Her tight smile, eyes centerless stars caught by the flash. The Polaroid’s
oxidized chemicals draw a stripe: hot orange veins cutting between their
“Look at this.”
“I’ve never seen this one.”
“It’s a deep cut.”
“Your dad looks scary.”
“He was scary.”
George expects me to elaborate, but we’ve been through it all before.
It’s like talking about the weather—the inclement weather of my family
home. The shattered plates. The car wrecks. Me, left in the car in the
liquor-store parking lot, waiting for my father to come out. He’d bring
me a little something, a Coke or an ice-cream sandwich. I’d finish the
treat before we even made it home, where Patty would be locked in her
room studying and my mother sitting at her computer, playing solitaire.
All of us with our hackles up, as if we could prepare ourselves to be what
“What if,” I say, watching George type, “you skipped the tour?”
His head is still bent toward the screen, as if he can’t hear me. I must
be talking into his bad ear. How bad is that ear? How convenient, to just
tune me out.
“I was thinking that you should stay home,” I repeat, “with every-
thing going on.”
“We can’t afford it.”
My stomach gurgles with acid reflux. “When we bought the house,
we said no more tours.”
“Well, we don’t have a house anymore.”
At this, I cry.
He covers his whole face with his huge hand, like he does when we
fight. He will tell me that I am being unreasonable. If I was having periods now, he would ask if I was on it. I expect him to say, “You’re doing
that thing where you’re acting like I’m being mean to you, but really,
you’re just not getting what you want.” Instead, he explains that our insurance claim—what little our policy covers—won’t be settled for two or
three months. Our savings won’t hold us over that long.
“Unless you want to stay at Patty’s until the money comes through?”
His voice is greased with a gentle, imploring sarcasm. He shakes the
Polaroid. If we have to stay at Patty’s, how could I not look at this photo
every day, each viewing a kind of psychic death?