Mom wanted me and Janie
to start school at the same time,
both be kindergarteners,
to take the bus
to and from,
almost like twins.

“That’d be better,” Mom said.
“For Janie.
To be together.
Janie needs her.”

Dad said no.
That wasn’t right.
Janie needed special ed
and special teachers,
maybe even
a special school.
He said she needed
more than me,
and I needed more, too.

“They need a mother,” he said.
“Not whatever you are
these days.”

Mom sprung up,
leaving me and Janie
on the couch.
She paced
and threw her hands up,
then pulled the curtain back.
The sun was setting,
the maple leaves gloss red,
the uncut grass
slivers of iridescent green.

“What about you?” she said.
“Some father,
leaving us here.
All alone.
Every day.”

Dad clenched his fingers.
He wrapped his thumbs
over his knuckles.

“Just shut up,” he said.
“You know what I do.
What I do for you.”

Dad hit the wall.
He kicked Janie’s toys,
and crushed
a box of animal crackers
with his heel.

“Alone,” Dad shouted.
“Don’t you think
I’m alone, too?
Out there.
At that God damn store.”

Dad smacked his fists
and swung his arms.
He looked far away,
ranting about
the day-in-day-out
of working the floor,
feigning smiles,
exchanging niceties,
always listening,
always selling,
always making deals
on the new make and model,
for a special
once-in-a lifetime price.

“Now that’s lonely,” he said.
“You have no idea
what emptiness is.”

Mom picked up her cigarettes.
She squinted and blew smoke
at the picture window.

“Sure I do,” she said.
“I know what it’s like
when someone walks away.”

Janie clung to Mom’s leg.
She started jumping,
started clawing,
started chanting
her face growing red.

“Get her to stop,” Dad said.
“Tell her to shut-up.”

Dad grabbed Janie’s arm
and pulled her.
He swore
and told her to sit.

“Don’t,” Mom said.
“Leave her alone.”

Janie screamed.
She buried her face
in Mom’s knees,
hiding her face
in the folds of Mom’s skirt.

“OK then,” Dad said.
He threw on his jacket
and jangled his car keys.
“I’ll do just that.”

Dad yanked the door open
and stepped between
the sun and shade.
He slammed the door hard,
rings forming in Mom’s drink.

Running to the window
I looked out,
seeing him in his car,
his head pressed to the wheel,
his shoulders hunched,
pounding the dashboard,
the car clicking

Selected byNolcha Fox
Image credit:note thanun

Ann Kammerer lives near Chicago, and is a recent transplant from her home state of Michigan. Her short fiction and narrative poetry have appeared in several publications and anthologies, and have received top honors in a writing contest or two.