She’d hoped home would be as easy as the knickknacks and hand-me-downs, her great-aunt’s sofa and stepfather’s bookcase and the faded Persian rug she’d bought at a garage sale in Temecula, even if this new floor already has carpet—what does it matter when the carpet here is so cheap, thin, scratchy, a blue material she doesn’t want to inspect too closely. It can be home—it can—as long as the brass umbrella stand is next to the door, as long as the false jade Buddha sits on the toilet tank. All her cheap treasures. The ugly rooster painting hanging in the kitchen, the poorly painted credenza, the cedar chest. The cedar chest especially. Once it was at the foot of their bed, she felt better or, if not better—she didn’t feel better—clear-sighted, then. Understanding where she is and why. What keeps her and her ugly furniture together.
The boys love it. Of course. For Barclay, it’s an adventure. Barclay has a fantasy of being a superhero, the new apartment complex the city he’s sworn to protect. Sworn. She wants to ask him what he swore. What do six-year-olds believe in? And Wyatt, so young, to Wyatt—and she cannot get past the strangeness of this—the world is secure. Steadfast. Wyatt, existence parading for him, a performance for his narrow blue eyes to take in, he safe in the center, with his mother, his father, his older brother revolving around him, satellites, she is his satellite, that’s all she is, his satellite. Don’t think it. Satellites are caught. She isn’t caught. She isn’t a satellite. She won’t think it.
* * *
It would take three years. Benjamin had asked her, her husband—beloved, now and forever, till-you-know-what—he’d asked her in bed, in the morning, light coming through the sheer blue curtains of their old apartment, the scent of cloves somehow in the air, cloves and allspice, he’d asked her in their old apartment, their old apartment on the first floor with the breakfast nook and, out its window, a persimmon tree—a bulky, ugly thing, but when it budded, when it bloomed, when the fruit hung off the branches, they reminded her of Christmas ornaments—and with the smell of cloves and allspice it was a holiday just to have breakfast in that old apartment she had loved, and Barclay in his high chair, and Wyatt, just past invisible, curled deep inside her, becoming the narrow blue-eyed, cottonhead boy she would be holding when they moved into this apartment—he told her it would take three years. He asked her, “Can you do it?” It was important, this doctorate, this piece of paper, it would open doors, it would mean money. He was not meant to be an academic. He would be an engineer in the private sector. Civil engineering. Earthquake-proofing. He would help make the world disaster-proof, and she was proud of him for this though yes, yes, it was costing more money than they had anticipated, even with his stipend, even avoiding—especially avoiding—debt. It cost money, traveling back and forth on the interstate, the college an hour distant from their old home, their apartment in the city, it would be easier, he told her, to live on campus, it was so cheap, only eight hundred a month, could she imagine, think of all the extra money they would have, what they could do with it, and not just that but the savings on gas, and the environment. The environment! Could she picture that better world? Three years, he said. I could finish in three years. Can you do it? And she laughed, of course she could do it, what made him think she couldn’t? But of course—of course, of course, of course—she had made him think she couldn’t, hadn’t she, his first year in the program, when she said she wanted to stay in the city, yes. They could have moved into graduate housing the first year of his studies, but she had wanted to stay in the city, with her job, with Barclay. But then Wyatt. Two years but then Wyatt, and they moved to be closer to the university, graduate housing, two years but then Wyatt, the happy accident. This is what Benjamin calls Wyatt. Their happy accident.
* * *
Her life now is a slow circle of chores. She washes clothes on Monday, she cooks heavy dinners on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, making more than enough, cooking for leftovers. She cleans the bathrooms on Fridays, she cleans the rest of the house the week before, the Monday, and Tuesday, she works hard to keep it neat, to keep it clean. Benjamin is sensitive to dust, Benjamin keeping a close watch on how much allergy medication is left in the bottle, but she knew this, she knew this when she married him, before Barclay, before Wyatt. On Saturdays, Sundays, they do something fun, they do something as a family, packing the back of their SUV, packing lunches, dinners, Wiffle balls and picnic blankets, bikes with training wheels, a little red wagon. Loaded up as a family.
* * *
She quit her job. Of course. She was happy to, her answer always. She was happy to. Human resources, what is human resources to skyscrapers, to still-standing skyscrapers, that glistening world without catastrophe her husband will help create. And it’s not like she’ll never work again. Three years. And she was just a glorified secretary, really, no one else but her would say it, a dozen titles for her position, administrative assistant, administrative services, business liaison—business liaison. She laughed aloud when he called her that, her old boss, three years her junior—our business liaison—she had laughed and he had laughed too, suddenly embarrassed at himself, humbled, but not humiliated—that’s really why, she still suspects, they kept her, because she humbled them just enough, just every now and then, and free child care, extraordinary—they were hip, her startup. Still, she was administration, a paper pusher, really, that’s all there was to it, but she had been happy there. Very happy. Free child care and their work so fascinating, they were fascinating people, she learned, every hour she was with those men and women she learned. She could code, by the time she left, she actually knew a coding language, a little, conversational, she was a conversational coder. And she was happy. But then Wyatt, her happy accident. It was just administration. It was only a persimmon tree.
* * *
The graduate apartment complex is old and shows it, but it’s clean, it’s certainly clean, landscaping is out every day, brown men in brown jumpsuits, and there is landscaping, there are beautiful old growth trees, trees they saved. She doesn’t know the name of the trees but they have beautiful bark, soft, their color an almost butter yellow. It peels off the tree, this bark. Barclay rips off patches of bark with the same delight he peels scabs off his knees. And the complex’s maintenance crew is speedy, quick to respond, friendly—friendly enough. She can’t speak with some of them, her Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian not as good as it used to be. A joke. A joke Benjamin hadn’t laughed at. But they’re speedy, the maintenance people, they fix whatever problem she calls in, sometimes three times in the same day. Another joke, but one she reserved for herself, amused herself with nights on the squeaky Ikea bed frame—which won’t survive the next move, Benjamin has promised. “You can bet on it.” Benjamin snoring, the boys down the hall, sleeping, until they aren’t, until Wyatt cries out, breaking the night open, crying out for her. They can hear him—not just her and Wyatt and Benjamin, it’s not just them he wakes, everyone, it’s everyone. The apartment complex is old and the walls are thin and there’s no air conditioning so the windows are open, of course, everyone’s windows are open, everyone hoping for a night breeze, and when Wyatt screams in his sleep they hear him. Everyone knows her son’s nightmares.
* * *
Weekday mornings she takes Barclay to the daycare, the complex having a daycare available, it’s nice, it’s fine—not free, a nominal fee, but it’s fine. Wyatt is too young, but Barclay isn’t. And Barclay is happy, Barclay has friends, fellow children who know the names of superheroes, and Barclay knows she’ll be back to pick him up at two thirty, daycare running from eight in the morning until two thirty in the afternoon, and in the meantime it’s her and Wyatt, Wyatt too young for daycare, and fearful, somehow, she can see it on him every time they drop off Barclay. Wyatt’s already afraid, already knows he’s next.
* * *
She hears all sort of things, walking through the apartment complex, with her children, with Wyatt, strolling him—when he lets himself be strolled. When she’s walking under the windows. Conversations in foreign languages. Graduate students. It is graduate student housing, after all. They come from everywhere and talk in their native tongues. Their mother language. She passes under their open windows and hears them talking over a running faucet or a flushing toilet or a TV in words she can’t understand, and she hears other things, too. She’s heard, of course she’s heard, twice she’s heard people making love, fucking—both times a woman’s grunts, different women, of course, she can tell, a woman’s sex grunt as unique as the nose on her face—and her walking underneath once, pushing Wyatt in the stroller, Barclay walking beside her, hoping Barclay wouldn’t ask. He didn’t, her Barclay is not very observant—she’s not sure exactly if its normal or not, she’s not sure of the proper degree of observance in children, they seem to her to be, above all else, self-centered creatures—but that time she was grateful for his obliviousness. And he didn’t ask when they were walking beneath a window and she could hear grunts, harsh, male. Men. Two men. But something in the sound electric, something in their moans made of ones and zeroes. Porn. Gay porn. Someone watching gay porn with their speakers on high volume. Masturbating. This is the apartment complex. This is the graduate student apartment complex. Her husband is a graduate student. This is home. This is home for three years. It’s fine. It will all be fine.
* * *
Barclay runs, jumps, leaps, Barclay is a superhero, a mutant monster, no, Barclay is a sports star, Barclay is a comet, he’s tumbling through space, he’s untouchable. Barclay looks like his father, Barclay loves his father, to see them walking ahead of her, hand in hand, Barclay explaining why this mutant is better than that mutant, which superpower is the best, heartwarming is the right word, while Wyatt squirms on her hip, while Wyatt clings to her fingers, while Wyatt sits, impassive, in his stroller, heavy, as she pushes him up a hill. Barclay is running ahead, a hill is nothing to Barclay, her firstborn cottonhead, turning around and looking at her, the primal locomotion of a boy, “Hurry up! Hurry up, Mama!”
* * *
One night, after supper, after the baths, after Wyatt’s bedtime cry—Wyatt twisting in the bed, her hand on his shoulders, Wyatt fighting his eyelids, fighting sleep, amazing how he fights sleep, his little hands little fists, she has to watch those little fists—as she sings a lullaby, not allowing herself to be frustrated, to be angry, to be impatient, she knows the lullaby must be as soft as he fights, as sweet as he struggles, she has to counterbalance, she has to undo, she has to negate until finally, Wyatt succumbs to closed eye and, too, after Barclay, a story for Barclay, after the light switch, after her eyes grow accustomed to the night lite, blue stars on the wall, her boys, after the bedroom door left half-open, after all this Benjamin is at the kitchen table, surrounded by blueprints and research papers, and Benjamin says, when she sits at the kitchen table with tea, her tea is cold, Benjamin says, “Maybe we should talk about Wyatt.”
“What about Wyatt?”
“He cries a lot.”
Wyatt cries a lot. Wyatt cries when he wakes up, Wyatt cries before he’s fed, Wyatt cries, always, when she puts him in his car seat, Wyatt cries, always, when she takes him out of his car seat, Wyatt cries before bed, Wyatt cries out at night, “Mama! Mama!”
“He’s two years old.”
“I’m just saying.”
“He’s two years and three months.”
“Barclay didn’t cry that much.”
“Wyatt isn’t Barclay.”
He thinks she’s being difficult. She can tell by the way his shoulder is suddenly between them, the way he stares into his computer screen, and sighs, involuntary, as involuntary as breathing, those little sighs of his, frustrated, petulant, weary, Benjamin is always sighing. She wants to reach out, hold his wrist, explain to him, she isn’t being difficult, she’s just answering his questions, his questions have very easy answers. Which doesn’t mean he shouldn’t ask, but he should know, you can ask what two plus two is and the answer is simple, it’s four, but it’s the answer. Doesn’t he know? He teaches. He teaches civil engineering. Doesn’t he answer—doesn’t he?—when a student raises a hand, a girl, soft features, straight black hair past her shoulders, wearing a halter top. What engineering student is this? Bright red lipstick. A student asking a question. Doesn’t he answer her? What engineering student has bright red lipstick? Are her fears so cliche? She tries to shake off her mind.
“We should ask the pediatrician about it,” Benjamin says.
“About the crying.”
“What’s the pediatrician going to say?”
“That’s why we should ask.”
She’s the one who takes them to the pediatrician. This we he speaks of is only a we in spirit or, really, only we in proof, in the bodies of their boys, in Barclay and Wyatt in the pediatrician’s office, Barclay going “Ahh,” a stick pressing his tongue flat, in the way Wyatt cries after a shot, booster shot, vaccine, cries like all children cry. Barclay cries, too, but if she says this, any of it, if she says, “I take them to the pediatrician and Barclay cries,” if she says, “You would know if you came with me,” that sigh, he would sigh, angry, frustrated with her, and she would be guilting him, he would accuse her of it, guilting him. The light of an Excel spreadsheet reveals lines in his face. She has them, now, too.
* * *
It’s a two bedroom, one bath. It’s tricky, sometimes. When she uses the bathroom, she locks the door, but Wyatt still sticks his fingers through the crack at the bottom, wiggles them at her, she can hear him crying for her, “Mama, Mama!” over the splatter of her urine. His fingers look like stiff worms; if she were a bird, she would snap at them. Yes, it’s tricky, sometimes. Taking a shower. Having a moment to yourself. Benjamin showers with the boys, on weekends, Sundays, when they’re going to have lunch out, a special Sunday treat, their secular ritual, on Sundays all three boys will shower together, warm water running, Benjamin teaching them how to wash, “Be sure to wash here. Wyatt. There you go buddy, just like that, rub-a-dub-dub.” And Barclay sings, “Rub-a-dub-dub,” and Wyatt tries to say “rub-a-dub-dub” but he can’t quite manage it, yet, and Benjamin laughs at the sound and Barclay laughs and Wyatt laughs, too, she can hear them, through the door, over the sound of the water running, she can hear them laughing. When she showers, they’re shouting, “Mama! Mama!” And Benjamin is telling her things, things he thinks are important, and “Leave your mom alone. Babe? Babe! We’re running out of oatmeal. Leave your mom alone. Boys! Come on, let’s go.” Once Benjamin took the boys to a movie. She took a bath. In the warm water, she sent her hand down, she tried masturbating. She thought of the window with the gay pornography. And the years it took to bring her here, the years it took to leave her home, to quit her job, yes, I will, the yes to have a child, have children, the I do and every yes before it, she can hear herself saying yes and she can remember meaning each one, she can remember choosing yes. She remembers and wonders about that person and lays in the bath until the water was cold. Until they’re back home. “Mama? Mama!”
* * *
Wyatt must stay on schedule. Breakfast, snack and juice, sometimes a late morning nap, lunch, always an afternoon nap, dinner. Wyatt naps, his right ear flat against her right breast, his head twisted, almost bent. She’s waiting until she’s sure his sleep is deep enough to move him to his bedroom. This is Monday. There’s laundry in one of the laundromats, in one of the low brick buildings scattered throughout the complex. They take credit cards, the machines inside, only credit cards. Sometimes you swipe, but the card doesn’t read. Sometimes you swipe, and the machine denies the card. She’s learned you must keep swiping until the machine relents, she’s learned, and she swiped until the machine relented and there’s a load—she hates the word but what else is there?—there’s a load in the laundry, two, three loads, she takes up three washing machines with their filthy clothes, their jeans and sweats and underwear and shirts and socks and underwear, God, how much underwear? It takes three washing machines, three runs of credit card swiping, and all for thirty minutes. It’s been thirty minutes. But Wyatt is napping on her and she knows, she knows by the way he breathes by—there, right there—the way he moves his hand, twitches, if she moves he’ll wake up. She knows him. So she lies still, she lies still and she feels him breathing into her and she imagines her skin covering him, she imagines the shape of him in her skin, her boy a giant tumor connecting her breast to her stomach.
Asleep. She fell asleep. The light in the room has changed. Wyatt is deep in sleep against her. When she moves him he makes no sound. He might be dead were it not for the faint twitch of his nostrils and, bending down, putting her ear to his lips, the distant sound of his breath. She moves him to his bed, gently, and hurries outside, follows the sidewalks to the nearest laundry building, humid inside, hot and humid, a hot house of dented laundry equipment, and there’s a note on top of one of her washing machines, a note written on purple stationery, purple stationery with a design of ivy crawling up the left side.
The note says, “A lot of people use these machines. You’re not the only one who lives here. Please, next time, don’t take up all the machines and leave your clothes there all day.”
It’s done in a gentle cursive. Good cursive. She can read it, after all. Legible cursive. Who still teaches this? She thought cursive was finished. She thought they decided it was too messy. The world doesn’t need anything so messy. You’re not the only one who lives here. It’s not signed. Please, next time. Yes, next time, now that she’s been remonstrated, next time she will be better. She will show them how responsibly she can do her laundry. She takes out the wet batches of shirts and underwear and socks and jeans and shorts and underwear and stuffs them into the dryers. Then it’s the same thing with the dryers. You swipe until the machine relents. You swipe and you swipe. She takes the note with her. She doesn’t crumple it, doesn’t throw it away. She keeps it nice and straight. She’ll show Benjamin. She wants to see what Benjamin thinks. No, she won’t show Benjamin. She’ll keep it in a book. It’ll be her new favorite bookmark. Her secret. Don’t take up all of the machines. Never. Never, never, never.
Wyatt is still asleep when she comes back inside. She rests on the chair and waits for forty-five minutes of her life to be over.
* * *
Benjamin brings up Wyatt. This time it’s the weekend. They’re in the car, they’re driving back from the park, an outdoor movie screening, a kid’s movie, a talking car—she forgets the title, keeping titles in her head takes work, she works so hard to keep everything in her head these days. And Benjamin brings up Wyatt again.
“I don’t think it’s normal.”
This is how he chooses to start. As if she’ll know what he’s talking about. She does, but she asks, “What?” She asks, “What?” because otherwise, to start as if she knows what he’s talking about, would be accepting the conversation as a given, as if it’s simply true. Wyatt, we need to talk about Wyatt. She won’t let him have that.
“You know what.”
“Why didn’t you take him out of the park? Or at least away from everybody.”
“He was scared.”
“It’s a cartoon.”
“Jesus, Benjamin. Cartoons can be scary. Weren’t you ever a kid? Jesus.”
He checks the rearview. The boys are still asleep. Wyatt. Barclay. Curled in their car seats. Peaceful faces firm in slumber. They’re whispering, she and Benjamin, this is what having children does to you, you have to lean in close to hear your husband tell you your son came out wrong.
“I don’t think it would hurt to ask the pediatrician. “
“Then ask the pediatrician. The next appointment is Thursday.”
“Listen. I know you’re under stress.”
“He’s so afraid. All the time.” Benjamin keeps looking into the rearview, at his son. “I just don’t know where it’s coming from.”
“He wasn’t even crying that long.”
“People were looking.”
“Do what you want to do, Benjamin. Do whatever you want to do.”
She won’t. She rests her forehead against the glass, and she won’t listen. He’s not saying anything. The glass is cold. The glass is a great comfort.
* * *
She cooks. She cleans. She feels guilty for it, sometimes, the ghosts of suffragettes frowning over shoulder, a poor example of the modern sex, but mostly she feels apathetic, mostly when she cooks and cleans, when she makes their breakfast and their lunch and their dinner, when she vacuums and straightens cushions and washes clothes, mostly she is far beyond her body, her body becomes an abstraction. Or, sometimes, a chore. Her body is another chore. Benjamin leaves papers on the kitchen table. Blueprints. Barclay leaves his shoes in the middle of the floor. Wyatt pulls toys out and stares at them, suddenly bored. Sometimes, if she’s in the room, he’ll look at her, he’ll even ask, “Mama?” and she doesn’t know how to answer. She cooks and she cleans and time slips through the cracks between each chore.
* * *
Benjamin goes with her to the pediatrician. A surprise. She expresses surprise, in the car, and he becomes angry. Defensive. Why is she so surprised? And when she answers honestly, it hurts him, she can see the wound left by, “You’re not normally this involved.” What does he say? “They’re my boys.” They are his boys. She doesn’t understand how this alleviates her words. They are his boys, but he’s still not so involved. Is he? She wants to ask, but this will wound him further, and he’s trying to wound her now, there are rules to this particular game, now he’s bringing up her “tone,” she has an awful “tone” about her. “Like you’re in a well and you don’t want to get out. I hate that.” She says sorry; he says stop it. Barclay does something to Wyatt, hits him on the arm, maybe, or steals his toy—do they have toys, back there? And Wyatt cries, of course, and now Benjamin shouts, “Quiet!” Which doesn’t work, she could have told him, Wyatt only cries louder, Wyatt only knows one way to deal with pain and Benjamin shouts, “Quiet both of you!” because Barclay is crying now, of course, and she watches from her place inside the well, her head turned back toward the glass.
The pediatrician tells Benjamin there’s nothing wrong with either boy. Both healthy. Healthy as can be. Nothing to be concerned about. Some kids just cry. Benjamin doesn’t believe him. She knows by the way his jaw sets. He won’t believe. They’re doomed to the same argument.
* * *
Benjamin does bath time. Benjamin comes home at lunch now, surprising them. Benjamin has asked for more hours off. Benjamin apologizes to her. “I’m going to do more.” He doesn’t need to, but this isn’t something she can say. Yet she says it in her head, each time he’s suddenly at the door when he shouldn’t be, “You don’t need to be here.” He plays with Wyatt. How happy is Wyatt? Thrilled. “Da-Da. Da-Da.” He’s happy, so happy, but he still cries, every time they go in the car, anytime they try to put him in his car seat or taken him out of his car seat. He still cries at night. He screams, “Mama! Mama!” Benjamin wonders if they shouldn’t let him scream it out. Benjamin has been researching. Printouts of parenting strategies now join the blueprints on the kitchen table. Benjamin has plans. “You don’t need to be here,” she says into her toothbrush, into the showerhead, into her pillow at night when his arm crosses over to her. “You don’t need to be here.”
* * *
And the laundry. Again Monday. Again in the narrow room of washing machines and dryers. She has three baskets. She unloads the soiled clothes with large cradles of her arms. Wyatt is with her. Barclay is at daycare; Benjamin is at school. Wyatt is with her, in the room, he wants her to hold him, that’s Wyatt, Wyatt wants to be held, but she’s busy, “Hold on, Wyatt,” she’s busy, can’t he see it? Her arms are filled with clothes, Wyatt’s clothes, his infant clothes. His socks could fit snug on her fingers, his shorts could fit inside her hand, these tiny pieces of Wyatt are dropping, she can’t hold on, he’s pushing himself into her arms, he seems desperate, his crying shakes her ears, her brain vibrates, buzzes, a washing machine rocking on spin cycle, “Sweetie, stop,” and she takes him up in her arms, clothes in a pile at her feet, she lifts her son to her face and she says, “Wyatt, please, you have to stop,” and the buzzing goes up her arms, the trembling, she can’t control herself. He wails, he’s wailing, as her arms shake, and his head goes back and—she didn’t know. She didn’t know her son had an Adam’s apple. Not until his head snaps back before it falls back to his chest before it snaps back and on and on as she says, “Please, Wyatt, you have to stop,” and it’s only when she realizes he’s not crying does she stop shaking him. His limp eyes look at her as she lays him down on the discarded clothes. The washing machines hum. It’s hot. She’s sweating. She lays down next to her son on the laundromat floor. Alone with the washing machines, she tries to hold him. His eyes are glassy. He looks as if a taxidermist made him.
* * *
Benjamin asks her what’s wrong. “Nothing.” Barclay is telling them about his day, they played soccer, but he can’t pronounce soccer right and Benjamin keeps interjecting, “Soccer. Socc-er,” and Wyatt, Wyatt is making noises, a few words slipping out as if by accident, “No. Peas. No,” smooching his fingers into his food, and Benjamin asks her what’s wrong, and she says, “Nothing. Wyatt, stop that. Stop that, please. Are you finished? Are you finished, Wyatt?” And only when he says yes does she take him out of the high chair, on the floor, he stumbles, he’s two, two-year-olds stumble and he’s two and look, he’s grabbed a toy, his grip firm, normal, it’s fine. Everything is fine.
* * *
It’s bath time. She can hear them, Benjamin and Barclay and Wyatt, it’s nice the boys can bathe together, but not for long, Barclay is getting too big, so is Wyatt, for that matter, the tub now small. But. But for now, they can bathe together, and Benjamin makes them wigs out of soap suds and says, “Mr. Washington. Mr. Adams.” And they laugh without knowing what any of it means, the feather touch of soap behind their ears. She is in the bedroom, lying down, and listening to them. She can’t move. She is being crushed, her insides rolled into a little ball, small enough for Wyatt to hold in his fist. Her cell phone is on the bedside table. She has just enough strength to reach it. Soon, bath time will be over. Naked, they’ll run away from Benjamin, who will chase them as if he can’t catch them, and they’ll come into her room, this has happened before, her naked boys, the knobs of their promised manhood bouncing as they leap into bed, and she will pretend to protect them against their father, who will come with towels bared in his hand. She calls her mother. It rings only twice.
“Mama.” Where does the word come from? She’s crying, it floods out, this word opens her insides to the world, and it hurts. “Mama.”
“Elise,” her mother says. And then, “Elise, Elise, honey, what’s wrong? Is it the boys? What happened?”
“Mama.” It draws blood, but good, fine, let it bleed. “The boys. Benjamin. I need help. I need help, Mama.”
“OK.” There are sounds, paper rustling, or maybe the scratch of cushions as her mother pushes herself out of a sofa some three hundred odd miles distant. “OK, hold on, let me get the Internet.”
She says, “Mama,” again, but relieved, the word holds her relief, and her mother says, “OK, sweetheart. Hold on. Hold on, Elise. Look, I’m on the Internet. OK. I can get there, hold on, I can get there tomorrow, at 6 o’clock, but that doesn’t give me much time.” Her mother is chewing her lip, Elise knows, it’s a habit they share. “What about Friday, Friday at, hold on, I can be there Friday at two. Elise? Friday at two.”
“Friday at two,” Elise repeats.
“Yes. Friday at two. OK. OK, Elise? Friday at two.” Her mother sounds relieved, too, because in those words there’s a hope neither of them knew they needed before the phone call. “Elise,” her mother says, “I’ll be there Friday at two. You wait and see, it will all be fine, we’ll have a good time. You wait and see.”
And here are the boys, naked, screaming in delight, jumping into her bed, here comes Benjamin laughing, coming up behind them, and she says, “OK, Mama. The boys are here. I’ll call you tomorrow morning. Thank you. I love you.” She waits to hear her mother say, “OK, call me first thing, I love you, baby,” before she hangs up, before she pushes herself up to receive her naked sons.
William Hawkins has been published in TriQuarterly, ZYZZYVA, and Tin House Online, among others. He currently lives in Los Angeles.