The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Rebecca Shepard

      The day our house was robbed it was drizzling, a powdery gray dabbed on the sky like footprints. I had remembered to double check that the back door- the one that led to our balcony- was locked before I rushed out the front, a car seat in one arm and Sandra in the other. I set down the car seat and fumbled with the keys, slightly red in the face, forehead sweating, a little bit of Sandra’s saliva smeared on the sleeve of my shirt. It was, at that moment, just another regular day. We went to her doctor’s appointment. Sandra had been tugging on her ears all the time, and I wanted to make sure that wasn’t dangerous. The doctor had slowly and methodically checked her ears and then recommended me to simply let her grow out of it, and possibly buy her a new toy with a similar tactile experience. On the way home we stopped by Delilah’s Market and picked up vegetables for a salad.

      As I was unpacking the groceries, the plastic bags covered in raindrops, I saw my headphones laying on the floor. I was almost positive I had left them in my laptop, which was in the den. I paused, the refrigerator door open, and bent to pick them up, a cabbage in my other hand. It was then that I noticed a cigarette butt, laying a few feet beyond the headphones.

      Confused, with a rush of adrenaline, my eyes swept the room. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps there was still a stranger in the house, and I picked up Sandra, running my fingers through her soft fluffy hair. I knew there wasn’t anyone in the bedroom because I had dumped the car seat in there on my way inside, and so my eyes fell on the door to the den, the only other room.

      Clutching Sandra to me, I crossed the living room and pushed open the door to the den, the tips of my fingers trembling against the cool wood. The door swung slowly and silently, coming to a stop with a bump against the book shelf on the other side. Peeking inside I sighed with relief when I found the room deserted. My eyes fell on the desk, where the laptop usually sat. There was nothing there. I set down Sandra and walked over, stunned. There was nothing there, no mark, nothing left behind. I felt, with no reason to, that crime should leave something behind, a tribute, a stain; something. The desk wood looked somehow sad, unoccupied and bare. I opened the desk drawers and gasped. Our camera, along with my grandfathers watch, had been stolen. I plopped myself down on the floor, staring out the window. I heard Sandra begin to cry, a weepy, soft moan on the other side of the desk. I stood up and went to pick her up, rocking back and forth. Finally I took out my phone and dialed Ron at work. He sounded slightly strange, and I wondered if he was very mad at me. By the time he arrived the police were already on their way. We picked our way through the rooms, trying to make an inventory of what had been taken. Besides the laptop, camera and watch, all of my jewelry and an envelope with emergency money that we kept in our bedside table, tucked between the pages of my favorite childhood book, had been taken. I sat down on our bed and began crying. He threw an exasperated look at me, ran his hands through his hair, and went into the living room to talk with the police. I lay down, my legs hanging off the end, and stared at the ceiling, letting the few tears I had shed slide stickily down my cheeks. Sandra lay in her crib quietly. I had always believed that babies knew more then they let on, that they could reflect the emotions around them. Like a mood ring. I tried to rationalize with myself. None of us were hurt. Things could be a lot worse. I turned on my side and gazed at Sandra. If something had happened to her...

      Ron taped on the half open door.
      “Hon, we need you in here.”
      He didn’t wait for me to get up. I ran my hands across my face, glanced in the mirror and left the room, leaving the door open behind me. There were three officers, two poking around with gloves on, one sitting down with a notepad.
      “Maam, if you could take a seat, I only need a few minutes of your time. My name is officer Liechman and I will be leading this investigation.”
      I nodded and sat down on the couch. Ron was reclining in the armchair.
      The officer flipped to an empty page and smiled. I assumed it was directed towards me. “So, Maam, what time did you leave this morning?”
      I thought briefly. I remembered glancing at the oven on my way out. It had been eleven twenty four. “Around eleven thirty,” I said.
      He scribbled a note. “And everything was normal then?”
      I nodded. “Well, I didn’t check everything in the study. But everything seemed fine.”
      “And when you came home?”
      “I noticed headphones on the floor, which seemed strange,” I began. “Then beyond that I saw a cigarette butt.” The officer held up a hand. “A cigarette butt?”
      “Where?” Ron asked.
      I pointed to the kitchen. The officer walked to the kitchen. He stopped, bent and picked it up, slipping it into a zip lock bag. He conferred with the other officers quietly for a moment, and then returned, pulling his notepad out of his back pocket. I noticed that his hair was very thick and curly, but a bald patch was appearing on the dome of his head.
      “Thank you. Continue,” he said, flipping open the pad.
      “Well after that I got worried. And a little scared,” I added. “I went into the office and the computer was gone. Then I checked the drawers and the camera and jewelry was gone as well. Then I called Ron.” I glanced at him. His foot was twitching up and down.
      “Can’t you test that cigarette? Figure out who the fucker is?” Ron’s voice was deep and accusing, as if his whole body was tensed, waiting to spit it out.
The officer regarded him for a moment. He seemed nonchalant. “We will try,” he replied.
      Ron got up and walked to the window, hands in pockets. “Well how else will you catch him?”
      “Sir,” the officer said. “Will you let your wife finish?”
      Ron glanced around, eyes sweeping over me. “She is finished.”
      I looked down.
      “Aren’t you?” his voice pressed into me.
      I nodded, not sure why I was mad at him. I was finished.
      “There are no signs of forced entry,” the officer said. “Is it possible that anyone you know did this? Any enemies?” his eyes swept over both of us, stopping on Ron. “Any relationships turned sour?”
      Ron’s face flushed with anger and I reacher over and put my hand on his knee.
      “No, nothing like that,” I said calmly.
      “Have you lent out spare keys to your house to anyone?”
      I shook my head. “Ron?” I asked.
      He shook his head as well.
      “Do you have any spare keys hidden outside?”
      I nodded. “Under the flowerpot.”
      An officer on the other side of the room slipped walked down the hallway and slipped out the front door. We could all here him shifting the pot, the sound of ceramic on wood, crushing bits of dirt. There was a silence, and then the pot was put back in place. He entered the room.
      “No key, sir.”
      Bewildered, I looked at Ron. His eyes were on the lead officer who was sitting across from us.
      “Someone ... someone found our key and used it to get in?” I asked breathlessly.
      The officer closed his pad. “Looks like it.” He nodded to the other men. “Well thank you for your time. We will be in touch. We don’t have much evidence to work on, but we will try our hardest.”
      They left, closing the door softly behind them. I watched Ron at the window. He had been rude, but as I stared at his back, hunched, in the gray shirt I had bought him for christmas, I felt sorry for him instead. I felt ashamed that something like this had happened, when I could have been at home. The shirt was stretched across his back. His body had expanded slightly, more fat around his waist, his black belt digging into it.
      “I’m sorry Ron,” I murmured. He turned, a soft look on his face.
      “For what? It’s not your fault baby.”

      I smiled weakly. I heard Sandra making small noises in the room next door. I stood, crossed the room, kissed him lightly on the cheek, and went into the bedroom. Sandra was on her back, her legs up in the air playing with her toes. She was giggling, saliva bubbling around the corners of her mouth. I reached in and pulled her out, hugging her to my chest. I could feel her heart, tiny but persistent, beating against my shoulder.

      I remembered how scared I was the first time I felt the beat of her heart. Realizing that it would grow and break, that it would keep her alive. The lights in the hospital had made the white walls glow. Her skin had been wiped clean, smooth as plastic, her head fitting in my palm, hairless, quiet in my arms in the hospital bed, and she was so small I could feel that constant ticking everywhere in her body.

      Ron-my husband- had been sitting at my side, a worn white v neck t shirt revealing the dark hair on his chest. His glasses were on the cart next to the bed, as if we were making a little home inside that room. I remembered how when we left the hospital the next day, exiting the examination room and passing by the room I had opened myself up in the night before, I was taken aback to see the door closed, another woman’s cries on the other side. It seemed like somehow I had claimed it, somehow, it should be mine and mine alone. Four walls housing miracle after miracle, with disasters nestled in, silently. I had clutched Sandra closer to me, as if simply the thought of miscarriage, of mistakes, might make her disappear. I knew then, stepping out into the drizzling Boston afternoon, that I would never give her up. Not to anyone or anything. I supposed that was how every mother felt, that it was nothing new to pledge yourself eternally to your child. But the fact that this silent devotion had been practiced before me, for thousands of years, did not take away from it’s power, but rather added to the moment, as if I was joining a sisterhood, an empathetic group that intrinsically knew more about me than even my husband. It was the closest I had ever felt to something above me, to a God or a religion.

      Now, feeling as vulnerable as she was as she innocently sucked on my shirt, I squeezed her against me, as if I could get her close enough to be another part of my physical body. I lay down in bed, closing my eyes. Her back was nestled against my stomach and her fingers, small as toothpicks, were spread across my forearm.

      It wasn’t sound, movement, or light that woke me, but the smell from the kitchen. I woke suddenly, sitting up, getting my bearings. I could smell lasagna, one of the few things Ron knew how to cook. I smiled to myself, looking around for Sandra. The sheets were rumpled where she had been laying, but she was no longer there. I got up and went into the kitchen to find her in her high chair, gleefully playing with a spoon as Ron moved around. I went up behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist, nestling my face into his back. He continued chopping, though I could feel tell he wasn’t annoyed by the contact. It still amazed me- the intricate nature of intimacy, how years could teach simple languages, tailored between two people. The dim lights were on, the overhead florescent ones off, just the way I liked it. James Taylor played softly in the background.
      “Smells good,” I murmured into his shoulder blades. He turned and kissed my forehead.
      I looked into his eyes, distracted by the reflection of mine in his glasses.
      “It’s not your fault,” he said. His breath smelled lightly of smoke. I could picture him, smoking out on the balcony as I slept, the smoke escaping into the ashen sky.
      “Insurance should cover it,” he continued.
      “My mothers jewelry....” I said quietly. He crossed the room to the high chair and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes. Sandra picked them up by their delicate steel frame. “They will catch him,” Ron said, turning off James Taylor.
      “How do you know it is a man?” I asked, surprised at myself for asking a question that didn’t really matter to me.
Ron threw me a look. “How many women burglars do you know?”
      I took two wine glasses down from the cabinet. “I don’t know any burglars,” I said.
      Ron sighed. “Okay, well, they will catch whoever it is.”
      I took wine out of the refrigerator and poured it into our glasses. I brought them to the table, where Ron was laying out napkins. As I passed in front of him he took my hand and pulled me around, leaning in to kiss me. I felt his lips probing against mine and I opened my mouth, feeling his tongue against mine, along my lips. I ran my hand through the hair at the back of his neck. He pulled me against him, his display of passion rare but welcomed. The oven beeped in the background. I heard Sandra giggle again, hitting the spoon against her plastic plate. Ron chuckled. We both watched her for a moment. “What kind of a mother would let her child grow up to be a criminal?” he said softly.
      “What kind of parents, you mean, right?” I said, grinning.
      “Yeah,” he agreed, returning my smile.

      We left the plates on the table that night. In bed we read for a few minutes, but despite the nap I was still exhausted, as was Ron, so after a few minutes we turned off the lights, turning to our sides of the bed, a slight rain humming outside the window.

      When I woke Ron was gone, Sandra still asleep. I got up and went to clean the kitchen. When I was done with that I made coffee. As I waited for the water to boil I went and sat on the balcony. Next door the shabby house our rather eccentric neighbor lived in looked sad and unoccupied. That was the first time that I considered the fact that it might have been him. I wasn’t sure why this thought possessed me. And then it hit me. The key.

      He had come over unexpectedly a few weeks before, asking if we had any milk. It was one of the few times I had ever spoken to him since he had moved in. When we saw him, the spring before, unloading boxes from his truck, Ron and I had gone over to introduce ourselves and ask if he needed any help. He spoke with a slight tremble, telling us that his name was Ashely and that he was from Chicago. Besides his odd mannerisms, he seemed nice, and ever since then we always greeted each other on our ways in and out. When he came asking for milk I had ushered him in, showing him to the kitchen. I had been in the middle of changing Sandra and I had asked for him to wait for a moment as I slipped into the bedroom for a minute to finish. When I brought her out he was sitting at the kitchen table, looking around the room. He looked like he was in his late thirties, his face young but battered. His face was scrawny and stubbly with a lopsided nose and small gray eyes. He wore an old sweatshirt over paint stained jeans, baggy on his tiny frame. I felt sorry for him. I had never seen him with anyone else, entering and exiting his shabby home at random times in the day. His hands shook slightly.
      “Lovely home,” he commented.
      “Thank you,” I smiled, pouring milk into a thermos. “The milk is 2%. I hope you don’t mind,” I said, thinking how he could use some fat.
      “That’s fine,” he replied. “Thanks a lot.”
      I nodded. I felt I should make conversation with him. He seemed lonely. “Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked.
      His eyes flickered towards the door, then back to me. “Sure,” he agreed. “Should I take my shoes off?” Usually people didn’t in our house. The floors were all bamboo, and we didn’t have to worry about tracking mud on carpets. For some reason I said he should. He crossed to the door and slipped them off, revealing mismatched socks underneath. I put the kettle on.
      “So,” I began, “how are you liking Boston?”
      He stood awkwardly between the kitchen and the living room. “It’s nice,” he replied. “My uncle used to live here. That’s why I am here,” he added on awkwardly.
      “Please,” I said, motioning to the living room. “Sit down. Make yourself comfortable.” He walked slowly over to the couch and sat, as if testing the softness of the cushions. The kettle hissed and gratefully I poured the water into two cups and brought them over to the coffee table with the box of tea bags.
      “Did he move?” I asked, it seeming like the next logical question.
      “Died,” he replied quickly, picking out english breakfast tea and ripping open the packet.
      “Sorry,” I said awkwardly.
      He smiled for the first time. “It’s alright, not your fault.”
      I nodded, picking out chamomile.
      “Plus, I got a place to live out of it,” he added.
      I dipped the bag into the water, not sure what to say next.
      “How old is your baby?” he asked. I glanced automatically to the bedroom door, where she was napping.
      “Almost four months old,” I answered, smiling. My phone rang. “Excuse me,” I said, answering it. It was Ron. “Hey Hon,” he said. His voice made me smile.
      “Hi,” I replied.
      “Are you busy?” he asked.
      “Busy?” I repeated, confused.
      “I got off my meeting early. I was wondering if you and Sandra would like to join me for lunch.”
      “Well,” I began, glancing back at Ashley, “Ashley is here. We are having tea.”
      There was a pause. “Ashley, our neighbor?” Ron asked, clearly surprised.
      “Yeah,” I said, not wanting to explain while Ashley was sitting there.
      “Right, well, could you meet me in half an hour? Downtown?”
      “Sure,” I said. “See you then.”
      I returned to the armchair.
      “Your husband?” Ashley asked.
      I nodded. “If you need to go....” he said.
      “It’s fine. I am meeting him for lunch in a little while. But we have time to finish our tea.” I smiled. “So what do you do?” I asked.
      He stirred his tea. “I am taking some time off,” he replied. “I used to be a pilot, though.”
      This surprised me. “Really?” I asked.
      He laughed quietly. “Yeah. Does that shock you?”
      “Oh no!” I exclaimed, blushing slightly. “I just think that is a very ... cool job.”
      He looked out the window, folding his hands in his lap.
      “Where did you go?” I asked. “I mean, fly to?”
      His hands shook a little as he picked up his cup. “All over. I have been around the world.”
      Randomly, a question entered my head. “Have you ever been to Moscow? I have always wanted to go there.”
      His eyes stood still for a moment, blinked quickly, and then he replied, “Yes I have.”
      “What is it like?” I took a sip, curious.
      “Snowy,” he replied, smiling.
      I laughed, looking at the clock. I needed to get going. He drained his mug, setting it down. “I can go now,” he said.
      “Oh, sorry,” I apologized, looking back at him, “it’s just that I need to meet Ron...”
      “It’s fine,” he said, standing up. I took the mugs back to the kitchen. He had gone to put his shoes on. They were scrappy converse. “Actually though, I have a question.”
      “Sure,” I half way yelled out as I put the mugs in the dishwasher.
      “I was thinking of getting a remodel done,” he said. “Could I take a quick peek in the other rooms?”
      His voice startled me, partly because the question seemed strange, and partly because I couldn’t see him in the hallway, making him somehow removed.
      “I just like how you guys have laid out the place,” he explained. “I thought it might give me a few ideas.”
      I had vaguely wondered where he would get the money for a remodel, but I couldn’t really say no, so I agreed, leading him into the den.
      “Wow,” he said. “Very nice.”
      He shuffled around for a moment, pausing by the desk, looking out the window. When he turned and saw me waiting in the doorway, he smiled, apologizing. “Sorry, you are late,” He said.
      I shrugged, not wanting to be rude but eager to leave. “I’ll show you the bedroom,” I offered. He followed me as I picked Sandra up out of her crib and wrapped her in a blanket. He glanced into the master bathroom.
      “I like this,” he commented. I glanced at my watch. I really needed to get going. I started gathering up my stuff. I couldn’t find my keys in my purse. I left the room and searched around the hallway. I was still doing this when he came out of the room to join me.
      “What’s wrong?” he asked.
      “I can’t find my keys,” I explained.
      “Oh,” he said, continuing to stand there. I was beginning to feel very flustered, so I ran into the den to get my extra car key and ushered him out, bending to find the spare house key under the flowerpot.
      I locked the door and turned with Sandra on my hip, brushing the hair out of my face. He smiled at Sandra. “She is beautiful,” he said.
      “Thanks,” I said, smiling back.
      He turned and walked down the porch steps. I followed.
      “Thanks for everything,” he said, holding up the thermos of milk.
      “No problem,” I replied, maneuvering Sandra into her car seat. v
      Standing on the balcony my stomach filled with acid, that day stark in my mind. I picked up my phone to call Ron, but found myself calling officer Liechman from the night before instead. He came over within half and hour, and I explained to him about the missing key, and how I suspected Ashley of stealing it. He wrote all this down without comment and said he would look into it. By then it was around ten and Sandra was screaming in the other room, hungry and lonely. When he left I went to feed her, propping myself up in bed as she breast fed happily. I kissed the top of her head, her little fingers gripping onto me, smooth in that almost damp way.

      A few days went by. I gradually fell back into normal routines, taking Sandra to the park and out shopping. At first I had been scared to leave the house, fearful that we would be robbed again. Finally, exasperated, Ron said that it would be better for us to not be there if someone broke in again anyways. Sobered up by this, I agreed to get back to everyday life.

      That Friday I woke to my phone vibrating on the bedside table. I answered, sitting up and rubbing my eyes.
      “Hello?” I said sleepily.
      “Mrs. Farlay?”
      “This is officer Liechman.”
      “Oh, hi...” I said.
      “I thought you should know that we will be making a visit to your neighbor in a few hours.”
      “Ashley?” I asked, stupidly.
      “Yes Maam. Mr. Peoria.”
      “May I be there?” I asked.
      There was a pause. “I am afraid not, Maam. We don’t know if he is dangerous....” He trailed off. “But, you do live in close proximity.” He lowered his voice. “So if you happened to be on your front porch when we arrive I am sure there will be no complications.”
      I smiled. “Thank you sir.”
      His voice raised again. “Yes Maam. We will be there in about two hours.”

      I was waiting for them when they came. I had situated myself on the front porch, Sandra in lap, feet up on the railing, so I was allowed to watch from an angle. Three cop cars pulled up, and the officers got out slowly, talking quietly among themselves. Officer Liechmen talked into a walkie talkie. His eyes slid over our house. Hesitantly, I waved, feeling awkward. He quickly lowered his eyes. He motioned to the other men and they crossed the street and walked up to Ashley’s front door. One of them knocked loudly. There was no answer.
      “Mr. Peoria, we have a warrant to search your house. If you do not open up willingly we are authorized to use forced entry,” the officer said in a loud, commanding voice.
      They waited a few minutes. Officer Leichman spoke into his walkie talkie again and then the large officer stepped back, tensing his body, and barreled into the door. It crashed open. Sandra began to cry. A dog barked. The officers slipped into his house, leaving the street silent again. I hushed Sandra, kissing her, bouncing her, whispering to her. I continued sitting there, getting up every few minutes to try and peek through the tiny window at the top of his bathroom that was on the side of the house. I never saw anything. About an hour later, the policemen exited. Officer Liechman came out last. He slowly walked out through Ashley’s lawn and into mine, standing at the base of the steps to the porch. I stood, Sandra on my hip.
      “Well Maam there is no definite evidence that it was him.”
      A wave of disappointment and fear passed over me.
      “But he has run away somewhere. The house is in pretty bad shape,” Officer Liechman said. “We have probable cause. And Ashley has a record.”
      “Isn’t that enough?” I asked.
      He shook his head. “We are still looking for him. Don’t worry Maam,” he smiled.
      A thought flashed through my mind. “What about the cigarette butt? Couldn’t you test it for DNA?”
      He shook his head. “We weren’t able to get any evidence from that.”
      I looked down. “Alright. Well thank you.”
      He nodded. “We will be in touch.”
      I smiled and went back inside. I felt drained and upset. I had felt so helpful, so on top of everything when I had been convinced that it was him. Now, it didn’t seem to matter. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, but I doubted we would ever know for sure. There wouldn’t be enough evidence to punish him anyways. This thought surprised me. I had never been a malicious person and I felt sickened at the animalistic instinct that was rushing through me. I laid Sandra down and sat beside her, flipping through The New Yorker.

      Ron brought home a new computer and camera a week later. I didn’t hear from Officer Liechman. I tried to forget about that day. I felt used, a fool. I had let him into my home. I had fallen for his pathetic excuse to see the rooms in our house. Liar, I thought. Sick, lying bastard.

      Ron went to Portland for a conference on business ethics. The second night he was gone I was making chicken noodle soup in the kitchen when I went into the bedroom to find a jacket or a sweater. The night was cool and damp, penetrating the house and it’s heating system. I glanced out the bedroom window and saw a light on in Ashley’s house. I swallowed, adrenaline pumping through me. I was reaching for my cell phone to call the police when a figure passed through the living room, and I saw through the window that it was a small stooped over woman. I paused, waiting to see his form as well. I waited five minutes, but I only saw her, shuffling about. I stopped and considered. I would be calling Officer Liechman out on a cold night to investigate a grandmother in the house next door to me. This seemed paranoid and cowardly. I decided to go over myself. I didn’t know if I should bring Sandra as well. She was asleep in her bed, tightly curled up in blankets. I didn’t want to leave her alone, but I didn’t want to wake her, and in case something happened I couldn’t stand the idea of her being there. I bent and kissed her, wrapped a scarf around my neck, and left, shutting the door softly.
      It had just rained, but outside it smelled of snow, a clean yet dirt filled scent. The air was so sharp that breathing in hurt, stung the tip of my nose. I half ran half walked over to his house, slowing as I walked up the steps and stood in front of the door. I took a deep breath and knocked. The door swung open. The room in front of me was dim, and a foul smell hit me. The carpet was a stained and discolored blue, ashtrays and beer bottles littering the floor. Empty pizza boxes, used mugs, dvds and dirty socks lay in piles across the room.
“Hello?” I called out. If a lady had moved in, trying to squat, I couldn’t imagine this place would be worth it.
      I heard a door yawn noisily open somewhere in the house.
      “Hello? I yelled, raising my voice.
      There was a pause. “Hello?” a voice answered. “Come in.”
      Surprised, I entered, keeping the door ajar behind me. A grimy heater in the corner bubbled. I heard the floor creak and looked up to see the old lady in front of me.
      She wasn’t as old as I had thought from my house. Her hair was mostly white and she was stooped, but I guessed she was in late fifties or early sixties, just run down for her age. She had a shirt on a hanger in her hand. It was starched white, ironed, immaculate.
      “Who are you?” she asked softly. She had an accent I couldn’t quite place.
      “Um,” I began. “I am a next door neighbor. I used to know the man who lived here...”
      She nodded. I opened my mouth to continue but she interrupted me, two abrupt syllables that echoed around the room. “My son.”
      I closed my mouth, looked at her more closely. I didn’t know what to say. “Ashley,” she murmured, although it seemed that she wasn’t even talking to me anymore.
      I nodded. She watched me for a moment, as if trying to decide what kind of person I was. “He doesn’t live here anymore,” she said.
      “I know,” I replied. “That’s why I came over here. I didn’t know who you were...” I wanted to explain.
      “Ah,” she said.
      We stood in silence for a moment. I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t want to leave.
      “He moved here when my brother died, earlier this year,” she finally said. “He said he got a new job here, at a shipping company.”
      “I thought he was a pilot,” I said, confused, grateful that she had broken the silence.
      She closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them they were full of tears, blurring the deep brown color underneath. “No, he was never a pilot. When he was a child he always wanted to be. He dreamed of traveling the world...especially Africa. There was something about how big it was. He wanted to see it all. He wanted...” she stopped, taking a deep breath. “Follow me,” she said. Silently I followed her through the house. It was small and grubby, every room as bad if not worse as the one before it. She led me to his bedroom. “I need to put something away,” she explained, lifting the shirt, still clutched in her hand. In his bedroom a mattress without a bed frame lay in the corner, with dirty sheets rumpled across it. The rest of the room was bare, accept for a model airplane, dusty, that hung in the corner, pivoting slowly in the air, and a shirt rack with a line of ironed, clean shirts. His mother crossed the room to the rack and placed the one she had in her hand at the end of the line of them. They were color coordinated, starting with a black one, to gray, to navy blue, to green, red, and then finally the white one that she nestled up against the rest of them.
      “Ashley has always been troubled,” she said. I realized how heavy the silence had been. “When he was younger he would always get in fights with the other boys when he tried to spend time with them. After awhile, he gave up. Just spent time with himself.’ She was running her hand across the breast of the shirt. “In high school he began stealing things. But he was always such a bright boy. So special.”
      I stood awkwardly in the doorway, wondering if she was really talking to me, or if she was just thinking out loud.
      She turned, answering my question. “He pulled it together. For awhile.” Her face had a pleading look upon it. “He started working. He had a girlfriend. But then he lost that job. He began drinking every now and then, and then too often. His girlfriend left him. She told us there was a reason that he was always trembling, why he was so skinny. That he was in deeper then just alcohol.”
      I wanted to comfort her, but I didn’t know how.
      “I didn’t know what to do. A few years went by. He didn’t stay in contact with me. And then my brother died, and he said he would come live in this house and that he had a job. I saved my money to come visit.” She looked me in the eye. “Do you have children?”
      “A daughter,” I whispered. “Four months old.”
      She nodded. “Then you understand the desire a mother has to see her child happy. To see them grow, to see them succeed.”
      She fiddled with the shirts. “I thought he was better.”
      We stood in silence. Snow began to fall outside the window. I thought of Sandra, worried about if she had woken up.
      “Are you the reason he ran away?” her voice came through the dimness, straightforward, yet loaded. Her question took me off guard. I considered it for a moment.
      “I think ... he robbed my house. A couple weeks ago. I haven’t seen him since,” I replied, honestly.
      She nodded, continued nodding, a jerky movement; forced, a trance. “I never stopped believing,” she whispered, brushing bits of dust off the shirts.
      I felt the conversation was over. I wanted to be home, back with Sandra. “I need to get home. I left my baby there,” I said.
      “Go home, dear,” she said, her voice soft. “She needs you.”
      I turned and then stopped, glancing back at her.
      She was still facing away from me. “They never stop needing you, you know,” she said.
      I took her in for one last moment, held the image of that dingy room, of the row of precise shirts, of the airplane hanging, still, in the corner, before I turned and left.

      The snow outside was thick now and it sprinkled my hair, almost acidic in my desire to be back home. I let myself in and stood in the doorway, listening for crying or screaming. There was only silence. Slowly I took off my shoes, and walked to the bedroom. I stood in the doorframe, gazing across the room to Sandra’s crib, where she lay, just as I had left her.

Rebecca Shepard is a poet and author from Boulder, Colorado. She recently published a collection of poetry “and i am always leaving,” and is currently working with Sarah Warner Literary Agency on her novel, “The Four of Us.” Her work has appeared in various literary magazines, all of which are listed on her website: . Her website also features poetry and prose, and information about how to order a copy of her poetry collection. She plans on attending Sarah Lawrence College in the fall of 2011.

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