These Things Happened
My best friend had a glamorous older sister named Silsby, with eyes outlined in kohl and boys who dropped by on their way home from football practice. She was getting ready for college when something terrible happened, something that shook loose her self from her body. No one ever found out what. Instead of graduating Silsby spent days motionless on the sun porch, a part of the scenery so still that when I visited I’d imagine the rapid protrusion of her tongue, the disappearance of insects.
I tell Greg I’ve been dreaming about her again.
Why do you think, he asks softly.
Once more I wonder if his gentleness prompted his career choice. The way an orderly person is attracted to botany or actuarial tables.
I guess because she terrified me, I answer.
Because of what happened to her?
Because of what was lurking inside.
It’s inside us all, Sarah, he says.
That’s very comforting, Dr. Goth.
Maybe I’ve been reading too much Stephen King, he laughs.
I arch an eyebrow and we lapse back into silence. Sometimes our sessions remind me of family car trips. Long stretches of quiet interrupted by occasional observations and questions that can go unanswered. Often we just wait each other out. I'm in no hurry. I have no place to go. No one is waiting.
His office is soothing. The taupe walls are decorated with stark photographs of ocean scenes that remind me of how little I matter. There is enormous relief in that. I wonder though, what the pictures do to my friend Alan. He is so afraid of being swept away that he must always hold on to something. He has left his fingerprints on everything here. Even me.
I breathe in time with the electric clock, my fingers massaging the scars inside my wrists, caressing the raised tattoos that I suppose I’ll eventually cover with shirt cuffs. Or jewelry, maybe. One of my favorite professors used to wear chunky silver and amber bracelets that chimed whenever she wrote on the board.
I look out the window and am surprised by what I see. Baby leaves have reappeared on the trees. They’ve come without warning.
The season has changed since I got here.
I loved her ferociously.
When Nora smiled her eyes crinkled and sloped in the corners, sending thrills of motherlove through me like some medical dye. Her brow furrowed when she strung buttons on shoelaces or positioned kernels of corn on a spoon. And I’d struggle against the urge to smother her with hugs, rationing myself, not wanting to oppress her with such adoration. Half the time though my self-control was wrenched, pulled by a powerful dog on the other end of a leash.
Even our battles over her nunnie delighted me. When the pediatrician said it was time to limit the pacifier’s use to bedtime, Nora began volunteering for naps and making regular trips to her room in between. I followed once and saw her grab the pacifier from her pillow, take a few frantic sucks and then put it back, her face flushed from the quick fix. I felt such crazy love at that moment I had to grind my teeth to stop myself from squeezing her too tight. Afterwards I said she could use the nunnie whenever she wanted. She patted my arm and thanked me.
Still my breasts tingle when she comes to me in the night.
Weeks ago I asked Greg what he wanted. Forgiveness, was all he said.
I think what happened was that I got confused about my loyalties. Lost my focus. Greg says blaming myself is a good sign; it means I‘m attempting to regain control, impose order in the world. This is supposed to be better than seeing life as nothing more than time filled with random acts of destruction.
Occasionally I remember that Matt bears some of the responsibility for the chain of events. But not often. I do know that nothing would have happened if we had moved somewhere else. If he’d listened to my whispered apprehensions about the apartment’s gloom and let me keep looking. But his body language alone stopped me. His shoulders bunched when I voiced my anxiety and the corona of impatience outlining his frame shone brighter. I acquiesced, already a nervous houseguest in the marriage.
All the way down the dark stairwell I concentrated on not gagging on the cat smell while Matt talked with the eager landlord about the affordability of the flat, its proximity to the University. In a half-hearted attempt to appease me he pointed out a swingset in the yard. On the day we moved in I found it was nothing more than a rusty relic of some long forgotten childhood.
Greg says the choice of housing is not what Matt needs to be faulted for. He says my husband contributed to my loneliness, making me vulnerable to the attentions of another man.
I don’t know why I believed the act of getting married would itself confer closeness upon us. But I did. In our first night in the apartment I lay next to Matt, my hand resting contentedly on the growing swell of my stomach. Without thinking I told him what it was like after my family was killed. I described the tent of sadness that covered me, thick and impermeable as canvas. I explained what it was like feeling nothing. What being inside Sylvia Plath’s bell jar actually meant.
And I went blithely on, taking my new husband’s silence for encouragement, exposing more and more of myself. Even now a cold wave of shame washes over me when I reflect on my idiocy. But then, with Nora stretching and tumbling inside my womb, I confessed to Matt that meeting him saved me. I told him I’d stopped eating after the funerals. And only returned to school because I had nowhere else to be.
I was so sad, I whispered, but not any more! I took my new husband’s rigid fingers and pressed them against the recent fleshiness of my thigh. And I kept talking, mistaking his stillness for intimacy, pushing him farther and farther away with my words. Later he would call me an emotional gold digger, a hustler. A wrecker of lives.
We met during Thanksgiving break of our senior year. I was in the deserted dorm laundry room staring at my clothes rising and dropping in the dryer, imagining what each member of my family had been doing the moment of impact. I liked to think that no one shifted in their seats or glanced in the rear view mirror before the truck barreled into the back of the station wagon. I liked to believe that they were all laughing, looking forward to Philip's first varsity game.
Matt positioned himself between the dryer and me and asked if he could change the channel. He had a great smile. And was funny.
We sat on the hard orange seats, him outlining plans for law school; me amazed to be connecting with someone. As we folded clothes into our laundry baskets we shared a huge bag of chips and a soda. I felt no need to purge afterwards.
We moved quickly into a relationship. I masked my fears behind bright smiles and unflagging support. I was pretty enough and non-threatening and worked hard to please. I'd type his papers, keep both of our rooms clean, have sex whenever he wanted. All the while though I was tamping down the terror that smoldered beneath my surface.
The indulged child of a prematurely aged widow, Matt accepted my attentions no questions asked. But he never offered a verbal commitment or even a suggestion that we would last past graduation. My dread grew as the calendar thinned.
Just once was I able to broach the subject of the future. I could only dance near it though, tapping out an oblique question, stopping myself from begging: please, please, please, don't leave me alone. While I made hospital corners on his bed I asked where he thought I should apply to grad school. Matt shrugged and said, I don't know, where do you think you should apply? Whose got the best poetry department?
I turned back to my chore, blotting the spot where a fugitive tear bled onto the pillowcase. I had no clue what I was going to do once my diploma was handed to me, but I knew I had to hold on to Matt, even if it was only to get through the semester. I was afraid of disappearing altogether.
As the future pulled me forward, I thought maybe I would return to my parents’ house for a year, choose a graduate program. The little rancher I grew up in was paid for. My dad’s life insurance would cover utilities and food. And more importantly, I would be surrounded by things that my family had touched. I craved that.
After awhile, my plans shrank to fit my past. The more I envisioned going home, the more my aspirations reverted to those of high school years. In Cool Springs, you don't rise up that much farther than your parents. Gifted children of the working class make gifted blue collar workers. My poetry awards did nothing to deter visions of answering phones at the local resort. I saw myself as the receptionist at the lodge, working at the same place where for nineteen years my father drove the shuttle bus up and down the mountain, ferrying rich people between their BMW’s and the ski lift.
Everything changed in May. Matt came to my dorm room with two bottles of wine and an acceptance letter. He had been taken off the wait-list and offered an actual spot at the University. He wasn't going to have to leave Charlottesville for some second or third tier law school after all. We celebrated for hours, him talking about the future, his future, while my heart beat in my throat. I'd smile and drink, smile and drink. I filled my hollow center with alcohol, until the panic subsided and nothing hurt.
When we ended up in bed, I had a fleeting thought of getting up for my diaphragm, but it passed so quickly that I'll never know for sure if I intentionally conceived Nora or if the wine affected my ability to put thoughts into action. I do remember the fear that started in my fingertips the next morning when I went to remove the hard rubber rim from my body and it wasn't there. I didn't tell Matt about my oversight.
Until I had to.
He looked like an ambushed animal. I cried and apologized. When he asked what I was going to do I said I couldn’t have an abortion. Or give it away. Matt was silent a long time. He sat down and without looking at me asked if I wanted to get married. Even though I knew he wanted me to say no, I didn’t.
The ceremony was before a magistrate. We waited our turn with four other couples off a room full of civil service workers. The office was vibrating with ringing phones and workplace jocularity. Occasionally someone would peer in at us, interested I suppose, in the friendless weddings. Sweat rolled down my sides, catching on the elastic of my underpants. Two dark spots appeared on my hips. I saw disgust on Matt’s face. The procedure itself took less than three minutes.
When we moved into the apartment, I shopped yard sales and thrift stores, put pictures of our families in frames. I picked fresh flowers and baked bread, stayed silent while Matt studied. If he noticed, he said nothing. I would tell myself that the first year of marriage is full of adjustments. His workload increased with my pregnancy. By the time I was uncomfortable, with a constant pain down my right leg from sciatica, he was hardly home.
For a while a change settled in when Nora was born. She spent her first months in a bassinet in our bedroom. Sometimes I would turn on the lamp and Matt and I would watch together as her ruby lips sucked diligently on the pacifier. Her eyes darted behind her lids, dreaming of things without names. Even asleep she could bring me to tears. Occasionally Matt would hold my hand and I would bask in the spill-over warmth.
I told myself I had a family again.
But the truth was, his resentment was growing all the time. No matter what I did I irritated him. I’d iron his shirts to save money and he would get angry at me for cutting corners at his expense. I’d make a nice dinner and he’d accuse me of not watching our finances. It was the inconsistency of the criticisms that left me so unsettled. I never knew what was going to be wrong.
Somewhere in my desk at home is a poem I wrote called, Domestic Roulette.
For two years my only real companion was Nora. Matt would leave for school (or Law Review or study sessions or intramural basketball) and Nora and I would entertain each other. We had teddy bear tea parties and Barbie dressing marathons. We baked cookies and teeny breads. And we played long games of hide and seek. When it was her turn to hide she would just close her eyes, convinced this made her invisible.
Matt went on excursions with Nora. He took her for bike rides and trips to Ben and Jerry’s. He called it father-daughter bonding time. I wasn’t invited.
I was so lonely I’d catch myself talking aloud to my parents or Philip, actually speaking the words that I normally just directed towards them in my head. Nora would generally ignore me, going about her own business, making play-dough sandwiches, humming unrecognizable tunes.
Last year, in the middle of dinner, Nora repeated the end of a one-sided conversation that I had had. She was using both hands to arrange spaghetti on her fork when she said, Oh dit, Phiwip, how could wu weave me?
I was more surprised than embarrassed. But Matt was furious. He jumped up so violently he upended his chair. He ignored Nora's startled tears and demanded an explanation for his daughter talking to my dead brother. His voice cracked in a crescendo of rage. When I tried to explain that I had just had a bad day, that Philip's birthday was looming again and I didn't know Nora was listening, he called me crazy.
Afterwards, he barely looked at me.
By the time Ben moved in my loneliness was so strong I was afraid he would smell it on me. In the beginning, I would invent things to borrow so I could go downstairs. Books, diapers, anything. I sought out Ben's company and not his wife's because he was home during the day.
And because she scared me.
Carla is a triangle, Ben a circle. He is soft and blurry, given to wordy sentences that gently wend their way back to their beginnings. He asks questions and waits for replies. When he smiles the lines in the corners of his eyes reach down to meet the craggy dimples around his mouth. Carla's smile is fast as a door slam. Her eyes are never involved. She always seemed to be studying me, dismissing what she found. To hold her attention long enough to finish a sentence, my words would come out in a rush, leaving me breathless with embarrassment. And it wasn’t just me who found her intimidating. Even their boys, James and Lex, went to their father when they needed nurturing.
Space around Ben is not defined. He is a toucher, a patter, a hugger. If you sit in the fat chair in their living room, he'll sit on the arm. One time he made Matt so nervous by offering to massage a pulled shoulder muscle that my husband recoiled, slamming his elbow into the wall.
Nora was a toucher, too. She loved to cuddle. Once when I pinched a tiny black lash from her cheek for her to wish on she squeezed shut her eyes and whispered that she’d like to be small enough to fit in my pocket so we could always be cozy.
Ben and I settled into a comfortable schedule. Every morning after Matt and Carla left for the University, I would gather Nora and her things and head downstairs. The children ate muffins and little boxes of raisins while we had slow cups of coffee. I told Ben about my family. The beautiful pottery my mother made in the Adult Extension course, my father's staunch support of the Democrats. When I described Philip’s secret tattoo, he scooted close his chair and put his arm around me and let me cry.
Ben’s a photographer. In between caring for the twins while Carla gets her PhD, he freelances for the paper. Stupid shots, he calls the work. Spelling bee winners, gaudy Christmas lights, lost pets who find their way home after years of separation. Work he can make appointments for.
But his passion is taking portraits of peoples’ lives. Whole histories told in black and white stills. Some so sad they hurt your eyes.
Ben works out of the garage in summer, the basement in winter; the change of seasons heralded by the change of dark rooms. He hates working in the basement. The smell of bleach and decay gave him headaches. Last year, when his breath still hung like smoke before his face, his eager anticipation of spring propelled him back out to the shed. I said he was like a snow covered crocus, rushing the weather. He laughed and gently pushed my hair from my eyes. We pulled away. Then.
The first time we kissed was on a hot August afternoon. I’d taken Nora for a walk, aimlessly heading towards the University. There was a crowd at Mr. Jefferson’s Kitchen and I looked in to check out the recent arrivals of first years in their still-new UVA tees.
Which was a mistake. Seated at a packed table, with his arm casually draped over the back of a redhead’s chair, was Matt. He was using his free hand to swipe an onion ring through a ketchup puddle on her plate. Everybody was laughing. I didn’t recognize a single one of his friends. And that was what was most crushing of all.
I turned away. I didn’t answer Nora when she asked why we were going home. Instead I used her stroller like an ambulance at an outdoor concert, forging a path through clusters of students.
I went to Ben and wept while I described the pain of exclusion. He made me look at him. You’re special, Sarah, he said. Loving and good!
Embarrassed I tried to get him to laugh. And pretty? I asked.
No, he said. Beautiful.
He led me into the bedroom, putting his fingers to his lips to make sure I would not wake the twins or Nora who was asleep, strapped in her stroller. By making no noise, uttering no sound, I was complicit in the seduction.
There are still mornings I wake wet dreaming of him.
But we stopped ourselves from making love, that day and the ones that followed. Neither of us could cope with the guilt. It seems so odd now, the way we would pull back just short of penetration, as though his entering me was the only thing that should have made us feel disloyal.
We took walks, went to the library, coordinated unruly trips to the grocery store where we would race down the aisles while the children cheered us on. I know people looked at us and thought, What a happy family! I wanted them to. I played to the pretense. We would plan field trips to the Children's Museum and picnics at the airport. Once, towards the end, we went to a movie. But we had to leave early because James hated being in the dark.
Sometimes, I feel the pinpricks on my skin that forewarn a Bad Time. I sit helpless in my room, waiting for guilty memories to rush over me. They splash against the furniture, flood the air. I remember when for no reason I said no to the replaying of a video. I remember Nora's bottom lip quiver when I snapped that we didn't have time to read a book-- that we needed to go downstairs. So I could get to Ben, of course.
It’s the memory of the evening when I could have changed everything that bears down with tidal force. It happened when I was giving Nora a bath. Out of nowhere she said, James scares me. Instead of asking why, instead of scooping her up and promising to protect her I said, Well, just tell me or Ben if he bothers you.
Then I changed the subject by squirting shampoo on her hair.
Although I’d never seen the look on her face before, I’m pretty sure it was betrayal I saw in her eyes.
At night she comes to me in my dreams wearing the denim overalls she was wearing the day I lost her. It was her favorite outfit because there were pockets for each treasure, a chapstick she called liptick, a spare nunnie, and the shiny smooth wishing stone Ben had given her.
I see her climb up onto the couch so she can be close to the boys, to be cozy. On her hand is the Winnie the Pooh stamp the nice nurse had put there earlier. It has not faded. She always says the same thing. The words she spoke in the bath. James scares me. This dream ends with me trying to tell her that I will keep him away from her. But the words get stuck. Nothing comes out of my mouth.
Always I wake up gasping. The dream never pales. It is real.
Ben confessed his fears about James following an aborted trip to the library. He’d had another one of his rages; screaming and kicking at the other children who were listening quietly to the librarian read a story. I had to help Ben gather everything up. I felt his tension as he pulled James into his arms so that he could carry him out. All of the other mothers were staring at us, waiting for the moment that they could criticize the parenting skills on display. Please, I had hissed at one of them, please move!
Ben sat at his table while I put a kettle of water on and sliced raisin bread for the toaster. Outside, a white wind was blowing snow around in a funnel.
I don't think he's normal, he whispered. Our eyes met and I could offer no reassurances. Because something was wrong with James, something that was at first imperceptible but over time became more and more apparent. Especially next to Lex, his identical twin, his normal reflection.
The triggers were nothing, everything. Too much laughter, unexpected physical contact. Having his hair brushed. Bad smells could fuel wild episodes of anger. Nora's dirty diaper once incited head banging.
Ben could calm James by holding him tightly on his lap, whispering long stories that would go on until the tension subsided and his son’s little body would shudder and still. I’d wait until peace was restored and close the door gently behind Nora and me.
The day Ben voiced his fears I asked it he thought our relationship was to blame. If maybe our closeness was causing confusion. My whole body clenched in anticipation of separation. A mixture of shame and relief rushed through my veins when he said no.
Then Ben slammed his hand down on the table. It was the only time I ever saw him get angry. Carla’s decreed tantrums normal for four year olds, he practically spat. She says I’m overprotective, old-ladyish!
Ben said Carla just that morning reminded him of the time when Lex had legions of red bumps over his body. Even though she knew they were harmless Ben took the baby in to the pediatrician. The doctor concurred with Carla. It was just heat rash. From then on Carla would use that event to either illustrate Ben’s financial foolishness or neurotic parenting. Whichever, depending.
His eyes were swimming behind tears. I don’t know what to do for my son, Sarah!
I put my hand on top of his. Call the hospital, I said, call the neurology clinic.
Two weeks later, the five of us squeezed into my little Toyota. Carla had a department event she couldn't get out of. She and Ben had had a terrible fight about going at all. Her angry words rose through the floor as though she wanted me to hear them. Change the damn time, she’d shouted. It's your fault for not checking with me about my schedule anyway!
I couldn't hear what Ben responded but I'm sure he tried to explain the cancellation would push the exam back weeks. Well, then get your little sidekick to take you, Carla screamed, she has nothing better to do!
The appointment was ill timed before naps and lunch. The bulky snowsuits and Nora's carseat made the trip cramped and unpleasant. James yelled throughout.
Don’t be sad, Nora said to him, over and over.
We sat in the waiting room studying the walls adorned with amateurish murals of extinct nursery rhyme characters. Nora kept pointing at the bland faces asking their identities. I assigned names arbitrarily until her little face flushed red with embarrassment for me. Little Bo Peep isn't a boy! she whispered. Finally an overweight nurse in a pink uniform came for us. She led the way so quickly I carried Nora to keep up. I try and recall the way she fit in my arms. I can feel her pink boots banging into my thighs. But I can't remember if I inhaled the sweetness of her hair.
The nurse brought us to a small exam room where she took James's temperature and blood pressure. She measured and weighed him. While he was on the scale she kept moving the little metal balance to the left. Then she asked if Lex would like to get weighed. James got down and Lex hopped onto the platform. Ben's sharp intake of breath sounded like a wheeze as the nurse pushed the metal farther and farther to the right. Lex weighed almost eight pounds more than his twin.
Before she went to find the doctor the nurse took an ink pad and a stamp out of her pocket and put a bright red Winnie the Pooh on the backs of each of the children's hands. Nora was delighted and kept checking to make sure it was still there. Lex was nonchalant but James rubbed at his wrist with agitation, about to let loose when the doctor walked towards us, diverting his attention. A middle-aged man with weary, slumped shoulders, he mistook me for Carla, calling me Mrs. Wendell twice before Ben could explain that Carla was unable to make it to the appointment because of an emergency at work. He said I was the boys’ godmother. Fine, said the doctor, as if it was.
James sat silent on the paper covered exam table. Lex stood by his brother, quietly picking at the edge of the paper. Has he been ill recently, vomited unexpectedly, the doctor asked peering into James’s eyes. Has his appetite changed? Do bright lights bother him? What about noises? How about his balance, does he ever seem clumsy? Ben answered yes to so many of the questions for a confused moment I thought that maybe that was good.
I offered different objects from the desk to Nora and Lex to keep them amused. I drew faces on tongue depressors, turned cotton balls into white wigs. I remember looking up when the doctor said, Mr. Wendell. My heart quickened at the seriousness in his voice. He was patting James' shoulder, the object of his concern. Ben was the color of a dead person. I didn't know where to train my eyes. The doctor cleared his throat and began. I'm afraid we have a problem. Although I can't know for sure - until we do a battery of tests - I'm afraid that what we are looking at is a tumor. I can actually see it, with just the ophthalmoscope. It is a discrete growth of some kind. I don't want to unnecessarily alarm you, Mr. Wendell but I think you need to prepare yourself for the possibility of a malignancy.
Ben doubled over as though shoved from behind.
I went to him and put my arms around his neck. I felt his sobs between my breasts. I bent and whispered, don't scare James, honey, don't do this. The doctor excused himself, saying that he was going to go set up admission. On his way out he patted Ben's shoulder and gently touched James's shoe. The little boy had curled up into a c on the table. Ben went to the little sink in the corner of the room and splashed water on his face. The room was very, very hot. Eventually the neurologist returned saying there weren't any available beds for that evening, James would be admitted in the morning. Nora said to the doctor, please fix James. He bent down to my baby. We're going to make sure he doesn't hurt anymore.
His answer gave me chills.
Somehow we put our coats back on and walked through the hospital corridors, found the car in the garage, paid the attendant, obeyed traffic signals. I remember thinking Ben's life has just changed forever. We put the children in the living room in front of Sesame Street and I walked Ben to his bedroom. We sat on the edge of his bed, both of us crying. Why, he kept asking, why?
You need to call Carla, I said. He nodded but didn't move. Then he reached for me. And I let him. I knew exactly how he felt. He needed a physical connection. We made love. But it was an act full of desperation and it was over very quickly.
At times I try and reconstruct the afternoon's events. I know we never intended to have sex because the children were awake in the next room. When I calculate the extent of my neglect I admit to myself it was just moments. A lapse. But it was long enough.
Afterwards, we lay next to each other. I held his hand while he cried silently. And then the surreal calm in the bedroom was pierced by James's howl.
He was shrieking. I DON'T WANT YOU BY ME! GET OFF MY COUCH!
There was an enormous thud and I froze because I knew. Nora, I shouted. NORA! But I couldn’t move.
Ben was past me before I could force myself off the bed.
No, no, no! He was screaming from the other room. Call 911! Sarah! Hurry, HURRY!
I could barely work the phone; I kept pressing two buttons at once. When I finally got through the dispatcher's questions made no sense. All I could mutter was, ambulance, ambulance, please!
I made my feet walk into the other room. I had no pants on. The boys were huddled in a corner. Nora was convulsing on the floor. Her head had hit the fireplace bricks with such force orange clay dust floated in the air. Ben was leaning over her using his fingers to pry open her mouth. The same fingers that had just been inside me.
I approached them in a trance and saw the dent above my baby’s ear. Her eyes were open. But Nora wasn't behind them anymore. I remember very little after that. Not dressing, or the ride back to the hospital or the phone call the hospital chaplain made to Matt. I vaguely recall signing the form to give my baby's parts to someone else's child. The funeral was small, the coffin smaller. I tried to get in the ground with her. I was pulled back by a number of disembodied hands. I don’t believe any of them belonged to my husband.
Matt moved out. He said he might kill me if he ever saw me again. That I might as well have left his child with a loaded gun while I went to screw the neighbor. I wished every one of his words were clubs instead of weightless puffs of air.
Both Ben and Carla tried to come up. I wouldn't open the door.
Instead I pried the razor from its pink plastic holder.
It was Ben who found me. He broke in, called the ambulance to our duplex. Again. The last time I heard from him was by letter. The neurosurgery was successful. The tumor was not malignant.
Except to Nora, of course.
Greg uncrosses his leg. His chair creaks.
The days seem liquid here the way they run into each other without edges. Only shift changes and meals mark the passage of time. But not always.
We’ve talked a lot about control. And letting go. Greg’s told me he knows I was a loving mother. He tells me bad accidents happen.
Sarah, he says. It’s time to talk about leaving.
I recoil. Because of insurance?
Partially. But not entirely.
I tell him I do not want to leave. I imagine myself clinging to my bed, orderlies forcing loose my fingers, dragging me to the door.
You can’t hide forever, he says. It’s time.
For what, I whisper, terror creeping across my skin. What’s it time for?
For life to resume, Sarah. For you to write your poetry. And laugh. And love again.
I feel like slapping him. Are you insane? Promise me that I won't lose anyone else, I demand, and then I’ll go!
You know I can't do that, he says sadly. We’ve talked about this. None of us have guarantees. All we can do is offer each other shelter from the storm.
I’m not ready, I whisper. Please?
He closes his eyes. Okay, he says. Not yet.
An earlier version of this story appeared in Lit Magazine.