Risk of Injury
He sits on the couch, pants slightly below his waist, showing plaid underwear when he stands, but not a lot. Not the insolent, pants half-way down the ass look. A pleasant young man. From a wealthy family. Gorgeous mother, silvery lipstick and perfect highlights, handsome father (voted “hottest Dad” by Amy’s friends).
I empty the dishwasher. I hear Amy’s laugh, a sound that always makes me smile. Soft murmurs then, a change in the tone. I try not to listen, humming as I open cabinets, stack plates. I catch a word, unintentionally, now and then. Words like “commitment” and phrases like “college experience” and “long-distance relationships” and…what was that? Oh yes: “Someday we’ll be together.”
Sounds like he’s writing a goddam pop song.
I enter the family room, motherly smile in place. It is, after all, my home.
“Michael— how’s school?”
“Great, Mrs. J.” A smile.
Amy is silent, looking away from him. Her eyes are steel.
“Would you like sandwiches for lunch?”
“Whatever.” Amy is smiling tightly. I’m leaving the room.
The little prick.
I’m making sandwiches, tuna salad with lettuce, cucumber and mayo. I slice the cucumber. I’ve read that severing either carotid artery will cause instant death, just as effective as slicing the jugular in fact. Little Adam’s apple there, fake smile above. Good looking, I suppose, but with several piercings, one in the eyebrow, a gauge in the left ear. A bar in the right, straddling the cartilage, uselessly ugly.
The sunken chest, guitar-playing guy.
I remember one of those. I remember hanging out in the high school stairwell listening to the guitar-playing guy play the guitar, while his hippie girlfriend in her fringed suede jacket played the flute. It sounded unearthly to me, even though I was the only one to decline the dope. “Here.” A little squeak in the voice as he inhaled the smoke and held the joint out to me with a smile. His mouth made me weak.
No one except Michael was surprised when he didn’t get into the good performance schools. He was a competent musician, his singing uninspired and occasionally pitchy, his acting artificial. His looks might get him parts, but that doesn’t last forever now, does it.
He was going to a small college about an hour away. I’d never heard of it. Now I knew it was a place that costs lots of money and offers an array of unchallenging courses, as well as an active social life, replete with nightly hook-up opportunities. He would become an adequate middle school band teacher, but not because he wanted to be one. Consequently, he’d make the little tone-deaf redhead in the back row play the trombone solo during class, watching impassively as the other little dweebs sniggered. He would refine his mean streak, polishing it on his perky wife, and his two children. The string of affairs goes without saying.
Amy had known his reputation. Her friends tried to warn her away.
“Cheated on every girlfriend he ever had.”
“Dated three girls at the same time.”
But there was a certain charm of course; there was a reason she’d taken up with him. Again. There was a reason he could get several teenage girls to have sex with him at the same time. Well, not literally. Or…well, who knows.
There is great variety in instinct and behavior in animal mothers. Some animals give birth, or lay an egg, and move on, leaving their young to make it, or not. On the other hand, the raccoon mother never lets her babies out of her sight. Fawn and rabbit mothers leave their young alone while they look for food, as the babies are less likely to be found by predators if they are hidden in the grass. The walrus is perhaps even more protective of her young than the lioness. And for a longer time. Two or three years of nursing. Tusks slashing at the ice floes when necessary to save the child from danger.
There’s plenty of tuna salad for everyone. I am making the sandwiches. I’m cutting them in half; cutting them again, into quarters, slicing the crusts off the bread and leaving the discarded pieces, bloated little beige chunks floating face down in the sink. I am heading toward the family room, holding the pretty blue willow china plate with the tiny tuna sandwich triangles and the bag of chips in my left hand, gripping the steak knife in my right.
After over thirty years practicing law in Hartford, Connecticut, Marjorie Drake recently closed her practice and now focuses on writing fiction. She is in the process of finishing her first novel, and her work recently appeared in Seascape, Best New England Crime Stories 2019.