Twilight. The echo of coyotes off the mountains beyond the lake drifts through the cold August air. The sound makes the mile and a half from here to the other side of the water seem like a stone’s throw. I sleep comfortably now, but years ago when John first brought me here, the baying made me shiver. I tried to put it out of my mind, tossing and turning in my sleeping bag, feeling vulnerable with the yelps and howls and moonlight streaming in.
They arrive ten minutes early, which Michelle regrets. She suggests a walk. He runs ahead. She feels as she always does, like a ball of string is unwinding before her, quickly, and she stands affectless for a moment watching. Finally she follows the string forward, believing that if she keeps tugging, the string will remain taut and the tension will save him.
No one shows up to an Indian dinner party on time. Everyone knows to come at least two hours after the stated invitation, but her husband had gotten the odd notion that they would “come early and leave early”. As Mumtaz expected, only the arthritic mother-in-law was there to greet them at the door.
“Jamilla is still upstairs getting ready. Come talk to me, my dear.” She grabs Mumtaz’s elbow with surprising strength and directs her toward the sofas in the women’s parlor. Her husband and children disappear with the host’s teenage sons. They would probably play pool in the Siddiqis’ amply proportioned walk-out basement until the dinner call.
Mumtaz restrains herself from tracing the outline of the flowers on the patterned couch. Instead, she fingers her bead necklace. “Are you sure I can’t help in the kitchen, Aunty?”
Janine and Andre played daily teasing games about imaginary family members as Janine drove Andre home from work. Because of the age difference and Janine’s busted radio, there wasn’t much else to talk about.
“How old is he?” the woman asks coolly, nodding toward Jacob. She has oversized sunglasses and a sharp blonde bob. Although it’s 90 degrees and humid in late morning at the park, her skin is still matte with foundation.
You look down at Jacob, his oversized head, his wide blue eyes, his wavering legs, and your back clenches. You feel your forehead sweating. You want to say, Fuck off, it’s none of your business how old he is. The woman’s daughter has already clambered up the ladder (“Look at me, Mommy! I’m climbing so high look at me!”) to the tallest slide on the playground. The girl’s hair is slicked into two French braids, and she’s wearing a pink sundress with white bike shorts under it.
And you also think it could have been you, your mother. If your mother had been the type to drink and go out, instead of not drink and watch old movies with the shades drawn, her dark bedroom. It could have been you.