Once again, I don’t have much interesting to tell you. Busy, busy, busy week. We got about a metre of snow. My daughter’s collar bone fracture is healing, slowly. We are all feeling the effects of not having a real family holiday in over two years, and I am counting down the minutes until we can get the flock out of here. Sometimes, I wish I could just load us all onto a big, white ship and sail us off around the world. Look at the birds, I would tell them. Look at the ocean and the life that makes it move. And we would come ashore at French Polynesia or one of the other thousand scattered islands, rising blue and green and sand out of the South Pacific. We would have an explore, and then climb back onto our boat, our home, and drift back on to forever….
And, then, of course, it occurs to me exactly how much whining would be involved in such a voyage. And of my own propensity to lose small things such as earplugs and earbuds. And of my son’s motion sickness.
Sometimes, I wish we lived close enough to the sea that I could run out my front door, and push a little yellow kayak out on to the rocking, deep grey-blue.
It was tempting just to go. God, it was so tempting. She could do it. She had about an hour before David was due home. Maybe longer if he got caught at the office. Her waterproof Orca pack was in the mudroom, hung on the hook over Barney’s green life-jacket. She could grab the bag and stuff it with the bare essentials. Her personal banking info, credit card and birth certificate were in the cigar box on the closet’s second shelf, pushed as far away from the bulb as possible, but still close enough that the risk of burning made it hard for her to breathe. David joked at how quickly she turned the light on and off, when she had to pull summer dresses down from their boxes or put the winter sweaters away. Like using a strobe for a Maglite’s work. He’d never seen fire, not really. He didn’t fear being trapped here with her. And it would hurt him, so deeply, if he found out she had always kept a plan to get away.
She should get up and get moving, if she was going to go, but she didn’t yet move from her chair. The backs of her thighs ached. Her feet had begun to tingle. At some point she had come home from school, opened the mailbox and lifted out a small white envelope. There were grey smears at its corners and across the spring-themed postage stamp. Oxeye daisies, or asters maybe, overlaid with shadow. She’d sat at the table and opened the envelope with her thumb. She had stared at the soot as it filled her curved nail and rode up the side of her hand, a wavering line along her skin. It was an Easter card. Jaunty Peter Cottontail with an overflowing basket of pink and yellow and powder blue eggs, two of them Sharpied black. The card was blank inside, but she knew. Held up to flame for a second, the text would rise and threaten and blacken and jeer. If she angled it toward the window’s light she would see the careful strokes of wax, but that was unnecessary. Her fingers had trembled, tracing his marks, flecking the edges with soot. The sender must’ve expected that.
Softly, she said, “Well, we had a good run, at least. Didn’t we, Barn?”
The aging black lab pressed his muzzle on her thigh and gazed up at her. She scratched the patch of white between his eyes, greying it a little, making him younger. Grecian Formula for Dogs, she thought, and made a shrill sound that was almost laughter. Barney’s tail thumped once on the floor. She wiped the soot away.
Stiffly, she stood. She folded the card back into its envelope and walked through their home to her closet. Barney flopped onto her bed, and rolled onto his back for a stretch. She drew out the wooden stepladder that David had made a lifetime ago. A birthday gift, was it? In response to her telling him she only kept him around for reaching things down from high cupboards. And the Sex… he had carved into the top of four steps in flowing Gothic script. She stopped on the third, stood on tiptoe, and caught the cigar box with the tips of her fingers, hooking it slowly toward her. Sweat stung her eyes. She raised a foot to the ladder’s hinge and made herself stretch a bit further. The Easter card fell to the rug. Fuck, her hands were slippery. Barney huffed a warning sound and shuffled off the bed. His claws clicked in the hall.
David was home. Jesus, why was he home? She grabbed the envelope and jammed it on the shelf beside the box. She folded the ladder, slammed the closet door, wiped her hands on her pants and was running to the kitchen, to the sink to grab a glass of water and sit at the table and look normal when he stepped inside.
“Lena?” he called. In the mudroom, now. His voice broke, like the boy on the phone when they were both children and he was calling to make sure she’d survived.
“I’m here.” She rubbed her face with her hands, sipped her water, tried to breathe. “You’re home early.”