Caught

CAUGHT
Jessica Barksdale
Issue No. 8 – June 2015

The first time, Melanie had been about fifty feet away as the kid spun around the blind corner, his shiny silver Mercedes drifting on two-wheels, at least for a second. Sun glinted through the sudden spaces under the car. The For Sale sign in front of the Delgado’s house rocked back and forth. Wind blew dried eucalyptus leaves, the edges thin as knives.

She threw up her arms as the car righted itself, the leash yanking her dog, Remy. Remy whined. The kid skidded hard to a stop, the rear of his car lifting. The smell of hot brakes and tires wafted from under the car as the motor ran.

“What the hell!” she yelled, ignoring the bang of her heart.

The car inched closer, and when he was two feet away, he unrolled his window. The first thing she noted were his pimples, the shine of grease on his forehead. Might as well wear a sign that reads Hormones, she thought. He smelled like gels and cigarettes smoked by friends in the back seat.

“Sorry.”

“Sorry?” she said. “I was just about at that turn. Any closer, my dog and I would have been dead.”

He put on a sullen face, eyes glazed and staring straight ahead.

“You should drive ten miles an hour on this street. It’s basically one lane. Do you want to run over someone?”

He pushed a hand through his thick dark hair. Then he shrugged, and for the thousandth time, Melanie marveled that the entire population hadn’t been killed by teenaged boys. Her own hadn’t managed to kill her, and they’d lived in her house.

“I don’t really feel like talking with your mother. Tina, right? But I will. Slow the hell down.”

To his credit, he looked her in the eyes, dark brown-eyed, white-toothed, at least two good attributes. He’d probably been an adorable toddler, staggering around the house on chubby legs and with a big smile. Poor kid. Driving was likely his only power, she thought. But still.

“Sorry,” he said.

“You said that already.”

Sullen again. A car pulled up behind him, the driver tapping on the horn.

“Okay.” She stepped back and let him pass, Remy close at her side. “Don’t do it again.”

She and Remy walked on, Melanie kicking at crushed pine cones. Asshole, she thought, her word for people who did things wrong. And most everyone up in the Oakland Hills did. Driving was just one. But it was the most obvious, the most egregious, drivers barreling down the skinny, mountainous roads at forty miles an hour, straddling the double-yellow lines or just ignoring them, texting and making calls and yelling at their kids. They slid through stop signs and lights, whipped around corners. They drank big cups of Starbucks coffee and held onto the wheel with slack left hands.

Walkers — dog walkers — weren’t much better, letting dogs off-leash, dogs that were supposedly “friendly.” The ones that “never bite” or have “never done that before.” Right, Melanie thought, saving Remy weekly from snapping, slavering biters. Or the walkers were just benignly oblivious, using expandable leads, their dogs crisscrossing the street so that it was impossible for Melanie to know which side to stay on. Then there were the ones that didn’t pick up the mounds of dog shit, piles of it everywhere. Or the ones who left the full poo bags on the street. Who did they think was going to clean up after them?

She didn’t even want to think about the bicyclists zipping down from the regional parks. Toward the end of their marriage, her ex Dan had taken up biking. Two-thousand dollar technological marvel bike, special shoes, fancy helmet. All that damp, smelly Spandex. On weekends, he’d leave for the entire day, riding from Oakland, through Berkeley, into Contra Costa County and the wide-open suburbs with their trails or, at least, wider streets.

Or so he said.

Now, half the time, Melanie had the notion of ramming bikers and flipping them up like poker chips. But instead, she was forced to follow them down the hill, looking at their ghastly ass cracks through their worn-out biking shorts.

But really, no one should live up here at all. The 1991 fire hadn’t taught any of them a lesson. Big houses built one after the other next to stands of drought-dry eucalyptus and now-dying Monterey pines. Empty lots let go to seed. Clumps of oily, invasive Scotch broom. Budget cuts and closed fire stations. Small streets, barely big enough for the remaining fire engines. Global warming. Off-shore flows. This entire hilly community was one struck match away from extinction. Just like this neighbor kid, people were blind to anyone but themselves.

But who was she fooling? Despite the danger, she and Dan had moved to the hills for the view; for the neighbors with kids, the block parties, the nearby parks, the swim club. Now Melanie was the only one left in the big house, rolling around it like a marble in a matchbox.

Back at home, Melanie took off Remy’s leash and gave him his dried bull’s penis, marketed as a bully-stick dog chew. He trotted outside to his spot on the outdoor couch and started gnawing.

Sitting down at the kitchen counter, she clicked onto her laptop searching the neighborhood watch list for Tina Simmons’ email address. After what Melanie saw today, it was clear Tina needed a new script. What kind of advice was she giving that monster? From what Melanie had gathered at block parties, the father wasn’t around and hadn’t been for years. It must have been Tina that taught her son to drive like a maniac.

Melanie scrolled through, finding Tina’s name and address. Settling in her chair, Melanie clicked and started writing, but then she sat back and stared at Remy in the sun, the dog oblivious to bad parenting and near-death experiences.

How many times had Melanie’s older son Robert driven while drunk? Or while on some other substance Melanie would only learn about years later? He’d sneak out of the house, first to run around the neighborhood with his friends, and then later to drive like an idiot, lights off. He’d siphon gas from Melanie’s and Dan’s cars, speed around until he ran out, and then steal more gas from someone else. Robert and his friends destroyed the local soccer field and had to do community service for weeks at the nearby assisted living facility. He was lucky Dan pulled a few lawyer strings and kept him out of juvenile hall.

Melanie clicked on “to” and then “subject,” writing Your Son.

She sat back. Her sons. Robert, okay now. And Will, just into his life, almost independent at 27, a firefighter recently hired to a district. Finally. All she paid for was his health insurance and his phone. A miracle, really. He hadn’t learned to read until halfway through second-grade, even though Melanie and Dan had known he was smart. Then there were those disturbing drawings in third grade. The bombs and blood. That black and red ink. All the meetings with teachers as exhausted as Melanie was at her own school district, with her own students and their hyper parents. Twenty-two years of it. It was endless. The forms. The IEP programs. The teacher notes home, the calls, the after-school check-ins.

Being a teacher hadn’t made it any easier to be a parent. How she and Will wrangled about homework, both of them red-eyed, wild-haired by night’s end. The pages of reading. The long essays. How he’d stalk off, slamming doors, his eyes averted when he slunk into the kitchen in the morning, submitting to the daily routine. His stiff, battle-ready back as he walked out the front door, hefting his fifty-pound backpack. If it hadn’t been for the resource room (special education) and the therapists (for the whole family) Melanie might be making weekly visits to Lompoc prison with all the other mothers and wives.

Will probably didn’t even remember half of it. Or that she’d been there the whole time, standing behind him.

Melanie glanced back at Remy, his black eyes on her as he chewed. So much better to have a dog. You could screw up and dogs forgot. You could do your worst, and they still loved you. You could fill a bowl of water with an old garden hose. You could feed them hard pellets of food. You could lock them in a cage for four hours with only a rawhide bone and a blanket and all was forgiven.

Melanie sighed, closed down her email, and shut her laptop.

***

She woke up, something covering her eyes, maybe her whole head — her body immobilized, the world muffled.

Melanie licked her lips. The warm air around her was filled with noises but empty of anything she understood enough to hear.

“Water,” she said.

Water appeared, a straw on her lips. She sucked but couldn’t see who held the glass.

She released the straw, sank back, but even that tiny movement seemed impossible. The tendons on the sides of her neck pulsed and burned. Each vertebrae of her spine screamed on the stiff mattress.

“Where?” she asked.

Then there was a muffled blur, an itchy scratch of sound, and she could hear. She breathed in hospital — bleached cotton, isopropyl alcohol, her own body, a kind of dead skin cast smell she remembered from when she broke her arm in second grade — but she didn’t know which hospital (Highland? God. Kaiser? Lord). Or who was with her. Robert was in Berlin fomenting political change, and Will was in the Cascades of Washington State, fighting wildland fires. Dan? Dan had left years ago, so—

“My dog!” She thought to sit up, but tubes, wires, and her own body constrained her. A hand steadied her on the bed.

“He’s fine, I promise,” the somehow familiar voice said. Melanie turned toward it, her, but her eyes were still covered, the world a vague yellow. “We’re taking care of him.”

Melanie let her heart calm, felt someone tugging the blanket around her shoulders. As she exhaled, she focused on finding her body. Closing her eyes against the yellow (something oily covering them) she searched out her right foot. There it was at the end of the bed. And then her left. She tried to wiggle her toes, and she might have, but there was pain, something that radiated up her legs into her dead center, which felt achy and deep, a well of blood, maroon, glistening.

But other than that, she felt okay, her normal feeling from chest to fingertips. She moved those, too, scratching the sheet as she did.

“What happened?” she asked.

“You don’t remember?” a second voice asked.

A slash of sun on Remy’s white fluffy fur. A click of dog tags. A pine cone, a scrap of paper. A sound, like thick packing tape ripped fast and hard off cardboard. Then something she could not really describe, not even now that it was over: a bump, her body screaming and flying. A wrench in her arm, her whole side, a crack of spine and skull, a hard white flash.

Then she was here.

That little shit.

She breathed in and held it, trying to see the car as it smashed into her, the hard wing of his front bumper, the bull of his grill as it wanged into her torso.

Maybe she was inventing this part, but she imagined his wide eyes full of terror and completion.

“Dammit,” Melanie whispered.

“He didn’t mean to,” the first voice said, Melanie starting to remember where she’d heard it before.

“Shhh,” the second voice said, clearly in charge. A nurse. “Let her rest.”

Melanie thought of the t-shirt a man at the gym wore daily: I’ll rest when I’m dead.

She could hear and feel. She could move her toes.

“He hit me,” she said to the voices.

“He didn’t mean to,” the familiar first voice repeated.

“I warned him,” Melanie said.

“Didn’t pay you or the law any mind,” the nurse voice said.

There was a pause, whispers, hospital sounds in the hall. Melanie swallowed, her throat parched. “Am I all right?”

“Your doctor will be in to see you soon.” The nurse moved close, adjusting things around Melanie’s pillow, machines clicking and beeping.

“I know what that means,” Melanie said, her words coming out of her mouth in whole, slow pieces. “I watch TV. I’m blind. Or disfigured. I’m not paralyzed because I can move. See.”

She wiggled her toes again, the sheets scratchy. She moved her fingers, and that was when she noticed the casts.

“My arms?”

The familiar voice was crying now, and if Melanie weren’t in casts, she’d slap her. Who was she, anyway, worrying so much about the “he” who hit her? Why did she care some much? Why was she defending this stupid ignorant kid who didn’t listen? Why was she sitting next to Melanie instead of Robert or Will? What about Melanie’s friends and family, her sister and cousins?

And then she knew. Tina.

“It’s all your fault,” Melanie whispered.

“I know,” Tina sobbed back. “I know.”

***

The news wasn’t as bad as the television show she watched on Thursday nights would have made it, no paralysis from the waist down, no surprise brain tumor along with the concussion or incipient MS, exacerbated by stress. The show would have included emotional visits from her mother, admitting finally that Melanie was adopted or a child of rape. This fine episode would have had her sons calling from the tops of mountains or from small submarines at the deepest ocean depths. The doctors would plead for them to get to the hospital without delay. They would hurl themselves home, bringing gifts and their hearts on platters. They would have kneeled at her bedside and forgiven her all her mothering mistakes, handing back her wrong words and moves in brown paper bags she could throw away. Possibly, her ex would have seen the errors of his ways, leaving his young bride for the true comforts of the good woman he’d spent half his life with.

But Melanie only had two fractured arms (apparently she flung them upon impact, trying to protect herself), a concussion, scratched corneas, and random lacerations from rocks and branches, tossed as she was onto the steep hillside on the left side of the street. They were still watching for internal bleeding. She would feel this way for a long time.

According to Tina, smart Remy dodged and avoided collision. He hadn’t run away, either. Waited by Melanie’s side until the paramedics came, went placidly with Tina after the ambulance roared off. Now according to Tina, the shitty murderous driving kid was dog-sitting and dog-walking and being very helpful.

“Steven has a good heart,” Tina said, again, but for the first time today, day four of Melanie’s hospital stay. Melanie’s arms were elevated on pillows, and she had strict instructions to avoid movement, which meant that the nurses came in with a bedpan when necessary. Tomorrow, though, she was to be moved to a convalescent facility where she would actually convalesce. Her eye bandages would come off sometime later today. Even better, the nurses promised her a sponge bath before bed.

“Really? Again?” Melanie said. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“He’s always been a good boy.”

“Good? What’s that even mean?”

“He stays with me.” Tina’s voice was almost a wail. “Good that way.”

“Right.” Melanie turned to the wall before remembering that with the gauze, no one could see her cry.

Go home, she wanted to shout. Get the hell out of here.

“It’s Steven’s father.” Tina said. Melanie heard rustling tissue and the blowing of a nose.

“It’s always the father,” Melanie said, though it wasn’t. On bad days, she worried she was the dark heart of her sons’ faults, personality quirks and moral lapses. Sometimes when she couldn’t sleep, she ran through her litany of errors: antibiotics, hot sauna, sex, glass of wine while pregnant, inability to say no, inclination to yell, general and persistent fatigue during their childhoods. Too much imagination (all those trips to tide pools and the hollowed out redwood trees and the jellybean and salt water taffy factories) and too little (wanting them to play sports and take dance lessons).

“He left us both,” Tina said.

“Join the club,” Melanie said. “But my boys don’t drive forty miles an hour around blind turns on tiny roads.”

“He didn’t mean to,” Tina whined. Melanie hadn’t seen Tina for a couple of years, not since that last neighborhood barbeque. Afternoon breeze blowing Tina’s dyed red hair, brown and gray roots. Too much laughter for too little happening, a clutched glass of white wine in her hand, skin pale and brittle and too much of it exposed in that black t-shirt. Looking over her head for someone to what? Come up to her? To tell her that her suspicions were right. She’d made every possible mistake and would continue to do so. Tina’s whole life? A failure.

Tina sniffed, the wet, wangly sound of her rubbing her nose. “He really didn’t mean to. It wasn’t on purpose.”

More tissue, more blowing.

What was the definition of mean to anyway? There was the attempt to do something — drive fast — and the outcome. Steven could just have easily ended up at home, parked in his own garage. He might have slammed into the kitchen, kissed Tina on the cheek and asked what was for dinner. Instead of breaking bits of Melanie’s body, he might have played video games and then told his mother stories about water polo practice over dinner. He didn’t mean to bang her up into the air. Melanie didn’t mean to be in that exact spot at that moment, waiting to be split like kindling.

“I’m going to drop the charges.” Melanie said, as if this plan had been approved by her lawyer and accountant.

Tina stilled. Then, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to sue you for your umbrella policy. That and the car insurance.”

Tina’s gasp stabbed the air.

“And?”

“You’re going to take that car away. He’s got to walk or get a ride.”

After the drugs and the soccer field incident, Robert took the bus everywhere. Finding rides home from the movies and dances and football games. Girlfriends driving him home after parties.

Long after Robert left for college, Will clung to rules not made for him. He never received a warning, much less a speeding ticket, his body stiff and hyperaware in the driver seat. Just last year when he picked her up from the SeaTac airport, Melanie patted his shoulder as he merged onto the highway, hoping to feel his bones and muscles sag under her cupped palm. But he stayed tense, every part of him still afraid, as if he believed that at any moment he would start making his brother’s mistakes.

“Anything else?” Tina asked, a small hope in her voice.

Something swung in Melanie’s mind, an idea she grabbed onto.

“I’m going to collect the money and move.”

Tina inhaled. Melanie surprised herself with a smile, feeling the stiffness of the pillowcase against her cheek. She flexed her foot, her hand. She felt the healed parts of her deep insides. “I am going to move.”

Tina breathed out and then settled against the chair.

She was quiet for so long that Melanie found herself falling asleep behind her gauze. She dreamed about her sons. Not the way they were now, all grown up and far away. Not the men they’d become with women who had naturally taken Melanie’s place. And not the long-boned, big-fisted, baby-faced teenaged boys to whom she’d fed plates and plates of food.

Not the boys who sat with her in movie theatres, science-fiction blasting bright on the screen, their eyes fill with story. Not even the grammar school boys with their lunch boxes and bad jokes, jabbering on the way home from school about who farted at recess.

No, in her dream Robert and Will were little again, curly haired and wet from the bath. Their skin shiny and slick, their bodies smooth, perfect, and round. White smiles. Red bow lips. She could feel them against her body, warm from the bath, wrapped in a towel, pressing their faces against her neck. They were it. They were the only reason she was here on the planet. The well of them filled her. All her failures and hopes and mistakes broke away, her face full with a smile that yanked on her bandages. Melanie tried to ignore the pull of tape, but that’s when she came back to the room and heard Tina still next to her, sniffling.

“Thank you,” Tina said, her voice easy, spoken from a place not made of fear.

Melanie waited for the sound of her butt lifting from the chair, heels clacking toward door, the sound of Tina walking away from whatever part of this was her responsibility. But there were only more sniffles, the whiff whiff of the tissues yanked from the box.

***

By the time she’d been transferred to Apple Valley Convalescent Facility, Melanie’s sight had returned, though she wished it hadn’t. Oh, for the gauze, she thought, gazing down her body, the sticks of her legs, the T of her set arms. She did not want a mirror, but she felt the shape of her hair, tangled around her head, slightly dirty, needing a dye job, a week past due. Gray roots for sure. Or maybe she’d stop all that now. Thirty years of chemicals on her scalp had been enough. She was scared to think about her toenails, and had not asked for anyone to take off her hospital socks. When she raised the head of her bed, she could see out to the nurses’ station and toward reception, the back of a squat young girl hunched over a book, a trickle of visitors marching past. The action was slower here than the hospital, less urgent, the end for so many of the patients known, expected, anticipated. Some would get better, some not. But everything was going to take time.

The buildings fanned out over the campus, surrounded by water, trees, tended lawns. She was too well acquainted with the soccer field next door, the very one Robert ripped to shreds with his used Infiniti, he and that mad bunch with their beer cans and joints. Afterward, the new sod replaced, the green soared all the way up to Apple Valley and its smooth asphalt traffic circle and stately trees.

Every day, a doctor came to check on her, as did a physical therapist, an older woman named Anne, who barely smiled but moved Melanie around the bed, worked her legs, her shoulders, massaged away the tense knot of headache where her skull met her neck. She thought to tell Anne about her plans to move. First and most obviously, the casts would have to go. Then the house. And the job. But under all the plans and details lived something else, a tingly feeling she couldn’t name.

“I’m moving soon,” Melanie told Anne during one of her last sessions.

Anne looked down at her, one of Melanie’s cast arms in her hands. She reached up to Melanie’s shoulder, feeling muscle, her fingers strong.

“I hate change,” she said, gently lifting Melanie to a sitting position. “But sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Then Anne went back to her work. Melanie’s body. Her body. The work of so many people. They all came in for something. The squeeze of the blood pressure band, tight above her cast. The beep of the thermometer. The slap of plastic food tray on plastic bed tray.

Her boys checked in. Her mother called from her own assisted living facility every other day to parse the extent of Melanie’s injuries, the physical therapy treatment plan, the disability benefits. Three friends from work arrived with plants and candy and gossip about which teachers were retiring at the end of the term. The kids were acting up. Recess had been cancelled three times last week. The big news? Someone stole the copy card. Get well notes slipped in from neighbors and old college pals living in other states and countries. But mostly it was just Tina and her, rain beating on the windows in the afternoon, the snores of her roommate with the two knee replacements punctuating the stale air. Tina had stopped defending her son. They passed the days watching television or reading from a local paper that Tina brought in. They laughed about the police blotter from Piedmont, the enclave tucked into Oakland like an ancient walled city: Dead squirrel found in yard. Officer called and Man knocking on doors without permit and large bag discovered on sidewalk.

Outside, willow branches swayed.

Two weeks later, Melanie was sitting on the edge of her bed, her re-casted arms in slings. A cab was coming for her, an attendant hired from the online service awaiting her arrival at home. Her lawyer filled in all the insurance claim forms, the money soon to be wired into her account. Melanie had her mind on a particular real estate agent, and part of her occupational therapy was working on a computer. Something to occupy her when all she could do was tap, tap, tap.

She searched for somewhere flat. Somewhere with big streets and sidewalks. Somewhere with dog parks. Sonoma. Marin. Napa. Mendocino. San Diego. Maui and Oahu on the back burner. Maybe not the back burner. Why worry about her children visiting her when they haven’t done so here? The neighborhood? Teaching? She’d let it go as if it were a blanket, a throw, a half completed afghan, crochet hook skittering across the floor. She’d pick up what was left of her old life and flick it, let it billow up once, twice, and then let it drift away.

A man walked down the hall, and she imagined it was the cab driver, but then there he was, in the doorway. Steven, the boy with the stealth Mercedes.

Melanie stared, expecting to see Tina slump down the hallway after him, but he was alone.

“Why are you here?”

“God,” he said. His misery and pimples glowed.

Melanie struggled to speak, as if something were hitched on her vocal cords. It rested there on her larynx, her howl. Her yell, her scream at him about how he’d wrecked her daily routine. Her orderly fashion. Her to and fro. How he’d broken the solid circle of her solitary life she’d bent into place after Dan left. How dare he! How dare he!

But how dare he not? How dare he not live, all those impulses inside him?

They stared at each other, Melanie watching the beat of his breath in his throat.

“Here, help me up,” she said.

He plodded toward her, his mouth turned down, eyes solemn. Other than this expression, he looked the same as always, but here — out of his car — he was so tall, all arms and legs, his body stretched out like a plank. He was a flicker away from being a man, off into the life that would take him away from all this. Away from Tina, too.

“I’m so sorry.” He reached out for her arm and then flinched when he touched cast, his hand inching toward her shoulder. Melanie leaned forward like the physical therapist showed her, planted her feet, used her quads.

“Do you need a wheelchair?”

“Don’t want it,” Melanie said. “Let’s get out of there before they catch me.”

Steven glanced at her, his eyes wide, lips pressed together, but his step matched hers.

“You drive too fast,” she said, as they shuffled together out of the room, Steven picking up her bag and slinging it on a shoulder.

“It was a stupid game. I tried to see how high I could jump the car. That’s what I called it. Jumping. Sort of like flying. That time you caught me, I swore I wouldn’t do it again.”

“But you did,” Melanie nodded to a couple of the patients she’d spoken to during her stay. She’d never know if they got out. Or where they’d go if they did.

“My mother took away the car,” he said, holding onto her so gently, she thought she could feel his pulse through his fingers. “I’m not going to drive again for a year.”

“How did you get here?”

“Mom called a cab,” he said.

Melanie let him steady her as they walked down the hall, past the nurses, the squat receptionist, the other patients lined up like wheelchair soldiers in the dayroom. Steven was taller than both Will and Robert, his gait lope-y his arms long, hands and fingers thin and pale. But he smelled like they used to. Soap, thick white patches of deodorant under each arm, undeterred hope with a layer of fear, the tang of arrogance, the surety that he would never die. Walking with him down the hall began to feel familiar, expected, so much so that she almost pressed her head against Steven’s chest, even though his thin bony rib cage wouldn’t feel the same as either of her sons’. But for one stride, two, she imagined it would.

Out in the air, Melanie blinked against the light and then saw the yellow cab, Remy in the back seat, his tail wagging.

Steven lowered her into the back seat, and as she sat down, Remy crawled into her lap.

“All set?” Steven said. “Ready?”

Melanie nodded, surprise tears as she put on her seatbelt. Remy licked her cheek, her ear. She wiped away the tears along with his saliva, his panting warm dog breath in her face.

The cab driver started the motor. In the seat next to her was the boy who plowed her down and smashed her flat, leaving her broken. As Steven talked to the cab driver, she thought him so far into the future that all of this was only memory. That lady and the dog. The lady I hit with Mom’s car. The lady who left and never came back.

Melanie’s breath was shallow. Her broken arms ached. Here she was again, smack in the moments that change everything. Robert before leaving the house for a night out with his drunken, noisy friends. Will before going to college. Even earlier. Dan before he got on his shiny new bike and rode all the way to a new wife.

The driver pulled into traffic, Remy’s head in her lap.

“First semester senior year,” he said, “I’m going to England. Study abroad.”

“I guess you’ll really be flying them. Jumping across the pond as they say,” Melanie said, surprised again by the tightness in her throat. He wasn’t her son leaving, but she thought of Tina, alone in her house with her tissues. “Will you be there for the holidays?” she asked.

He shrugged.

“Your mom could fly over. Do Boxing Day in London.”

Steven petted Remy.

“Maybe.”

Steven started telling her about school. His best class chemistry. His mother so worried all the time. He petted Remy some more, and then they looked out the windows, the air blowing through his dark hair, through Remy’s fluff.

What was changing? Melanie didn’t know. Her whole life? Nothing? It should feel bigger than this, wider than the small thing cracking open inside her as she sat in the backseat of the taxicab. More than just hope, the same hope she felt in Steven as she clutched him in the hallway. There should be a clear outcome in sight. Nothing ambiguous. Something to interpret and understand. A big, Oh, yes! But all she knew for sure was that this pimply, gangly, and still growing boy smashed into her and flung her up. There she was caught by the heavy car, tossed skyward, arms out in front of her. There she was, moving away and moving closer. Moving.


Jessica Barksdale is the author of thirteen novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and When You Believe. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Compose, Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review and elsewhere. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.





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