I asked you once, twice, maybe a hundred times to teach me how to skip stones because—like the stick shift and softball and butterfly stroke—I never seemed to master the stance and feel, the order and ease with which you unfurl your hand and let it fly, each and every time erecting a bridge from here to halfway across the Pacific, yet no matter how patiently you loop your arms behind me and coach my grip, swinging my limbs just so, my stones fall from the sky like rocks.
Evie had been squirreling ones, fives, and the occasional twenty since 2014.
She tucked the shopping bag into the back of the closet, where it would hibernate behind her ratty wool coat for as long as seemed necessary. That way when—if–Hank noticed her wearing them, she could look bemused and say, “Of course not, dear. I got these ages ago.”
But from time to time, when he was otherwise occupied, she might wander off and worm a hand into the bag, the box, the crackling tissue, stroking the soft gray skin, imagining her foot cradled in such heaven.
First it is bad gas and ear aches; the crack of the skull on a coffee table. At 6, 7, 8, it is skinned knees, imperfect spelling tests, being picked last for kickball teams.
At fifteen, there is acne and shame and unrequited love. At 18, the moment when you part ways with everything familiar and enter the unknown, alone.
Personal failure and public failure and betrayal follow.
Then, the moment when childhood dreams become not only improbable, but impossible; the times when faith is diminished.
There is grief and a bad back, insomnia and bitter disappointment.
But there is always a salve. Almost.
Gagging on her fresh perm, Rhonda cracked the window of Jeff’s red Chevy. He was yammering about the movie—Texas Chainsaw Massacre–but chances were, they wouldn’t be watching. She eyed the plaid blanket in the back and the way he rested his right hand sloppily on her left thigh. It didn’t matter. She despised horror movies, anyway, and Jeff had full, red lips, which split into a sweet smile. So what if he was in Vo-Tech, tinkering on cars, while she dreamed of Harvard? He had warm hands and an eager bulge, and she had tired of being perfect.
Simone whacked Dexter with a broom until he dropped his cheeping treasure and slunk under the buffet. The cheeper was in rough shape–motionless for two hopeless minutes, then unable to do much beyond the occasional flutter. She searched for the means of its escape, in the end, grabbing a spatula and the real estate section of the Sunday paper.
One wing was askew, and one leg missing, leaving a small, black hole; still, she could not wring its neck. Instead, Simone placed it gently on the patio railing and turned away. She did not watch and wait, tail twitching.
Darlene took her time, reluctant to emerge and discover today’s torture.
Emily poked her head back through the locker room door. “Not bad, Dar. Just indoor soccer.”
Relief. She could run around, pretending to vie for the ball for 45 minutes. She walked across the gym floor and sat one over from her friend; Ms. Stevens always counted by twos when making teams.
Forty-three minutes in, Darlene looked up and froze. The ball veered toward her, struck her head forcefully, and accidentally flew toward the opposing team’s goal. Cheers. For her. And no one noticed her scrimmage vest was on sideways.
I grew up in South Dakota, where the horizon rolls indefinitely in all directions. Hot summer days bred lightning storms and tornado warnings, whose zap and buzz and chartreuse cast I could see from miles away. Despite my Midwestern roots, however, I’m most content at the seashore or—better still–atop a mountain, drinking the view like water for my soul. My first hikes were before I was born, and I’ve sought them ever after–laughing, sweating, berrying, eating warm grapes and half-smashed sandwiches, uttering marriage vows, and spreading a few of my father’s ashes before God and Shawnee Peak.
How was it that life could bear to continue after the world had ended?
And yet, in the face of great tragedy, the question remained: “What’s for dinner?”
Equal parts numb and raw, Elaine meandered the aisles, staring at beans and milk and leeks and lettuce; seeing nothing.
A friendly clerk eyed her, asking, “And how are you today?”
“I’m—“ she began, but nothing more emerged. There was a reddening, a sudden wetness around the eyes.
“We are how we are on days like these,” he said–not unkindly–and he made his way back toward check stand five.
Turn off the TV.
After crying uncontrollably for an unspecified amount of time, sit down and talk with your kids about why we have three branches of government.
Pick something small that is annoying—like mismatched Tupperware, or a lost retainer–and throw all of your ire and frustration and hopelessness and devastation in that direction for a while, so you don’t have to think about the greater tragedy at hand.
Hug everyone you can find.
Have a glass of water and a sedative.
Contemplate the stars. Think of things that are true and good and will outlast this calamity.
(**Special thanks to Andi P.**)
Marianne stumbled on a root protruding from the sweltering sidewalk, nearly losing a scoop of orange sherbet in the process. Relieved, she paused to lick creamy rivulets from the sides of her softening cone. It tasted like summer, like granny wasn’t sick, like no one would call her names on Monday.
She imagined Maxwell Detweiler looming and poking at her–as he had three days in a row–and how it would feel to shove her sticky treat into his stupid face. But no, that wasn’t right. She’d spent two dollars and seventy-nine cents, which was more than he deserved.