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With All Her Teeth

Curled up in a corner of the couch, curtain nudged aside, Hank waits at the front window. It snowed last night, just enough to cover the ground, not quite enough to make everything look fresh and clean, and cold seeps through the glass. Hank can see the driveway, the whole front and side yard, and the woods that form a dark wall at the border of their property.

Mom isn’t home yet. She’s late.

She never comes home late.

Hank can also see the edge of the garage and the light glowing form inside, where Dad and Uncle Carl have been drinking beer and throwing darts since before she got home from school. The muffled noise of their radio clashes with the equally soft noise from Scott’s radio upstairs, and in the chance moments when both fall quiet Hank hears the drip of the kitchen sink, the drip that never stops no matter how many times Dad takes it apart and curses and bangs around and shouts and puts it back together again.

It’s already dark and long past the time when the headlights of Mrs. Steenburg’s car should be slicing along their street, bringing Mom home from work. Mom’s Buick hasn’t worked since before Christmas, when Dad slid it off the road during a storm and smashed up the front end. He says he’s going to get it fixed as soon as he can find the time. He says Mom only needs to go to and from work anyway.

Hank is watching the street so intently, her fists clenched the sleeves of her sweater, that she jumps when the phone rings.

She waits for the thump of her brother’s feet on the steps. It’s always for him. She doesn’t want to talk to one of Scott’s stupid friends.

But Scott doesn’t come downstairs, and the phone rings again. Hank bellows, “Scott! Phone!”

Maybe it’s somebody else. Somebody important. A knot forms in Hank’s stomach. She doesn’t think Dad can hear the phone out in the garage, but he might be expecting a call. He might already be getting up to come inside.

It’s no use. She runs to the kitchen to answer.

“Hello, Miller residence.”

“Oh! Oh, is that you, Henrietta?”

“Yes, it’s me,” Hank says.

“Henrietta, this is Edith Steenberg, from Dr. Wilmot’s office. I work with your mother. You remember me.”

The knot in Hank’s stomach tightens. Mrs. Steenberg’s voice is high and trilling and always a little bit out of breath. Hank is twelve and she’s known Mrs. Steenberg for three years, but adults always think that they have to remind kids of the obvious just to have a conversation.

“Hi, Mrs. Steenberg,” Hank says, in her best telephone voice. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m doing just fine, but I’m a bit worried about your mother. She calls in sick so rarely I just wanted to check in. May I speak with her?”

The knot in Hank’s gut is now a stone dropping into a deep, dark lake. Every word a door slamming inside her mind. Mom isn’t with Mrs. Steenberg. She isn’t sick either. Hank knows she’s not home; her parents’ bedroom upstairs is empty. Mom wasn’t up that morning when Hank and Scott rose before dawn to leave for Scott’s hockey practice.

She can’t tell Mrs. Steenberg any of this.

“She’s asleep,” Hank says. She feels as she always does when she lies, like her skin is too tight and too thin, like one wrong word will split her open and let everything spill out.

Mrs. Steenberg tuts. “The poor dear. How is she feeling? Is she getting any better? This has been such a rotten cold season.”

“Maybe a little bit.”

“Does she have her voice back at least? Your dad said her throat was so sore.”

Dad never calls in for Mom when she can’t go to work. He never calls the schools for Scott and Hank either. Mom does all the calls. Beside the phone is a little notebook full of numbers, and every single page is in Mom’s handwriting.

“A little,” Hank says weakly. She wants Mrs. Steenberg to stop asking questions.

“Well, ask her to give me a call when she wakes up, okay? Can you remember that?”

“Yes, Mrs. Steenberg.”

“So you’ll have her call me back tonight?”

“Maybe not tonight,” Hank hedges. “It’s the semifinal. We’re really excited for it.”

“I understand. My husband is looking forward to that. Me, I like the ice dancing best of all. It’s so graceful!” Mrs. Steenberg laughs lightly. “I can’t quite follow hockey. It’s too fast for me. Enjoy the game, Henrietta.”

“Thank you,” Hank says.

She hangs up before Mrs. Steenberg can say anything else.

Hank twists the coiled phone cord around her wrist, unwinds it, winds it around again. Last night Dad was in one of his moods, and it wouldn’t have gone away overnight. If anybody’s throat should be sore it would be his, from all the shouting.

She has a tender pink scar the size of a dime on the inside of her forearm. It’s from the morning after the exhibition match a couple of weeks ago, when the US lost to the Soviets three to ten, a complete and utter humiliation. Dad had fallen asleep listening to the match on the radio, but in the morning it was in the newspaper for him to read before he’d finished his first cigarette. The scar still hurts when Hank presses on it, and there’s a fresh dent in the paneling above the TV from where Dad threw a beer bottle two days ago when the news reported the Soviets had beat Canada six to four. Mom had wiped up the beer from the wall and the back of the TV, scrubbed the carpet to get out the smell, but the little divot remains, a pale wound in the stained wood.

Mom isn’t home, but she wasn’t at work either. Hank doesn’t know what to do. She goes back into the living room and curls up on the couch again. She hears the rumble of Uncle Carl’s car. A week ago Mom told Dad that she didn’t want Carl hanging around all the time since he lost his job at the mill and had taken to coming over every day with a case of Iron City Light and a long list of grievances about the bosses, the union, the Black men who work the coke ovens, the Polish security guards who got him into trouble, the Jews who run the banks and only give loans to other Jews. Even before he lost his job, all Uncle Carl did was complain about the people who have done him wrong. Mom had once said, when Dad and Carl were out one night, that if Carl ever said anything that wasn’t a complaint, they all just might die of shock right there on the spot. She had smiled when she said it, wide and toothy in the way that she only did when Dad wasn’t around. Dad says only animals bare their teeth like that; he saw it once on Wild Kingdom and never forgot. Every one of their family pictures shows four thin-lipped mouths pressed in tight, feeble smiles.

Footsteps thump down the stairs, and Scott says, “Mom home yet?”

“Not yet,” Hank says. She watches Uncle Carl’s car back out of the driveway. “Mrs. Steenberg called. She said Mom stayed home sick.”

There is a pause. “She said that?”

Hank turns to look at her brother, letting the curtain fall back into place. “She said Dad called for her.”

Scott doesn’t say anything, and Hank hates him, a little bit, for that. She wants him to explain what’s going on. She wants him to tell her that Mom is resting upstairs and has been all day, or staying with a friend, or at a motel. She wants him to tell her something so she can stop the squirming, wriggling, sickly fear in her stomach. Scott is sixteen and center forward on the varsity team and top of his class. He’s not stupid. He notices when there’s no food in the fridge, or when Dad’s brought home a bottle of Jim Beam instead of a case of beer. He notices when Hank has to hide her report cards or homework assignments with low grades and worried notes in red pen across the top. He notices when Hank’s shoes are worn out and her jeans are too short and her mittens have holes in the thumbs. He notices the things Mom is too tired to notice. Mom calls him her good boy, her helper, her rock, and every time she says that it’s Hank’s turn to notice something about Scott: the way he flinches at the words, hides something that looks like pain behind a tight smile.

The silence between them feels like a fishing line drawn tight, with hooks dug into both of them, pulling, pulling. Hank tugs at her sleeves.

Finally Scott says, “I’m going to start dinner.”

He doesn’t ask for her help, so Hank doesn’t offer. She shoves the curtain aside again and presses her forehead to the cold glass.

Mom is standing at the edge of the forest.

Hank gasps, which clouds the window. She wipes it away.

Mom is wearing pale trousers, a pink shirt, a soft green cardigan. They look like the same clothes she was wearing yesterday. She doesn’t have her coat or hat or gloves. Her white work shoes gleam in the darkness, as pale as the snow. Hank remembers the day Mom bought them at Sears in Monroeville, remembers how Mom had clucked her tongue and said, “They’ll get so dirty, it’s not worth it,” bending her ankles this way and that, before saying with a sigh, “But they’re so comfortable.” She had made Hank promise not to tell Dad that the shoes cost twenty dollars, five more than he had given Mom that morning. Hank didn’t ask where the extra five dollars came from; they all had crumpled bills hidden around the house in places Dad would never look.

That was over a year ago. Mom has kept her work shoes clean.

Tonight she walks across the snow-covered lawn, and her trousers, normally ironed so stiffly the folds could give you a papercut, are saggy and splotched with damp at the bottom. There are leaves clinging to the sleeves of her cardigan. Her hair, which should be perfectly curled and pinned back with her favorite silver barrettes, is loose around her face.

The door from the garage opens, and Hank jerks away from the window, nearly toppling off the couch. Dad comes in but doesn’t look at her, doesn’t even notice her. He drops a bottle into the trash can. He doesn’t say a word to Scott, who steps quickly aside to let Dad reach into the fridge for another beer.

“Dinner will be ready in a bit,” Scott says calmly, evenly, but Hank can see how high he’s holding his shoulders, braced for Dad’s reaction. Dad’s moods never fade quickly. They last like ugly, muddy snow in the darkest forest hollows, clinging and grim while the rest of the world has moved on. Every one of Scott’s words and motions is waiting for a resurgence of whatever it was Dad got so angry about last night.

But Dad’s only answer is a grunt. He twists the bottlecap off his beer; it plinks when he throws it into the trash. He doesn’t ask why dinner isn’t ready. He doesn’t ask why Mom isn’t cooking.

Hank tucks her chin into her sweater, making herself small, blending into the couch. She looks back out the window. Mom is right outside.

Right aside and walking slowly past the front window. She turns to look directly at Hank, and she smiles, smiles, smiles so widely her teeth almost glow. Her face is pale and mottled; she hasn’t covered up her bruises with makeup. There’s a cut on her lip that stands out wet and red. She smiles at Hank from one side of the broad window to the other, turning her head to keep Hank in view, until she finally passes the window and Hank can’t see her anymore.

It was only a few steps, four or five at most, but Hank feels like she has been holding her breath for hours. She scrambles off the couch and runs to the kitchen, then stops in the doorway. She doesn’t know what to say. Mom is home. She doesn’t know what to do. She came out of the woods. Scott has found a box of fish sticks and a bag of frozen peas in the freezer. He’s setting the fish in neat rows on a cookie sheet while a pan of water heats on the stove.

Dad stands at the sink, staring out the window. Nothing but his own reflection stares back at him. He doesn’t look angry. He doesn’t look drunk or annoyed. He doesn’t look anything at all. In the window his eyes are dark and hollow. He isn’t even sipping his beer.

Hank doesn’t know what upset Dad last night. She was upstairs doing her homework when he got angry and Mom tried to calm him down. Hank had crept out of her room to listen, unable to bear not knowing what they were saying, but Scott had met her on the stairs and shook his head silently. He let Hank into his room, put a Blue Öyster Cult cassette in his tape player, and turned the music up until they couldn’t hear the shouting and the breaking glass and the sound of fists hitting flesh anymore. Hank had closed her eyes tight and wished that it would stop, wished that Mom would fight back, wished that Dad would go away, just go away, vanish from the house and never bother them again. She slept in Scott’s room, taking his bed while he stretched out on the floor, and in the morning they crept out of the house with their schoolbags before their parents awoke. Hank finished her homework in the bleachers during Scott’s hockey practice. Before school he gave her a couple of dollars for hot lunch.

The front door opens and Mom strides in on a burst of cold air. “Good evening, my darlings!”

Dad drops his beer. The bottle slips from his hand, hits the side of the counter, tips and tumbles to the floor. It doesn’t break, but beer splashes down the front of the cabinet and the legs of Dad’s jeans, before spilling into a puddle on the linoleum.

Hank starts to back away. Dad is going to shout now, he’s going to blame her for startling him–

He doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything. He stands by the sink, damp and silent, and he stares at Mom, stares with his mouth open and his eyes wide, his hand still extended as though he hasn’t even noticed that he dropped the bottle.

“Oh!” says Mom brightly. “You silly billy! Look at the mess you’ve made.”

“Mom,” Scott says, a strangled little sound.

“It’ll get sticky if you don’t clean it up,” Mom says.

She snatches a dish towel from the counter and tosses it to Dad. It hits him in the middle of the chest and starts to fall before he catches it.

“You better change those jeans too. Otherwise you’ll stink of beer all night.” Mom spins away from him without offering to help. “I’m so hungry! Positively starving. What are we having?”

Scott stares at her wide-eyed. “Uh, fish. And peas.”


Mom takes him by the shoulders to twist him around for a hug, then grabs Hank to kiss the top of her head. She is still smiling, the same wide, wide smile she was wearing when she walked out of the woods, and when she leans closer Hank can smell dirt and snow and something slightly sharp, something oily and metallic that reminds her of driving past the mills on the Allegheny River.

“I’m so hungry,” Mom says again. “I could eat a horse. I could eat a herd of horses.” She turns suddenly and looks at Dad, who still hasn’t moved. “Hey, mister, you make a mess, you clean it. Don’t make your son do extra work while he’s fixing your supper.”

There is a long, long silence, broken only by the soft creak of the oven heating up. This is when Dad snaps the towel at Mom. This is when Dad picks up the beer bottle and throws it. The only uncertainty is whether he’ll smash it first. This is when his face transforms from that look of open-mouthed, dumbfounded disbelief that Mom would scold him, that she would laugh and twirl, that she would smile and smile and smile. This is when his skins flushes and his jaw clenches. This is when Mom’s smile burrows away to hide.

Hank takes a tiny step backward. She can run upstairs. She isn’t really that hungry. Scott is holding the empty fish sticks box like a shield.

Dad leans down to pick up the beer bottle and places it in the trash. He dampens the towel at the sink and wipes the spilled beer from the counter and floor. His hand is trembling where he clenches the towel.

“I’m going to change,” Dad mumbles.

He takes the dirty towel with him as he slinks away. He doesn’t look at Mom. He climbs the steps quietly. Hank realizes that he has always known how to avoid the creaks and groans.

“Goodness,” says Mom, and it’s more of a laugh than a word. “All that fuss over nothing.” She gives Hank another squeezing hug, and Hank holds her breath to avoid the sharp, metallic, outside scent that wafts around her. “I am so hungry. Let’s set the table, okay?”

Mom tries to give them bowls, which Hank replaces with plates. Each setting ends up with a butter knife and a single spoon. Dad is upstairs for so long that Hank starts to think he won’t come back. Starts to hope he’s already left, snuck out of the house like she has so often wished he would do, as though wanting a thing badly enough could make it happen.

When Dad finally comes back downstairs, he’s dressed in clean jeans but the same shirt, and his face and hair are damp like he has splashed himself with water.

The fish sticks are dry and pasty, the peas boiled to mush, but Mom smiles and tells Scott how good it all tastes as she takes seconds, then thirds, then scrapes Dad’s uneaten portion from his plate. Scott mumbles his thanks. Hank holds the spoon so tightly her hand aches. She’s afraid if she says anything it will come out like a cry, or a scream.

Mom does all of the talking, words flowing out between fast, frequent bites, talking about everything and nothing at all. The weather, the Olympics, how much she likes fish, how much she likes peas, are there more peas, is anybody going to finish the fish?

Hank’s appetite withers as she watches her mother chew. She stares at the last bite of peas on her plate. She can leave it there. Drop her spoon and leave the table without asking to be excused. Wait for Dad to call her back, with that voice he uses. He would punish her for being rude. It would be awful. It would be normal. She could do that.

She eats the last spoonful and stays seated until the others are finished.

“That was delicious,” says Mom. She beams at Scott. “Just what I was craving!”

Scott rises to collect the dishes, but Mom reaches out to him. Scott stills when her hand touches his wrist, and for a second all he’s doing is staring at where she’s holding him.

He says, “The match is starting soon.” His voice is so soft it’s almost a whisper.

“Then let’s go watch,” Mom says. “Leave all of this. It’s not going anywhere.”

She lets go of Scott’s wrist. Her fingers have pressed red and white marks into his skin.

Dad stands too, and he turns awkwardly, this way and that, indecisive. This is when he should snap at them to clean up properly. But he says nothing.

Finally he goes into the living to turn on the TV, and just as he’s about to sit in his armchair, the chair that nobody else ever uses, Mom is beside him. She grabs his arm and steers him toward the couch.

“We’re going to watch together,” she says, and she sit on the couch right next to him. “As a family. There’s room for all of us.”

Dad’s shoulders curved inward, his chin drops, his elbows pull close to his side–but he doesn’t argue with her. Instead he slides all the way to the end of the sofa, away from Mom. His knee is bouncing nervously.

But Mom scoots up against him, pressed all against his side. Hank has never seen her parents sit so close together. She feels embarrassed about it, uncomfortable in a way she doesn’t quite understand. Mom puts her hand on Dad’s knee; the jiggling stops.

“Plenty of space for everyone.” Mom pats the cushion beside her. “Hurry up! It’s about the start.”

Scott moves first, reluctantly, sitting at the opposite end of the sofa. That leaves Hank to squeeze between him and Mom. Mom immediately snakes an arm over her shoulder and gives her a hug.

“I’m so excited,” Mom whispers into Hank’s ear, like they’re in a movie theater with the lights going down. “I wish we had snacks. Do we have any popcorn? I would love some popcorn.”

Dad’s leg starts bouncing again, and the semifinal begins. Hank has been waiting for this match forever, her excitement and dread building in equal measure, but now that it’s here, and the U.S. is finally meeting the Soviets on the ice, she can barely pay attention to it. She breathes Mom’s cold metallic scent every time she inhales.

Mom cheers, but she’s the only one. Dad is silent except for the rasp, rasp of his jeans as his knee jitters. Scott watches the TV with his lips pressed together in a bloodless line. Hank can’t bring herself to make a sound. Before she knows it the Soviets are up two to one and it’s only the first period. Big Red is too good. They can’t be beaten. That’s what everybody has been saying for weeks. The words echo in Hank’s mind now, over and over again, as the figures blur across the screen and the announcer calls out each play over the slick sound of blades carving up ice: can’t be beaten, can’t be beaten.

She makes her escape after Makarov slaps another one past Craig toward the end of the first period. She isn’t even watching the TV when it happens. She’s watching Dad instead. Pressing into the corner of the sofa. Leaning away from Mom. He looks at the TV, looks at his beer bottle, looks at the TV again, but never looks at Mom. There is a dried yellow leaf in Mom’s hair, right where her silver barrette should be, and Dad never looks at her.

Hank can’t stand it anymore. She jumps to her feet.

“I want a glass of water,” she says.

Nobody tells her not to block the view as she crosses the living room. She runs into the kitchen and turns on the sink for a second, turns it off again. She eases the back door open and slips outside, jumps down the two concrete steps and onto the frozen grass. Tucks her hands into her sleeves and hurries around the house until she finds Mom’s footprints in the crusted snow.

She has to know where Mom has been all day.

She knows the woods by heart, every part of them, but they’re different at night. She wishes she had her map, the one she made a couple of years ago when she thought she might bury a treasure for somebody else to find, if only she had something worth burying. She spent the summer mapping the woods from the edge of the lawn down to the creek, along the creek to Grandpa Leo’s old deer blind, past the blind and all the way to the pond.

Maybe Mom was hiding in the deer blind all day. The tracks lead in that direction. Hank has hidden there before; Scott has too. It’s not a real deer blind; nobody’s allowed to hunt this close to people’s houses. It’s been there in the woods since Grandpa Leo lived with them for a few months when Hank was seven, after Grandma Mitzy died. Dad and Uncle Carl built the deer blind so Grandpa could make like he was hunting the way he used to do before the stroke. He was only supposed to go out there and sit for a while and maybe smoke a pipe, but one day he took Dad’s shotgun and started shooting at anything that moved in the woods. That included a neighbors’ teenage daughters, who were taking the short-cut home from swim practice one evening. The neighbor wasn’t amused when his girls came screaming out the woods about some crazy old man shooting at them. When he came to the house, all puffed up in his mailman uniform, they all tramped out to the deer blind together. The neighbor and Dad in front, Mom and Hank behind; Scott had been at practice. Sitting there in the blind with the shotgun over his knees, Grandpa had cracked up laughing, spit dangling from the sagging left side of his mouth, and asked in his mumbling, gravelly voice if he’d got either of those nice plump does in the rump. Dad and the neighbor had exchanged sad looks and started talking to Grandpa really slow and really loud, giving time for their words to sink in.

But Hank had seen the glint in Grandpa’s eye. It was the same flinty look Dad got right before he told a lie. Grandpa had never been confused about what he was shooting at. After that Dad and Mom moved him into a old folks’ home.

There are angry tears in Hank’s eyes. Mom’s footprints do lead to the rickety old blind, but then go right past it, dipping down into the dry creek bed. The leafless trees gather closer, snatching at Hank’s clothes with grasping, naked fingers. The air is colder in the creek bed. She hears a car passing on the road, and it’s all she can do to keep herself from running for the road, crashing out of the trees and flagging down whoever is passing by.

But she doesn’t know what she could say to them. My mom is too happy. She eats fish sticks wrong. They would laugh uneasily and ask if she was alright. Dad cleaned up a spilled beer. They would drive her straight home and march her up to the door. She smiles too much. Her clothes are dirty.

Hank fights through some bushes to the edge of the pond. In warm weather, the pond teems with cattails and frogs and insects, but in winter it’s no more than a muddy scar in the underbrush. Hank and Scott used to try to skate on it when it froze solid, but it has always been too small and too choked with weeds.

Mom’s tracks vanish beneath a pile of branches and dead leaves. Hank nudges the debris with her foot. There’s nothing here. She looks into the dark forest, searching for more footprints, for any sign. The air smells crisp and earthy. She looks at the ice again, and this time something catches her eye. A glint of silver, like a star.

Hank drops to her knees. She recognizes the little object even before she plucks it off the dirty ice. It’s one of Mom’s barrettes, the silver one with little red hearts in a line.

A branch snaps.


Dad, it’s Dad, he’s followed her into the woods. Hank jumps to her feet, fingers closing around the barrette. She slips on the ice and nearly loses her balance.

“Hank? C’mon, it’s freezing out here. Where are you?”

She is so relieved she almost slips again. That isn’t Dad’s voice after all. Scott emerges from the trees and startles when he spots Hank.

“Jesus Christ! Why are you out here? Didn’t you hear me?”

Hank opens her mouth. She wants to ask him what’s wrong with Mom. She wants to tell him he sounds like Dad sometimes. She wants to plead with him to leave, tonight, together, and never come back.

She holds out her hand and opens her fingers to reveal the barrette. “It’s Mom’s,” she says.

Scott stare at the barrette for so long Hank starts to shake. There are wisps of her hair caught in the clasp. They tickle Hank’s fingers like feathers.

“We should get back,” he says finally. His voice is strange, hollow, like he’s speaking without drawing in enough air. “Mom–Mom told me to come find you.”

“I don’t want to.”

“It’s too cold to stay outside.” He holds his hand.

“But Mom . . . ”

Hank doesn’t know where that sentence ends. Scott knows something is wrong. He’s shaking too. Hank can feel it when he takes her hand, the one that isn’t holding the barrette. That grip isn’t enough. She needs him to say it. She needs him to explain. Last night they had been upstairs when Dad started yelling. They had closed the door and turned on the radio that did not drown out the shouting, the crashing, the thumping. The sound of a fist hitting a wall is different from the sound of a head hitting a wall, or a fist hitting flesh. They are all sounds with their own shapes, their own sickly vibrations in the air, in the chest, in the teeth. Hank needs her brother to tell her what happened while they were asleep.

“It’ll be okay,” Scott says. “We’ll go upstairs if Dad says anything. The first thing he says.”

For a second Hank is so angry that she wants to shove Scott away, hit his chest, kick his shins until he stops pretending that everything is normal, stops ignoring everything that is wrong. She wants to shake him until his tense, unconvincing calm shatters.

But she has never hit Scott before. She doesn’t want to find out if he’ll hit back.

Hand in hand, they walk back to the house. Their shoes crunch over the snow, tracing their own footprints and Mom’s, all the tracks crossing and blending together. They go inside through the back door, and the warmth stings Hank’s cold-numbed cheeks. She and Scott both kick snow off their shoes.

In the living room, the announcer’s voice is tinny on the television, and the crowd’s cheers are wild. Through the doorway Hank sees that Dad isn’t sitting on the couch anymore. Mom is alone, right in the center of the middle cushion. The smell of cigarettes and fish sticks and spilled beer turns Hank’s stomach. She can’t see Dad at all. Scott’s hand settles on her shoulder, squeezes a bit too tightly.

“There you are!” Mom calls out. The TV reflects in her eyes like Christmas lights; she is smiling again. “Hurry up, you’re missing the match!”

Scott keeps a hand on Hank’s shoulder as they shuffle into the living room. Dad is still there after all, in his armchair where he ought to be. But instead of sprawling widely like a king on his throne, he is hunched and leaning, and his gaze darts over Scott and Hank before dropping to his lap. He doesn’t ask where they’ve been. He doesn’t scold them for going out without permission. One of his hands is wrapped in a kitchen towel; the other is holding it tightly, so tightly both hands tremble. There are three long red marks on his face.

“Hurry, hurry,” says Mom. “The commercial break is over.”

Scott sits on one side, Hank on the other. Mom stretches out both arms to embrace them. There is dirt under her fingernails; pine needles cling to her sleeve. She turns first toward Scott, then toward Hank, giving each of them a kiss on the forehead. Her lips are cold.

“You came back just in time,” Mom says. “I think we might actually win this thing.”

Mom isn’t any warmer than the winter air outside, but Hank leans into her anyway, lets herself be pulled in so, so close. She breathes through her mouth to ignore the earthy, metallic scent. She is still holding Mom’s silver barrette. She squeezes it so tightly the little red hearts bite into her palm.


About the Author

Kali Wallace studied geology and earned a PhD in geophysics before she realized she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds more than she liked researching the real one. She is the author of science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels for adults, teens, and children, as well as a number of short stories and essays. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Find her newsletter at