Laurel started it. I finished it. We both hope you enjoy.
Mom was home. She knew not so much because of the sound of the door opening, like a vacuum seal peeled back from the edges of a prepackaged snack. And not so much because of the sound of keys jangling and clacking against too many tacky keychains. And not even so much because of the dart of light let in to the dark and cool apartment. She knew because she suddenly felt tired. She knew because Mom’s exhaustion hung and clung to all the crevices she passed, and the nature of an apartment two sizes too small meant that there were a thousand million crevices for exhaustion to crawl into and breed, and then for a girl to fall into like a field of Poppies.
She didn’t know it at the time, but all this made her sad, and so she didn’t look up or turn toward the door. She continued to watch DuckTails with her legs stretched out, straight ahead, under the coffee table and her back posted up against the seat of the couch. She always preferred the floor. Mom left her things, including the clacking mess of keys, by the door in a clay dish the girl had made and painted at school. Mom came and sat on the couch behind the girl, a leg on either side of her shoulders, and touched her fine blonde hair.
“This is my favorite one. With the druids,” Mom whispered sweetly to the girl, “but it’s scary, don’t you think?”
The girl shrugged, pretending to be in rapture with the program, though she’d seen this one a thousand million times. It was a tape after all, and if she was honest, her favorite thing about the tapes was putting them in and out of the tape player they had.
“I brought you some chicken fingers from work,” Mom continued as she pulled her fingers through the blonde tangles, gently undoing the thousand million knots the girl had worked in on the windy playground.
Finally something peaked her interest. She turned toward Mom, ready to receive dinner, to participate in the necessary exchange of words in order to earn her feast. She looked into Mom’s face, hopeful.
“Can I have milk with them?” the girl managed to squeak, her voice breaking with an homage to the prior hour she spent in silence.
She watched her mother look towards the dark kitchen. “Of course you can. Why don’t you go get plates and forks and we can have a little picnic right here in the living room.”
The girl dragged herself out from under the coffee table and walked into the kitchen, her mother still sitting on the sofa.
– – –
Her daughter was home. She could tell, not because of the lights turned off, or the sound of DuckTails through the thin door. Really, it was the sense of relief she felt when she walked through the door. She could breathe easy, knowing that her only daughter was safe, and that she had made it home safe to her.
The dim apartment had the smell of a small space closed up for too long. She resisted the urge to open a window, hoping to keep the outside world separate for a few minutes more. She placed her keys in the clay dish that was the product of a kindergarten project, presented proudly to her by her daughter. The keys made a reassuring clacking, the handful of keys against a collection of key-rings, each a reminder of happier times and trips.
She walked into the living room, her daughter in her usual spot on the floor, legs stretched under the coffee table, back against the couch. DuckTails played on the TV, an old VHS. She secretly knew that her daughter really just enjoyed putting the tapes into the old player, but that was ok. DuckTails was one of her favorites anyways.
“This is my favorite one. With the druids, but it’s a little scary isn’t it?” she asked, hoping that perhaps she wasn’t growing up as quickly as it seemed like. The girl shrugged, seemingly taken by the animated characters on the screen.
Working through the tangles in the girl’s blonde hair, she said, “I brought you some chicken fingers from work.” The girl turned quickly, at last that smiling face.
“Can I have milk with them?”
The mother looked at the kitchen, thinking about the last real meal she had eaten. Of the last time she had been able to go to the store. “Of course you can.” She felt the day catching up to her. “Why don’t you go get plates and forks and we can have a little picnic right here in the living room,” she said, hoping the excitement she tried to inject into her voice would cover her desperation.
As her daughter got up and bounced into the kitchen, she felt her throat closing with emotion. Once she knew her daughter had walked into the kitchen, she allowed the tears to fall.