Jenna Mohl, BFR Staff

 

Steve Flinton sat in an armchair and watched the morning news. He tried to hold his tongue as he checked his watch. Again. Nine-thirty.

He had wanted to leave the hotel by eight forty-five for the museum, and the hotel stopped serving breakfast at ten. But in a family with three women—his wife and two daughters—Steve had long ago accepted waiting as an inevitable part of marriage and fatherhood.

However, in this particular instance, the waiting was longer than usual. In spite of all his meticulous planning before the trip, Steve had failed to account for one very important factor: the hotel room they were staying in for the duration of their vacation had only one bathroom.

Steve, with a growing impatience proportional to his growing hunger, listened to the ensuing struggle that was the result of this most unfortunate of circumstances.

“Kat, can you move? I need to do my makeup,” said Anna, his youngest daughter, as she tried to squeeze in between Kat, his oldest, and Lily, his wife, for a spot in front of the mirror.

Kat, who was in the process of brushing her hair, refused to budge. “I’m not done yet. I still have to use the flat iron.”

“Why? Your hair is perfectly straight already! Mom!”

Lily painstakingly separated each eyelash, never looking away from the task at hand. “Anna why don’t you use the mirror in the hall?”

Anna scrunched her nose and whined in the way that all younger siblings do when injustice arises. “Because the light is better in the bathroom. Why can’t Kat use a different outlet?”

Lily pursed her lips and rummaged through one of her many cosmetic bags until she found the right lip liner. “Fine. Kat. Use a different outlet. Your dad wants to leave, so you both better be ready in ten minutes or we’re going without you.”

“Breakfast ends in twenty five minutes,” Steve interjected. He knew his wife. When she said ten minutes, she really meant fifteen or twenty. He wisely didn’t point out the hypocrisy of Lily threatening the girls when she wasn’t ready herself.

Such prudence, however, did not extend to his oldest daughter. “Seriously, Mom? You’re still doing your makeup.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed and Steve saw the flashing sign of ‘Danger Danger Danger.’ His survival instincts kicked in and he turned the volume of the T.V. up.

Kat, however, was saved by the interruption of Anna, who once again tried to push in, whining “movveeee”.  Kat picked up the flat iron and elbowed her out of the way. “It’ll take me two minutes! Just wait, Anna!”

Seeing that she was not going to get her way and that her mother was in no mood to arbitrate, Anna took up a new tactic. “Well hurry up! Dad wants to leave.”

Yes, thought Steve. Dad does want to leave.

“You’re not even dressed yet!” Kat pointed out.

Anna stomped over to the suitcase she shared with her sister and dug through the carefully folded clothes. Returning to the bathroom, she asked, “Can I borrow your scarf?”

Kat, running the flat iron through her bangs for the last time, answered, “Yes. But remember this the next time you get mad.”

Anna rolled her eyes and looped it around her neck. “Thank you. Out of all the sisters in all the world, you’re the very, very best.”

Kat fluffed her hair one last time. “You’re being sarcastic, but it’s true. Mom.” She turned to Lily, who was putting the finishing touches on her lipstick. “Can I wear your peace sign necklace? Please?”

“I don’t know where it is in the suitcase and I don’t want you tearing through everything.” Lily glanced over at Steve, whose jaw was clenched in his effort to stay calm. “We better go before your dad has a heart attack.”

“But I haven’t done my makeup!” cried Anna.

Seeing that his wife was ready, Steve felt as though he could now impose discipline without fear. “Too bad. We’re leaving. Now.”

Anna glared at Kat. “Thanks a lot.”

“It’s not my fault. Get up earlier next time. And wear your own stuff if you’re going to be such a—”

“That’s ENOUGH!” shouted Steve.

“Honey,” said Lily, putting her hand on his arm. “Calm down. We’re going to have a good breakfast and we’re going to be pleasant. Right, girls?” she said, with a pointed look at Kat and Anna.

“Yes mama,” said Anna with affected sweetness.

“Katrina?”

“Yes” she answered begrudgingly. And so, they shuffled out of the hotel room, down to breakfast, with Steve leading the way.

 

 

Emily Jean Conway, BFR Staff

Mom is sitting on the couch again.

She’s been doing this lately. “Fishing,” she calls it, as if a little self-reflection is all the rod and line she needs to remember what is—has—been gone, going, for the past five years.

Mostly, she naps.

But when she wakes up, she’ll tell me about the lake again. Those are her favorite stories; it’s what’s made the most impression from her childhood. Lasted the longest, after school and old loves and adventures didn’t. But there’s a little less detail every time, so I remember for her—remind her of the time her uncle fell in the water one spring and kept falling in; when her brother broke a canoe in half before it’d even touched water when he was eight; the year the algae bloom cut the vacation short, the smell was so terrible; and when she was seven, she’d caught two fish with one hook and no bait. She likes that last one the best. There’s even a picture I can bring out for the occasion.

What’s better than me doing the remembering is when she remembers on her own and she tells me something new. A detail oddly specific—maybe too specific, so who knows how real it really is? There’s no one left who can say.

It’s happening less now, the remembering. But sometimes, whatever’s been submerged resurfaces, and the fog of her eyes clears. She calls me the right name, remembers I’m her “little bird.” And then she’ll talk about the news that morning and make a joke I haven’t heard in years at her own expense and it’s almost like having her back again.

More often it is that I walk in and she is staring at the wall and when she looks at me, I may as well be another piece of furniture. It’s these moments that remind me better than a schedule to take my Omega-3 and B-12; anything to stave off this decline.

But today she sees me. She smiles, at least, when I walk in. She stops looking at the wall. “Susan!” she says and beckons me over, patting the seat beside her. “Little bird, I have the best story to tell you. Do you have a second?”

“Of course, Mom,” I say and take the seat and smile. She doesn’t notice that it looks wrong. She would have before; she used to know me so well. Better than I know her now.

“You know that summer house my father, your grandfather, used to take us to? The one with the dock and that lake that looked gorgeous any time of the year? Really picturesque, I’ve heard it called. You remember? I’m sure there’s a picture around here somewhere.”

“I think you’ve mentioned it.”

Well, one of those times, I was out fishing. I was a little thing, so I wasn’t really thinking things through when I took out the rod that morning…”

Two fish this time.

Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff

            Robert,

                        Another day, another hundred errands. Could you please take Robbie to the beach? I’ve packed some snacks for you. For dinner I’m thinking pizza. Call for trouble. xoxoxoxoxo

                                                                                                Mathilde

*

Robert thought of paintings on the drive to the beach. The sunny day expressed every detail in his sight with loving focus. Robbie rolled his window up and down, stealing highway breezes that kicked up his hair. Another day, another Mathildeless venture. The hours and the errands she said she did didn’t match. Neither did her car’s odometer.

“Dad, are we gonna catch fish?”

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said.

Robbie started clapping his plastic shovel and bucket together. Robert let the hollow sounds soundtrack his thoughts. Would Amy be there? He’d told her last minute, but figured they were both used to it by now. Mathilde only smiled at Robert’s complaints about working on nonexistent work projects. As for “getting to this point,” he’d long since gotten over it.

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said again.

“Huh?” Robbie asked, but they were already pulling into the beach lot.

**

The woman walked up and down along the bottom of the sheer cliff face that overlooked the jetty. What was a jetty anyway?

We’ll be at the jetty, he said.

The what?

Just meet us—me—at the beach, near the cliffs.

Us. He was being sloppy again. She kicked away a spinachy pile of seaweed. Seagulls flew overhead, and she resolved that, if shat on, these meetings would stop. She found a small pool where she chased crabs with her finger. It was easy to disrupt them, or anything, really. Hell, she’d let him disrupt her life after a chance meeting at a coffee shop.

“Hello,” she finally heard.

She worked up a smile before looking at him.

“I’m not doing it here, in public, with your son here she said,” pointing to a small boy with a plastic bucket and shovel, running to the tide pools with his back toward them. “Lotta fucking nerve bringing him here.”

“I just wanted to see you, Amy,” he said. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“Well, you see me Robert,” she said. “Now, what can be helped?”

***

The starfish looked like his Mom’s jewelry. He liked to watch her put it on for big parties, a five-pointed sunset red necklace. He reached in the tide pool to pull the ocean gem out. Saltwater wetted and weighted his clothes, but the starfish felt as light as the paper masks he made at school. He couldn’t wait to show Dad.  They could take it home to Mom, who wasn’t really with him and Dad anymore except at dinner and maybe breakfast. Mom would love the starfish.

“I’m gonna take you home,” the boy whispered, stroking its five limbs. He ran back to where Dad was.

Dad had his arms around a lady. He’d seen Dad wrap his arms like that around Mom. The lady smiled, and now Dad kissed her. He did that with Mom too. He never saw Dad do that with anyone else. He clutched the starfish tighter. He didn’t know he walked to them until he was right next to them. The lady noticed first.

“Robert,” she said.

Dad quickly unwrapped himself from the lady and took a few steps back.

“Got a fish, buddy?”

Robbie nodded and held up the starfish. He touched his thumb to the center. He imagined a magic button on the starfish’s center, and when you pushed it the ocean would rise, higher and higher until it turned the world into a pool.

“It’s beautiful,” the lady said.

****

Mrs. Robertson noticed Robert and his boy pull up in their driveway while she watered her plants and went to say hello.

“Why, hello there, handsomes!” she said.

“Hi,” Robbie said without looking at her, and headed straight for the house. He threw a plastic shovel and bucket set on the grass.

“Hold on, buddy,” Robert said. “Hi Mrs. Robertson.”

“Robert, how are you? Father-son outing?”

“Yah, beach day today,” he said. Mrs. Robertson smiled at him. His face was red, and he kept tugging at his collar. He noticed he had missed a button on his shirt and fixed it. “Robbie found a starfish,” he said after some silence.

“I hope the next time I go to the beach I find one,” she said. “Take care.”

“You too.”

She thought of Robbie and Robert. They looked exactly like each other. But Robbie had Mathilde’s eyes and nose. The mother’s car wasn’t there. She’d be back later this evening, then, to cook dinner. Robert, Robbie and Mathilde sometimes ate dinner with the drapes open, and every now and then Mrs. Robertson would see them eating together.

What a lovely family, she thought, and continued to garden.