If the blinds are raised and the drapes pulled back, the living room window is the only thing between us and the weather. And if it isn’t humid and sticky, it’s so cold that the hookers are charging twenty bucks just to blow on men’s hands. That’s what dad says anyhow. And when he does, mom says, “Honey! The kids!” But he shakes his head and says, “Jesus Christ, Claire. Lighten up. They’re fine.”
We don’t get out much. Mostly just for church and school. But this time of year between seasons the bushes and giant trees in our yard glow like heaven. The fallen leaves are deep and diving in them is like the ball crawl at Chuck-E-Cheese. When I step on them they sound like potato chips. I don’t even mind if they touch my lips.
Today after school, my brother and I skip homework and Atari in favor of playing in the yard. Mom watches us from her rocking chair on the other side of the double-pane while I wonder if I remind her of a dolphin. I leap through the sky and fly for a moment before disappearing into the must with a splash. My brother stomps around trying to find where I’m buried. When the heel of his loafer nails my arm, I emerge screaming. Our fight doesn’t amount to much. I tackle him into the leafy abyss. He strategically feigns injury then pounces.
When we’re done, laying on our backs staring at branches, I notice mom’s chair is empty. This reminds me how starving I am and how late it must be getting. With mom in the kitchen and dad coming home any minute, I run past my brother and into the house to set the dinner table. I make sure to line the placemats flush with the table’s edge, napkins center-indented from the left and topped with a clean fork, also centered. Then from the right, the plate, the spoon and the knife, all standing on the same baseline, set an inch away from each other.
Mom doesn’t say a word. But we both stop for a moment when we hear the motor of the electric garage door. It’s the same every day. Garage door up, car in, car stops, car door opens, shoes on concrete, car door closes, then muffled steps until dad explodes through the screened door, stopping to drop his briefcase in the mudroom. We wait for him to speak first while quietly praying that he had a good day. He rarely does.