If humans had them, the world might just be perfect.
I LOOK FOR WAYS to stop myself from falling. The air is wide beneath me. Wide and warm. The beam, cold and narrow. This balancing act will end with me spread wingless in the sky, no idea how it happened—maybe I closed my eyes at the very wrong moment. Then I’m tumbling, tearing, down, down …
The scream that rips out of me is so familiar, I recognize its taste before I even hear the sound. My stomach soars into my throat, about to choke me, when I buck and come awake.
The dream. It’s only the dream. I clutch the edge of my mattress, which is on the floor. There’s nowhere to fall from here, but I feel as if I’m groping the air.
Mom appears in the doorway. She crosses the room with fleet footsteps and puts the washcloth in my hand, cool and soothing. I press it to my face as she settles down beside me.
This is our routine.
Mom scoops the hair away from my cheeks. Her hands are small and swift. She says nothing. She’s tried every comfort word already and learned that saying nothing is always safest.
I get that she doesn’t know what to do with the dream, or with me. The inside of her slim wrist strokes my cheek, maybe by accident.
It’s almost time to get up. Light seeps in under the curtains, and Mom’s here, still dressed in her work clothes.
Her fingers sweep through my hair, every strand, repairing the loose ponytail I was sleeping in. By the time she’s finished, my grip on the mattress has relaxed. I hold on to her arm, knowing she has both feet on the ground.
I don’t like the worried look on her face, or the urgent way she strokes my hand, trying to calm me down.
When I lie back against the pillows, she stops and holds my hands between hers.
* * *
“I’M HAVING FETTUCCINE,” Mom says, pressing buttons on the coffeemaker. “What do you want for breakfast?”
It’s things like this that make me sure that we will never talk about the dream. Never talk about anything that matters.
“Oatmeal, I think.”
Mom stretches high to reach the Quaker Oats carton. It’s only the second-highest shelf, but she wobbles on tiptoe, like a beginner ballerina. At times it’s hard to believe we’re even related. Mom is thin. Rail thin. Dirty-looks-from-passersby thin. Eating-disorder-ad thin, but just by nature. She loses weight when she sneezes. Sometimes I think she loses weight when I sneeze.
Her voice doesn’t match her body. Not at all. People never guess she’s Laura Baldwin, late-night radio goddess, by looking at her. Mom has this deep-throated voice like hot milk on chocolate. Her voice is her job, her life. Her voice is this amazing gift to the world.
To look or sound like her, all small and throaty, is a different kind of dream. Standing side by side, we seem like strangers.
I head for the coffeepot as Mom shifts to the stove. She starts heating water for my oatmeal. Then she nukes the leftover fettuccine from my dinner last night for herself.
Mom works nights at the radio station, so she cooks me dinner while she cooks herself breakfast, and vice versa. We hardly ever eat the same thing at the same time. According to my guidance counselors, this makes me more likely to be “troubled.”
But it works for us. Mom sleeps during the day while I’m at school, so she’ll be awake when I get home. If I come home late, she knows I’ve been to see Dad. Those are the days when she bakes cookies. It’s funny, because Mom’s not at all domestic like that.
She leaves for work at the radio station late at night. Her on-air shift is midnight to four A.M., and she’s always home by six, when I’m getting up for school.
It’s five thirty now. In two hours, I’ll have to leave for school. Four days until summer vacation, and I’m counting the minutes.
“We need to talk,” Mom says, over fettuccine and oatmeal.
“Huh?” My spoon slips, clattering against the bowl.
Mom and I do great at not talking. It’s not a hostile thing. There just aren’t any words lost between us. Mom saves up her thoughts for when she’s on air.
I don’t have a whole lot to say. At least not to her.
“I want us to talk,” Mom says. “About your father.”
I push my bowl away half full.
She’s dragging me across the invisible line, straight into the never-ever domain. I am shaken.
“Ellis, I think it’s time.”
She couldn’t be more wrong.
Copyright © 2012 by Kekla Magoon