Helen left. One moment brushing the dog, searching for kids' snowpants on the Internet, a load of laundry, repeating spelling words, making Livy write "odor" three times, instead of "oder," arguing with Spenser about the need for a shower. Sometime later, a blink and then her absence. The note said simply, "I am not Mother."
An hour into her absence, Spenser said, "I'm sick." "Me too," said Livy. Theo rolled on his back and whined softy. Seth felt it too, empty-headed, with deep aches and a stomach that rose into his throat. They sat in the family room, around the unlit fireplace. They huddled together. A winter storm beat against the windows and roofs. Trees bent in their attempt to unloosen and crash against the house. An unseen voice threatened them, taunted them to come outside. They drew closer.
"I think we're having an existential crisis," Seth said. 'If you say so," Spenser said. "That sounds stupid," Livy said. Theo yawned wide and long. "Life is like Halloween. No one makes their own costumes," Seth said to the kids and dog.
"Maria did," Livy announced. "She was a toilet. You pushed her lever and she said 'swoosh.'"
"You mean if you took away all the rules?" Spenser said. He reached for Theo's chew ball and threw it against the wall. "I'm playing ball in the house."
"Stop it!" Livy yelled. "Mommy hates that."
And what if there were no Mommy. No Daddy. No Son. No Daughter. What if the maps were torn up and the "you are here" arrows pointed to yourself? He sometimes wanted to grab Spenser and plaster him against the wall. He sometimes wanted buy him everything he wanted. He wanted to eat a thousand doughnuts with Livy. He wanted to throw ice cold water in her face when she ignored him. He wanted to watch television with them all day. He wanted to leave them and be a fly fishing guide. Leave for a year and write his novel. He wanted to let them all sleep in the same bed. Spike their orange juice with Xanax. The world—with its Gravity and Momentum and Time and a million other unseen forces—held the dark, deeper desires in check.
And Helen did the same for the family. Kept them from Chaos. The storm crackled and blew and split the world into inside and out. Helen was out.
Spenser threw the ball against the wall, again and again. Livy screamed nothing but a scream. Theo buried his head in his paws.
And the door flung open, the cold and wind rushing toward them—only it was Helen. She held milk, cocoa, and marshmallows.
"Mommy!" they all screamed and buried her in their relief.
"It's hell out there," she said.
The door blew shut.
About the author:
Randall Brown teaches writing at Saint Joseph's University. He is a Pushcart nominee and holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Vermont College and a BA from Tufts University. His stories, poems, and essays have been published widely, with recent work appearing or forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Connecticut Review, The Saint Ann's Review, Dalhousie Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Vestal Review, Cairn, King's English, and others. He's recently finished a collection of (very) short fiction, Mad To Live.
© 2011 Word Riot