Tag Archives: series

What You Do When This Happens (2)

Note: This is an extension of last week. Work in progress, feedback welcome/desperately requested.

Paige was married for six years before her husband killed himself. They had been trying to get their lives in normal working order, to be a particular kind of family, and he had been on and off some pills for depression. Paige’s second miscarriage was too much for him. Maybe it was the realization that they weren’t the people they had been so long trying to be, that they had sacrificed so much time trying for something they wouldn’t get. Maybe it was knowing there was nothing they could do but keep trying; maybe the prospect of failing again made him opt out altogether. Maybe it was the lethal dose of chemicals—or the lack of chemicals in the places they needed to be—in his brain. We’d all speculated all of the possible reasons at first, to pacify Paige. It became an obsession of hers, like some version of Clue—Ray in the brain with the chemical imbalance—rather than what it actually was, Ray in the garage with the engine running.

“That bastard,” Chase had said when he found out. He was on the phone with my dad and his reaction didn’t elicit any immediate urge to panic in me. It was the way he’d turned away from me and lowered his voice to ask how Paige was that made me turn the stove down and ask him for the phone. When he ignored me I knew something horrible had happened. I fell back from him, no longer curious, wanting to let him protect me from it. But he’d told me, as soon as he hung up the phone, in the same sweet way he told me he liked the dinner I cooked or the outfit I was wearing. I don’t remember what he said, I just remember his tone of voice. I remember thinking about how lucky I was to have him there, telling me that horrible thing in his way that could make everything manageable, bearable. That was four years ago. There is nothing left that I recognize in Paige except the knee jerk pang in my gut I get when I see her.

What You Do When This Happens (1)

Note: This is something I’m working on. More will be added next week. Here are the first five hundred words:

My sister comes over at midnight. She hasn’t been invited; I haven’t invited her over in years but still she comes. Chase answers the door in his boxers. He knows it’s her and she isn’t worth the hassle of putting on a shirt. I’m not so sure it’s her, preferring to imagine home invaders rather than my own strung-out older sister.

I don’t follow him down the stairs, instead stand at the top with the cordless in my hand. Their voices are muffled, Paige’s especially, and I loosen my grip on the phone. No home invasion tonight. The front door clicks shut and Chase stands at the foot of the stairs watching me. Lately I’ve been feeling grateful that he loves me, and I wonder when it happened that I couldn’t take it for granted anymore. He still stares up at me, years ago he might’ve made a Ghostbusters crack at my holding the phone so expectantly, but I can tell tonight he’s not having it. Paige rounds the corner and I see why. She has mascara all around her eyes, lipstick smeared around her mouth like she’s been making out for hours.

“Jesus, Paige,” I say, annoyed.

Chase walks up the stairs and past me. He cups my elbow as he walks by, and our silent tag team switches out. He has work in the morning, he’s tired. I’m so lucky he loves me.

I join Paige at the bottom of the stairs. She leans against the wall—the sight of her always makes me nauseated and dizzy, like some damn contact or empathy high. It isn’t lipstick after all. The blood all around her lips is dry and caked in some places. How many people did she walk by looking like some murder victim and nobody helped her? When she smiles at me, her front tooth is chipped and I catch a glimpse of tiny nerves dangling from it. I wince and feel a pain in my own front tooth. She squeezes her eyes shut as though to keep the tears in, but they gush through unfazed.

“Jesus, Paige,” I say again.

“I’m sorry to come by so late,” she says with a lisp. “You must’ve been sleeping, huh.”

I soften at the familiar sound of her asking, “Huh,” a grunt from under her belly that she’s made since we were kids.

“What happened?” I ask, unsure how much I care to know. Unsure how much of it will be different than before.

“Joey got mad I couldn’t pay,” she says lines straight from a movie.

“Who’s Joey? What happened to Rob?” I dab her face with a warm, damp towel as I ask after her drug dealers like coworkers.

“Oh God,” she says with the intonation of a teenager, “I haven’t gone to Rob in months.”

She scoffs at me, this woman I don’t know, and I have the urge to hit her, to renew the bloodstains on her face. To keep her from getting too comfortable here on my couch.