12th and McGraw

By Hillary Behrman

Featured Art: Epidermis, by John Schriner

I moved fast always hoping to slip into the house and up to my room unnoticed. I made it to the first landing of the wide staircase before I heard the pop pop and grind and looked up. My little brother, Alex, was perched above me, kneeling on the long cushioned window seat. His chicken-wing shoulder blades stuck out on either side of his old fashioned undershirt. The afternoon light, filtered through the two-story stained glass window, hit his pale skin and formed a glowing checkerboard of red, yellow and green patches all across the back of his shorn head and bent neck. He gripped the plastic handle of a large Phillips-head screwdriver with both hands, pumping it like a tiny jackhammer straight out from his concave chest, shattering square after square of swirly rainbow glass. He must have been at it for a while, because by the time I reached him the first three rows of bread-slice sized panes were gone.

My brother was a watchful, wary sort of kid, circumspect in all his actions by the age of six in a way I still can’t manage in my thirties. I gave him a quick once over. I didn’t see any blood, so I left him to it. The snap crackle pop of each new shattered pane followed me up the stairs to the next landing and down the long hallway to my room. I wasn’t an idiot or monster. I was fourteen. I got it, Alex’s desire to expose that house to the elements, chip away at its candy colored Victorian shell.

I kept listening until the sounds of Alex’s demolition project stopped. The silence freaked me out way more than his vandalism. I don’t know why. I should have been thinking about broken glass and the paper-thin flesh on the undersides of his skinny wrists all along. But I wasn’t. He had seemed so preternaturally competent back then. I don’t know why I finally had the sense to sprint back down the hall. Alex was curled up on the window seat, his cheek pressed into bits of colored glass. I don’t know why there wasn’t more blood, why the cuts weren’t deeper. I scooped him up and carried him up the stairs.  He stayed limp and floppy until I reached the third floor, where he wrapped his legs tight around my waist.

My room had its own bathroom. I took him there. He stayed clamped to me. I could have let go and he would have remained fused to me like some 45-pound barnacle. Using my hip to close the door and my foot to lower the lid of the toilet, I squatted down and settled his boney butt onto the porcelain. Only then did he loosen his grip.  My fingers were good enough to pick out the smaller shards, bits of vivid color, easy to find in his pale flesh. There were a few bigger cuts on his knees and shins where he must have kneeled on the broken glass. Each time I picked out another piece of glass I dropped it into a Dixie cup. Alex held the waxy paper cup close with both his hands against his chest. We filled it halfway up and then we were done.

“Can I keep it?”

“What?”

He jiggled the cup.

“Yeah.”

But I worried he might eat them. Not sure why I thought this. He knew better than to put things in his mouth. It was me who had been tempted by their hard candy look, shattered bits of a cherry-flavored Jolly Ranchers and butterscotch shards.

“I’ll keep ‘em for you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. My room’s got a lock.”

“No it doesn’t – not anymore.”

He was right, my parents had removed the heavy bolt-style lock. Not long after our move to the house, I’d started locking myself in, sleeping late, refusing to go to school. My mom had caught sight of a tic-tac-toe of angry red scratches on my thigh.

“I’ll keep ‘em safe. I promise.”

He nodded and jiggled the Dixie Cup again, shifting the rainbow mound, letting it settle before handing it to me.

He didn’t look too bad. I cleaned the bigger cuts on his legs with Hydrogen Peroxide and we watched the red lines fizz like Pop Rocks. He didn’t even flinch. His skin looked like Kleenex, something that could easily tear, but didn’t. We left the little nicks on his face open to the air. He slid off the toilet and pushed the pink painted step stool over to the sink. He climbed up and placed his hands on the rounded edge of the sink so he could lean forward and study himself. We both looked at his face in the mirror, and then his gaze shifted to my reflection instead of his.  He reached up and touched a yellowing bruise on my temple. He didn’t ask how I got it. It didn’t matter. I would have lied anyway, and told him it was a failed flip turn.  

He wanted some toilet paper. I passed him a fistful. He un-wadded it and ripped off flat scraps the size of his pinky and stuck them polka dot style all over the wounds on his face. He must have learned the trick from our dad, who occasionally walked around with similar scraps of tissue stuck to his chin and neck.

No one ever said anything about the window. Dad must have been away on a work trip. The house cleaner came the next day and vacuumed up the glass while I was at school. It was almost summer. No one seemed to mind the draft.

Alex stayed home from school that day and the next. He was in the kitchen with mom when I got home. I was glad he hadn’t gone to school. It kept mom home from work, and although we didn’t talk about it, I know we were both worried about what his teachers would think about his face and the cuts on his legs.

Alex sat at the kitchen table surrounded by half eaten cheese sticks and deflated juice boxes. My mom sat on the floor, her back against the giant silver refrigerator, her legs crossed, reading aloud from the lap-sized Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Space and the Universe. They were on S for Sirius. “The dog star,” she said. “Impossibly bright.”  She leaned forward as if in prayer so I could open the fridge and grab a diet coke. When she sat back up it was as if the stretch had opened up some mystical pathway to regular parent-child communication.

“How was your day hon?”

It was the same as always so I grunted because that was what a normal teenager would do. But I felt like a little shit about it so I mumbled, “Fine.”

“You got homework?”

“Not much.”

I was suspect of these sorts of exchanges. She hadn’t asked me about school in months. She needed something.

“So you could take Alex for a swim?”

“Yeah, I guess so…”

“Good, then that’s settled.”

That’s settled. My mom liked to say that whenever she had a plan I couldn’t remember consenting to. She had said it a few months ago when I finally told her – all at once – that Jake had moved out; that I was pregnant; that I was going to have the baby on my own; that Alex would help. “Well, that’s settled then.” This time her old phrase sounded different, as if I could detect a distant note, a certain admiration on her part.

I ran upstairs to change and stopped in Alex’s room on the way back down to grab his suit. We had lived in the big house less than a year and his room looked like some perfectly staged real estate agent’s fantasy, the dark blue trundle bed topped with a quilt embroidered with puffy stars and planets, matching pillows. The whole cosmos stretched out below my feet woven in plush wool. The handles on the matching dresser were metal and shaped like Saturn and tiny shooting stars. The drawers were filled with perfectly folded little striped t-shirts, soft leggings, sweaters with dinosaurs and frogs stitched on the front. The bottom drawer was all swimsuits covered in sharks and stingrays, board shorts in blocks of primary colors. I grabbed a pair and ripped off the price tag.

In the pool we played Marco Polo and I let Alex find me over and over again. I let him cheat. He narrowed his milk blue eyes to lizard slits. He walked on tiptoes with his arms held straight out, his nose above the water line, his fishy lips opening and closing below the surface. He had to push off from the bottom of the pool to fully emerge and yell, “Marco.” His words sent warm spit-filled bubbles into my face. I was that close.

“Polo.”

The pool had been added on to the house in the twenties by a rich railroad dude, who purchased the house from a rich lumber dude, who built it for his new teenage wife with the money he made cutting down all the old growth trees in Seattle. Once felled, he sent the trees skidding down Yesler Street. But that was long before the young bride had been shipped to him from some fancy boarding school on the east coast, after his first, age appropriate, wife had died in the process of birthing their child. I knew all of this because there was a brass historic marker bolted into the stone retaining wall that surrounded our house’s huge double lot at the corner of 12th and McGraw. There was another more detailed historic marker in the cemetery where they all lay buried just a few blocks away.  I went there sometimes to meet up with a Goth boy from my old middle school, and get high.

A pool. Who needed a pool when it rained for months on end? Flagstones ringed the pool spongy with moss. But Alex loved it. He denied he was ever cold. The pool had a sloped cement bottom and it had to be drained and repainted each year. That first year, a van arrived unsummoned. Uniformed workers with long flexible tubes sucked out all the black winter water and soggy dead leaves. They patched, sealed and painted it turquoise blue, then left it to dry.

Later, that same week in the middle of the night, before they came back to fill the pool, I snuck out of bed and woke Alex. We unearthed a treasure trove of leftover paint in the basement. Alex chose yellow and pink. I found an almost full can of deep purple. We ferried the gallon cans to the edge of the pool. I used the ill-fated screwdriver to pry off the lids. We stirred and swirled the paint back to creamy uniformity and dipped our feet in. The pigment squeezed up between our toes. It felt like part of us, viscous, bodily. We walked in crazy loops and spirals up and down the sloped pool bottom. It was Alex’s idea to use our hands too. He dipped first his right and then his left hand into the pink paint. I wheelbarrow walked him all around the perimeter, twisting his ankles like a rudder, till he turned, and we headed for the drain.

Later as we swam, our eyes fuzzy with chlorine, clusters of his hand prints transformed into oceany wildflowers and starfish.

Dad must have been out of town again the night of the pool painting. Mom must have left early for work the next morning. Neither of them noticed until the pool had been filled for a week. And then, what could be done? Besides, mom grudgingly acknowledged, it looked sort of cool.

When I was it, Alex stayed silent.

“Marco.”

Nothing.

“Marco.”

Nothing.

But still I knew where he was. I didn’t have to open my eyes. I always found him.

He screamed.

“I hate you – you’re cheating.”

But I wasn’t.

“I quit.”

Alex retreated to the shallowest reaches to play tea party by himself on top of a psychedelic hand print daisy. He stayed there until his palms and feet went pruney. I climbed out and sat on the pool’s edge and let my feet and legs dangle in the water. I leaned back on my arms and dug my fingers into the mossy mush. I watched my stomach flatten out, and then crease back into folds of soft flesh when I leaned back over the water trying unsuccessfully to dislodge the packed-in dirt from under my fingernails.

Later, we sat in the kitchen wrapped in thin beach towels, our butts damp against the woven cane of antique chairs. Mom had nuked us frozen Stouffers – mac and cheese and veggie lasagna – and left them on the table. They’d gone cold so I finished them off under the broiler of the massive stove.  They bubbled, oozed, and formed a crust like the nicks on Alex’s face, which looked like bug bites gone scabby. By the next day the cuts on his legs had transformed into nothing more than scraped knees.  

My bedroom had a Barbie Dream House quality I had tried hard to destroy. I tore and dismantled the pink ruffled canopy bed and ripped away the matching skirt on the white vanity table.  But the alterations never quite accomplished what I had envisioned. The room remained more Emo-Barbie than Riot grrrl.

The kitchen was small for such a big house, but when my mom was home she rarely left it. It sure as hell wasn’t because she liked to cook. I think now it was because it was the only human-sized room in the whole place. The only space in the house where we were ever all together. I didn’t see that then. I couldn’t see how alone she was.

One time, I came home early. School had let out at noon and I didn’t want to wander with my friends up and down The Ave, hoping one of the street kids would sell us a joint. Alex and mom were curled around each other on the kitchen floor, sound asleep. The bones of Alex’s lunch were scattered across the table, a half-eaten Lunchable and three empty plastic cups of pudding. They both loved eating anything that didn’t require a dish or a knife to prepare.

Back then, I told myself that everyone had left us, stopped coming over when we moved. I believed my old friends, our cousins, my grandfather had all fallen away because of the stupid fancy house.  But it wasn’t the move across town or the house. We had always kept to ourselves even in the old neighborhood. There had been no rags to riches transformation, no bullshit Horatio Alger story. We’d always had enough, and we had just gotten more.

Still, one time I took the # 8 bus back down the hill and across town to our old neighborhood. I didn’t need to transfer, and got off at the corner of MLK and Jackson to walk the couple blocks to our old duplex on King Street. Grandpa still lived in the downstairs unit. He was slow to answer the door, and I thought maybe he was out or something. But he was just taking his time. I watched him shuffle toward me through the vertical glass panel in the door, and he scrunched up his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment when he saw it was me.

“Jesus Marcie, what’s happened?”

“Nothing. I just wanted to see you.”

“You sure nothing’s wrong?”

He rubbed his hand up and down his face. I could tell he didn’t quite believe me, but he led me back to the kitchen, reheated a plate of baked ziti, and watched me eat it. Then he walked me back to the bus stop. I think he thought I was in trouble with drugs, or a boy, or pregnant, or something. Which is sort of hysterical now when I think about it.

After swimming and eating, Alex and I sat at the kitchen table for a long time. When it got dark I flicked on the beetle-shaped lamp that hung on a chain over our heads. It lit up Alex. His lips were blue and trembling.

“You cold?”

“Nope.”

So, we sat a while more, companionable or stubborn, I’m not sure. Eventually I got up and so did he. He followed along behind me into the front hallway. He had tied the damp ends of the beach towel around his neck like a superhero cape. The striped terry cloth dragged behind him leaving a damp snail trail across the polished wood floor and up the front steps. We slunk past our parents’ bedroom and listened to mom breath in and out, louder than you’d think for just breathing.

I must have been tired of having him near me all the time. I must have wanted to hide in my room, take a hot shower, smoke the joint I’d found in dad’s sock drawer, listen to music, whatever. But that night I let him stay close. That must be why I remember it so clearly now. Those few days while his cuts healed are more real than all the rest.

Alex had wanted a bath. So I filled the griffin-footed tub and let him squeeze out a whole tube of some weird ancient shampoo he’d found in a shoebox at the back of the cabinet below the sink. He agitated the long green worm with his hand till it broke up and formed some sad looking grey bubbles. I slid him into that stew. He kept his bathing suit on. I didn’t care. I left him in the tub-soup and went back to my bed. I pulled on a flannel shirt over my damp suit and lay back. When I stopped hearing splashes I went to check on him. He lay below the water’s surface blowing bubbles up through the soap scum, his eyes squeezed shut. I leaned over and shouted.

“Polo.”

He shot up, sloshing water over the rim and all over my feet.

We cracked up.

His skin was pink, the color of a real live little boy. I had to help him out over the too high rim of the tub. He let me peel off his wet suit and slip one of my t-shirts over his head like a dress. “Tunic,” he said, “like Luke Skywalker.” He wandered all over my room retrieving Star Wars action figures. He placed them one after the other onto the foot of my bed. When he found them all he climbed up and spooned around the heap. He was asleep in seconds.

In the middle of the night a Stormtrooper stabbed me in the back.

That was our life. Nothing happened. Nothing bad happened. Nothing good happened – that was what I thought back then. The broken rainbow window, Alex’s skin warm and pink, they must be proof of something.

I am alone in my apartment on Western, barely a mile from the old house, when the contractions start.  I don’t bother timing them.  They rip through my gut and lower back like menstrual cramps on crack. I watch transfixed as my thigh muscles tighten and shake uncontrollably under the layers of my winter pale skin.

I had an old boyfriend who hunted. Once I watched him gut a deer.  As his knife bore down through the animal, it bucked as if still alive. When the gut hook caught, he jerked it back and forth, until the creature went still. It is like that now –the involuntary spasms and the still point following the worst of it. There is the hook and slide back down. When I reach the trough, I ignore all previous instructions, verbal and printed, and call the labor and delivery hotline, a phone number given to me last week by both my midwife, Sharon, and the consulting OB. The nurse asks me a bunch of fucking awkward questions. I can tell my answers are pissing her off, not making sense, while she tries to pull up my chart on her computer screen. I can also tell when she has managed to open the chart because she stops talking. I can hear her breath. She coughs and croaks out a lame apology.

“Hold on, honey.”

Now I am somebody’s honey. There is a small click and an instrumental version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” starts to play. Luckily, she makes it back on the line before I start to scream hello, hello, hello.

I’m putting you directly through to your provider.” 

Another click.

“Hello, Marcie. Is that you?”

I hyperventilate into the phone for a while. To her credit, Sharon just listens.

“Get in the tub, Marcie.”

“I can’t”

“It will help. Call me in an hour.”

“An hour?”

“There’s no rush. Remember, we’ve already talked about this.”

Sharon and I have been having a variation of this conversation for the past week since the baby went still. Motionless – not for an hour, or an afternoon, but for the whole damn day. I didn’t need an ultrasound to tell me what my body already knew. She’d given up on me.

Sharon is right of course, there is no rush. First her, then the consulting OB, and later a whole team of specialists – they all said the same thing. I should wait. Follow my birth plan. If I wasn’t in labor by the end of the week, they’d induce. But no need before then. Whose need? They said it was the best way to avoid a C-section, “Better for you, better for the next baby.” What next baby?

“You still with me, Marcie?”

“Fucking barely.”

“Let your brother know you’re in labor. You shouldn’t be alone.”

“Yeah. Whatever.”

I stab my swollen finger at the stupid red circle until the phone screen goes black. No rush.

I get in the bathtub when it is still dry. Then I get back out and wait for the water to run hot and climb back in. I think about calling Alex, but Sharon is right. There’s no rush.

The water keeps running too hot and then too cold. Contractions buckle me in half; my body jerks and moves of its own accord. I observe myself as I fold and unfold, only my head and hands are still my own. There are no more gaps, no spaces big enough for remembering.

I’ve only seen Alex in person once since the baby went silent. And when he was here he took up too much space. His legs and arms everywhere. Another contraction sends my foot kicking into the hard tile and scraping on the rough underside of the cheap stainless steel faucet. I gulp in air or water; I am not sure which. Either way I get enough of it inside of me to hold my breath and get up on my knees and make a spastic lunge for my phone. It is perched on the back of the toilet. I finally take Sharon’s advice and text Alex. In seconds he texts back, “OMW.”

When I left for college Alex had just started middle school. When I pissed him off he’d yell at me.

“You’re not my mom! Your nobody’s mom!”

I drop the phone on the bath mat and turn the hot water on full blast. It kicks my body back into hard drive. Deep inside I feel my cervix dilate another centimeter like a pap smear gone dreadfully wrong. With each contraction the solid weight of what’s inside of me, the movement of my muscles around it, trick my brain into believing corporeal conspiracy theories. I pray to this false narrative. I vomit into the bathwater and crawl out of the tub to avoid the floating chunks. I lay on the cool tile floor; the tap is still running hard. 

I imagine he is here, standing by the door, listening to make sure I haven’t drowned.

“Marco.”

But I’m way past name games, well into transition.  Stupid meaningless words for pain, contraction, transition.

They told me it would be this way, a week ago when she stopped moving, but I didn’t believe them. I didn’t want to believe that my body would behave accordingly, like she was alive, and still needed to be born.

What’s so fucking accordingly about that?

Alex is here.

You’re nobody’s mom.

“Marcie.”

I don’t answer him.

He will tell me later that he and Starcia were having a fight when he got my text. They hadn’t started yelling yet, but it wouldn’t be long before they hit that phase. He will try and make me laugh by mimicking me and my annoying habit of providing post-mortem analysis on each of our many failed relationships. He said he was in the transition between “self-riotous rationalism and passive aggressive silence.” He said, “I don’t like who I am when I am someone’s boyfriend. I feel like an idiot or an asshole most of the time.” And I wonder how we both got this way.

After I left for college I would come home on breaks full of newly discovered feminist rage and lecture him about consent, way before his balls even dropped. He didn’t have the heart to tell me, until much later, that the only person he’d managed to hook up with in high school was a boy from the swim team.  The kid just asked him, “Do you want me to touch your dick?” And he’d said, “Sure.” Then he’d asked the boy, “Should I touch yours?” And the boy said, “Hell yeah.”  It was that simple. We both still marvel at it.

When he finally got a girlfriend in college they spent weeks cuddling in front of her lap top, binge watching Arrested Development, before he finally managed to ask her if he could kiss her. She said, “I don’t know.” So, he didn’t kiss her.  At least not then. 

He will tell me that when he got to my apartment, all he could hear was water.

 “You okay?”

I think I answer back. But he will tell me later there was nothing, not even a moan.  That was what scared him the most, his sister without words, and the sound of water hitting water. 

I don’t know what he was so scared of. How could reality be more of a horror show than it already was? I don’t know what he thought, that my body would look different, deflated like a Mylar balloon slowly losing helium now that the kid wasn’t gonna make the party.

He keeps whispering through the door

“Marcie.”

He finally mans up and pushes open the door. I am trying to get up but can’t make it past my hands and knees. He will tell me later, I looked like a pregnant superhero rising up out of the steam, taut, cetacean, fucking incandescent. 

He grabs a towel and starts to blot me dry. Then he freezes as another contraction hits and my whole stomach surges. I am a riptide of pain from front to back and going nowhere, unable to move, pulled farther and farther away from him. I find my voice and scream.

“Fuck. Do something.”

“What?”

“Get me out of here.”

He squats down and wedges himself between my back and the wall so he can hook his arms under mine and hoist me up. My back presses hard into his chest, soaking him, and we almost go over. Fused together we shuffle backward and he lowers me onto the toilet.

He keeps one hand gripped tight on my thigh and grabs the sweatpants and hoody hanging on the hook by the door, stuffing me limb by limb into damp grey cotton. He pulls me up, cinching me tight against his hip and half-walks, half-carries me out of the apartment down two flights of stairs to his car.

Fumbling with the door he manages to sort of lift and push me into the back seat. I bang my head over and over on the hard plastic edge of the brand-new Graco baby car seat. On my order, Alex had strapped it into the back seat a month ago. I think he is yelling at me. “Fucking idiot. Fucking idiot.” But he is berating himself.

Days later, I will ask him how I got the mother of a scrape across my forehead. He will tell me he had to crawl in the other side of the car to unhook the damn car seat and pull it out from under my jackhammering face, before he managed to chuck it to the curb.

He is trying to get me to turn around, sit down, buckle up.

“Jesus, Alex. Stop with the fucking seatbelt.”

He leaves me growling on elbows and knees, rocking back and forth, and slams the car door.

At the hospital, I’m on all fours again, holding tight to the metal safety bar of the hospital bed and rattling it back and forth. 

“Fuck fuck fuck”

“Yep that’s how you got here.”

And we both crack up. I shit myself.

“Fuck.”

The attending OB sticks her whole hand up inside me. I don’t give a shit.

“Marcie, listen to me.”

“Fuck.”

“I’m going to have to break your water.”

“Fuck.”

Side-eyed, I see the flash of light on metal. That woman threads what looks like a stainless steel knitting needle right up into me.

“Fuck.” We are both yelling now.

A wave of fluid surges out of my body. Finally. I think the baby will come with it. Nothing. Thin yellowish slop sloshes all over Alex’s sneakers.

 “Fuck.”

We are laughing again. Or crying. I don’t know. Everything seems to be coming out of me but a baby. Sharon motions to Alex to grab the full length mirror on wheels in the corner of the room so I can watch.

“Fuck no.”

He stays put.

“You watch for me.”

So it is my brother who sees her first. It is my brother who watches as I push her out. Who watches as her boney little shoulder gets stuck so hard it rips me wide. It is Alex who cuts the cord and holds her limp body tight like some facsimile of a proud father.  And it is Alex who hands her to me.

I rub my mouth and face back and forth against her bloody little, fucking little, perfect little head.

“Look.” I order.

And he doesn’t blink. He watches me touch her all over, examine every fold and crease of her blue blue body.

He stands guard between me and the nurse. I can’t not touch her. She can’t feel a thing. My midwife and the doctor run off to some real alive baby emergency, leaving me to her. My tongue picks up the taste of her, and I want to suck her skin off, get something of her back inside me.

Then the doctor is back to stitch up my shredded cunt. I let myself pass out from the pain even though it isn’t half as bad as it was getting her out. I need to give into something.

Later, Alex says they tried to take her away before I came to, but he held on to her.

She is gone now and I can’t get warm. Alex and the nurse keep bringing me heated sheets and towels but I’m so cold.

“Get in with me.”

And he does, easing his lanky legs along mine and wrapping me in his too long swimmer’s arms.

When I wake up he fills in all the gaps. My quiet little brother can’t shut up and I can’t stop listening to the telling of this story.

When Alex was still in college our dad split on all of us. Just like the big house’s Robber Barron, he found a young bride. My mom stayed on in the house for a while, running her legal practice out of the dining room, taking in a parade of visiting nurses and foreign exchange students to pay the mortgage. When she finally sold the house at 12th and McGraw, she had enough savings to work part-time and buy a perfect little bungalow in Wallingford – the halfway point on the city map between Alex’s and my apartments.

After the birth I stop sleeping, leaving my apartment at all hours to pace the width and breadth of downtown. One night I don’t turn back. Milk leaks from my stony breasts soaking through my bra forming bull’s-eyes targets on my chest. I skitter down Vine Street to Elliot, head north along the waterfront following the train tracks into Myrtle Edwards Park, past the creepy pedo-water-sculpture of father and son, past the grain silos, past flickers of light from guys squid fishing off the pier, and past the refrigerated fishing boats, their empty hulls riding high. I cut across the tracks near the armory and squeeze through the barrier. I climb the metal stairs slippery with bird shit to the bridge over Smith Cove and keep moving west along Magnolia. I make it to Discovery Park and down to the sewage treatment plant by dawn. The wind off Puget Sound plasters my milk-wet shirt to me. I must look like some crazed Barbie terrorist because one of the sanitation workers starts shouting at me. 

 Only then do I stop, turn around, and retreat back up the trail to the bluff where the sun has managed to break through the lead layer of clouds. I shield my eyes like a vampire and cower down by a picnic table to call Alex. It goes straight to voicemail. So I keep walking. At the corner of 41st and Emerson I trip and fall. Knee cut, palms scratched and bleeding, I suck it up and dial my mom’s number.

After that, Alex and mom set up a schedule, alternating nights with me at my apartment in Belltown.

Mom will walk with me, but only so far.

I try to talk to her about our years in that house.

“Oh hon, it wasn’t as bad as all that.”

“Yes. It was.”

“You make us sound deranged.”

“It was. You were.”

She accuses me of wanting to have a more interesting – dramatic childhood than I had.

“You turned out fine didn’t you?”

“But that’s not the point.”

“Then what is the point Marcie?”


Hillary Behrman’s work has appeared in The Madison Review and High Desert Journal. Her story “The Jungle” is included in Madville Publishing’s 2022 anthology, Muddy Backroads: Stories from Off the Beaten Path. She is the 2020 recipient of the Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction for her story, “Muskeg,” and her work has been recognized in Glimmer Train. Hillary is a graduate of Pacific University’s MFA in Writing Program. She lives in Seattle where she has worked as a public defender, a children’s civil rights attorney, and a social justice policy advocate.

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