Remember that today is picture day for the twins, but they have soccer so their hair should be in braids, pretty enough for photos but sporty enough that their coach doesn’t make another pointed comment. Pack the twins an extra packet of Halloween Oreos as apology for yesterday’s forgotten ice cream money. Try not to remember the fight with Liam last week about continually catering to their every whim, or the email from the twins’ teacher about healthy lunch choices that skirted the edge of body shaming. Don’t look in the mirror. Pour a mug of coffee, remembering the days when coffee wasn’t necessary, when the potential energy of the day was enough to swing the pendulum.
Go upstairs to wake Zack again, even though Liam insists he should rely on his new alarm clock and if he misses the bus, let him suffer the consequences. Hush the twins on the way, because they are buzzing around the dining room table throwing ping-pong balls at each other instead of using them as intended on the table in the basement. Remember that under that table waits a dead mouse, half-eviscerated by the elderly cat, Rufous. Miss the time spent playing with Rufous when he was a kitten, the delight of his orange paws batting at string, the house so hushed his scampering claws on tile were the only morning sound. Remember that Liam, upon discovering the mouse in situ a full week after its demise, described the neglected corpse as a sad commentary on the state of the union. Wince.
Remember the way he buried the twin’s guinea pig last year during a blizzard, his red knit hat bobbling in the howling wind, providing Fluffernut with unabridged, respectful last rites.
Knock six times and wait until Zack grunts but upon opening the door he shrieks like, well, like a teenaged boy whose mom just walked in on him wanking. Slam the door shut on the cliché. Whisper sorry towards the bedroom where Liam groans, trying to sleep off the fog of his twice-weekly night shift at the rehab center. Appreciate that Liam is the rarest kind of decent man, that being with him is the ficklest kind of luck. Realize how long it’s been since he groaned in a way that wasn’t leave me the fuck alone but its opposite.
Return downstairs and discover that Rufous has vomited a trail of fur, grass, and mouse entrails on the carpet. Attempt to hush one twin, who has stepped in it and is screaming like, well, like a kid with mouse brains on her favorite polka-dot socks. Reassure her that the only pair of clean socks left in the house, the despised striped socks, won’t be visible in the school photo. Discover the other twin hiding under the dining table, crying through a darkening shiner. Realize that the twins were throwing not the ping-pong ball, but a clumsy terra-cotta sheep Zack made ages ago in kindergarten, which explains both the black eye and the shards of clay on the floor. Realize that there is no time to hide in the bathroom and cry, because the bus is due in five minutes.
Cry anyway right there in the dining room, holding sharp splinters of lost sheep, until the twins descend in a miasma of child-tears and strawberry shampoo. Hug them and say consoling things and kiss the tops of their heads and somehow get all the lunches into backpacks and the arms into jackets and hats onto heads and they’re out the door. Watch Zack thunder down the stairs, swooping through the kitchen to grab a granola bar and although he won’t make eye contact, he yells goodbye as he runs, one Converse untied, to climb into his buddy’s F-150. Listen to the truck squeal away from the curb and stop behind the twin’s bus, idling at the red light.
Feel the quiet in the house and think about Liam. Glance at a honeymoon photo on the wall, see everything that will be lost and gained by that faded couple, which parts of them will tumble into entirely new beings, which parts of them will vanish. Consider ditching work, slipping between the blue flannel sheets, lying warm and still. Wonder if he’d blink open his hazel eyes and see all the incarnations he has loved.
Sarah Starr Murphy is a writer and teacher in rural Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in Qu (forthcoming), The Baltimore Review, Pithead Chapel, and other wonderful places. She’s a senior editor for The Forge Literary Magazine and eternally at work on a novel.