what he could not believe. “No,” he whispers in the aftermath, watching Andrea comb her hair away from her face with her fingers, then think better of it, muss it up again, wipe her palms on her skirt, then tear it. Some eastern faith made the creator and destroyer of its pantheon the same being, a black bitch of a sow for a universe, one that births and consumes her young. Fangs pierce his heart. But the fields look so pretty. His wife stumbles towards the river, their dumb creature following.
        From the top of the bank it sounds like water, but Andrea knows that when she goes to the foot of the incline it will sound like the bag full of marbles that she carried in her jeans back pocket. Twenty years ago, she was nine, which was seven years older than her boy, Edgar. Than Edgar was, had been. There are not cats' eyes, puries and milkies down below, just oval stones tumbling over one another. She must be careful to tear her skirt and scrape herself; perhaps even breaking a bone in a fall would be advisable. A mother rushing down a slope in terror and grief would be incautious, would hasten in the vain hope that her child be saved. The vain hope, the weather vane of hope, a copper cock spinning around and around. She still could not believe that she'd done it, that she actually picked up the crying creature that had eaten all her time, energy, and freedom. Even more than Charlie, the bastard who planted it. Andrea took the innocent and tossed it over the cliff on their family vacation. Over the riverbank really, hyperbole to call it a cliff, but a drop of only three feet could still kill a child, or shaking, and being placed face down to sleep increases the likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome, but no, she had to be impetuous and romantic and throw the kid over the cliff. Damn. A single instant so pregnant with regret.
        Marlowe went wild, running to the edge of the cliff and back to her, wet rubber cork of a nose on her knee, barking in excitement. Perhaps he thought this was a new version of fetch. If he were a retriever instead of a terrier, would he try to bring Edgar back? Nothing could bring him backbut she better go and see. Check, confirm, verify that the poor thing had passed on. If not, she might have to hold his face under the water. The barking dog would bring Charlie's attention.

           

        “Andrea,” choked Charles, once the ambulance door closed behind them, “I saw.”
        “Saw what?” she replied, not looking at him. A sheet covered Edgarthe body bigger than she remembered. Somehow, it seemed to take up more space when still. River water veiled his face when she pulled him out, extra liquid pooled in his eyes and in his mouth. One strand of green weed caught on his splayed left hand. She checked that her legs were scraped and her clothes torn, a ritual rent in the plaid wool fabric. Andrea cradled her hand under the dent and lifted, spongy dampness and hard fragments sliding on to her palm. There was no doubt. The baby hit a rock. Thank God, for once, she thought. Not a vegetable to tend for decades, no court orders to plug or unplug him. No more creature to chase. Free. Freedom. Not tied to Charles, or mule to an infant fist.
        “Did you see him fall, Charles?” Andrea raised her eyebrow. “Did you hear me scream? I dozed off. The sun broke through the clouds. Then I saw him fall. He tottered, like he had been reaching for something.”
        “What could he have been reaching for?” he asked, deciding in this moment that she was writing the script. I spy, with my little eye, a murderess. Peek-a-boo.
        “I don't know. You saw. You tell me. A butterfly, perhaps. Or a bird that you were watching?”
        “That's enough!” Charles hissed, raising his hand as if to strike her. Andrea didn't flinch. Bottles clinked in a rack behind her. The driver coughed.
        Andrea started to sob. “Isn't there anything we can do?” she said.
        “There is nothing that we can do. It's too late. If I was there, I could have caught him.” Charles saw himself standing at the foot of the cliff, wearing a huge flannel mitt; a catcher’s glove colored pale blue. No: a curved net in a round metal frame, the kind that firemen use to catch people plummeting from flaming apartment buildings, a basketball hoop without a hole in the bottom. “There was nothing that we could do. There was nothing that I could do.” He reached over and put his left hand on top of her right: not to comfort, but to anchor. He pinned her to him. She wasn’t going to get away. She wasn’t going to get away with this. The cold sweat from his palm made a damp film on her knuckles.
        “Nothing?” Andrea gasped between rattling breaths. “How do you mean?”
        “He hit something hard. You saw the back of his head. You carried him.”
        “Yes,” she said. He started squeezing her right hand. She bit her lip, but didn't cry out. “At least there was no pain.”
        “No pain? That's right. And it was quick. He was gone in a second. Have you ever thought of how you would prefer to die?” A thousand methods of execution fell through his mind: he sees a rusty guillotine, a hemp noose, a black canvas hood, and an mirror-shining axe.
        “How can you ask me that?”
        “Well, have you?” He gripped her hand and stared at the still thing on the stretcher across from them. It had been his boy. The white sheet wrinkled in ridges at the neck, covering the half-shattered globe that he kissed on what would have been its North pole that morning. Where the shallow basin of the fontanel had so recently healed, a crater, now imploded. Straight strands as soft as goose down had sucked into his nostrils when he inhaled.
        “No. Dorothy Parker wrote a poem about that. I can't remember it right now.” She heard a horn honk outside of the van’s walls.
        “Of course you can't.” He released her hand and patted it. “Of course you can't remember right now.” Tears shone on his face. Charles turned and looked out the back window of the ambulance. The sun sat low. Stone fences blended with their shadows to look twice as tall. Gray wads of sheep wandered over blue grass to the fold. “What can you remember, Andrea?”
        “He screamed for the flowers. 'Dil' was his word, you know? All flowers were daffodils. I carried him on my hip. Marlowe gamboled after us. We sat down and he started to pick them. 'Dil, dil, dil' is the last thing that I heard. I must have dozed off. When I opened my eyes he was going over the edge.”
        “And then you screamed.”
        “You heard. You saw.” Charles gazed through the back windowpane. Drivers had their headlights on now, perhaps prematurely. British caution. Safety first. “They didn't bother to use the siren,” she added.
        He shrugged, touching the chrome railing between them and the shrouded shape. “Why should they have, Andrea? Why should they have? It was too late.” The ambulance pulled to a stop.
        The rider climbed out of his seat and strode back to release them. “This shouldn't take long,” he said.
        He did not look in their eyes.

 

        “So, what will you do?” Charles asked and Andrea’s guts curdled. If only she could have taken Charlie by the ankles and thrown him over, or taken the pill two years previous, or the train, just packed her bags. In the months since the incident, she had gained so much clarity. Poor kid, it wasn’t supposed to have happened, but perhaps she could have raised it alone, a single Mom, or Edgar would have been better off with Charles. It was indulgent, to take the time to think on oneself, and construct all the little alternate narratives, but here she had leisure in abundance.
        “Stay here. Talk to the doctors. Take my medication.” She plucked at a stray thread at the hem of her blue cotton gown and wrapped it around her fingertip until the whorls deepened to pickled beet purple. The tunics made her feel like some sort of eunuch or minimalist astronaut; all monks here for the greater good of mental health, even Molly who screamed, “Fuck me! Fuck me!” with increasing levels of agitation until the attendants came to take her away, give her a shot, put her in her in a room where she would present no threat either to another or herself. Once Andrea had the compulsion to turn it into a competition, to start shouting, “No, fuck me! Fuck me!” and had to giggle into her left hand, biting her knuckles until the skin broke so that she would not succumb and garner psychiatric demerits.
        “Do you want to leave?” Charles asked, leaning back in his chair until the front legs left the vinyl tile floor. “Do you want to come home or go to a half way house?” He assumed the review of her case would go well. He had not told, and with this, he could bind her to him. Exquisite ironic sentence, to keep her trapped with the origin of the crime. Her husband knew that this was the greatest cruelty: she would be far more indicted by his daily presence than by any court of law. He would not let her out of jail. Everyone understood her apparent sense of guilt after the tragic accident, the unavoidable sorrow and depression following such a catastrophic event.
        “Home, of course,” she replied“if you're not there,” she thought“if I have the space all to myself and throw out every personal effect that we ever accumulated.” Andrea would open the windows and drop out the dishes, smash, smash; then the pots, clatter, crash; the mustard yellow soup tureen from Aunt Bess, a marigold of broken china on the pavement; the towels, the objet d' tourist kitsch that clung to them like barnacles whenever they traveled, first purchased with irony, then out of habit.
        “It used to be a home.” Charles turned and looked out the window. The upright branches of the poplars echoed the bars in front of the glass. The room had windows on the west side and the declining sun traced their shadows in sharp relief against the wall. It reminded him of the black tissue paper silhouettes that a paper cutter sold on Main Street at Disneyland. They would have taken their son to Anaheim, of course, shown him all the characters in costume. Edgar would have met Mickey, Donald, and Goofy; shaken Minnie's gloved hand and received a kiss on the cheek from Snow White. Edgar on the Matterhorn, screaming with delight; Edgar taking tilting cars on a dark and futuristic ride to the heart of a human cell; Edgar in “It's a Small World,” after all, and now that would never happen, destroyed by the woman in front of him.
        “He'll never come back,” she said, and immediately regretted it, as if discussing a sullen teen full of angst and rebellion instead of an infant flown away. Adolescent Edgar, a rebel; his blonde hair darkened to dust and dishwater, scowling and wearing a jean jacket with Non Serviam lettered on the back.
        “You'll come home to me.” Charles presented a statement, not asking a question. She turned her face to the windows, saw the bare trees. Three pigeons took flight from the sill, slow-motion explosions of filth and feathers with iridescent purple crescents on their necks. She swallowed and felt the sore cuff of her own throat tightening, a calcified scream of years now cemented with drugs and blackmail. Something behind her eyes broke and her lips cracked a crooked grin. She let go of the turquoise robe and took his hand and placed it on her thigh, then her stomach.
        “Darling,” Andrea bent over and leaked a butter-smooth whisper, both hands pinning his palm to the bulge of her lower abdomen. She rubbed his fingers and their rings made a barely audible click. “Maybe we could try again.”

Seven Stories

Seven Stories

Three Microfictions

Three Microfictions