Rachel returns to the stoop. At least a half-hour passes while she watches the bees buzz around the lavender. Outside the house, Rachel feels free. Inside the house lies an unbroken promise of thankless toil. She hears the television blaring, forgotten in the morning rush. Without even looking, she knows that one of the twins, Juno or Charlie, has left traces of their breakfast on the couch pillows – maple syrup, perhaps, or peanut butter, or the viscous tracks of a runny nose.
There are wet towels on the bathroom floor, baseball pants and banana peels under Oliver’s bed. Methane, their geriatric black lab, has definitely pooped in the backyard because Miranda, the eldest Alvarez child, didn’t walk him before school just like she never does. The bathroom counters are covered in guano-like deposits of toothpaste, and Beatrice, who is 13 and recently out of braces, can’t find her retainers. Mephisto-the-Missing-Cat has probably been eaten by a coyote, but nobody wants to say this out loud, not yet anyway.
Suddenly, a moving wall of noise assaults Rachel. The man with the gas-powered leaf blower is back. He crosses over to her side of the street and blows the bare sidewalk of the house on the corner that was recently purchased by a couple from the Peninsula whom nobody but Glorya has seen. The man conjures a spinning funnel of road dust with his blower and makes it dance. Having run out of debris to blow on the ground, he blasts the dust that has now covered his white landscaping truck. He then turns his attention towards one dead leaf in the gutter and reanimates it like a modern sorcerer.
“Hey!” Rachel shouts. “Do you want me to just pick that leaf up for you?”
Of course, the man does not hear a single word.
Nothing more interests Rachel in the local de-militarized zone today. It is just as well as she needs to check in on Joan Stephens, who is becoming increasingly absentminded. Rachel knows of no friends or family upon whom Joan can call for help, so she has volunteered her services. The sad truth is that Joan is Rachel’s only friend. Looking after Joan conveniently doubles as a hall pass for a little alone time when Rob is on duty with the kids.
The first order of business is to get dressed. Rachel cannot quite bring herself to go into the house. Instead, she pauses at the doorway to watch a crow land on the bent arm of a light post. From there it drops a walnut onto the road some twenty feet below in anticipation of the pint-sized school bus bouncing down the street. After the bus makes the turn, the crow swoops down to examine the cracked shells and pick at the meat of the nuts. A second crow lands on the coveted light post perch with the intention of denying the first crow the fruits of its labor through distraction. Crows are like children in this way, Rachel thinks. Once the walnuts are pulverized and the shells picked clean, the crows flitter off towards the field.
Rachel stands at the doorway until at last she builds up the courage to cross the threshold. She makes a bee-line to the kitchen, takes a Xanax, and stares despondently at the dishes, as if waiting for them to speak. She listens to Rob in the garage, grunting frustratedly while he rummages for baseball gloves, catcher’s mitts, and bats, and to the cacophony of objects falling out of bins and off the shelves upon the concrete floor. No doubt Oliver – his head in the clouds – failed to put the equipment back in the baseball bag. Rob will be late for work after searching for all the bases and bats and buckets of balls and will worry all day about having to leave work early to coach. Oliver is not going to be properly dressed for practice by four because he will have to use the toilet after a long day at school – a time-consuming ritual that involves comic books – at the precise moment Rob is ready to go. These are the things mothers know.
And there will be the matter of a lost mitt. The mitt is always lost.
Contact Nora Parks: [email protected]