by Jennifer Savran Kelly
Wind pushes. Red oak leaves skitter across steaming asphalt. The odor of burnt tar and gasoline blows through the kitchen window and out the doorway, lingering too long between Jane and her cup. She pours the coffee.
She turns around too quickly. Coffee spreads over the wood floor, follows the grain. The footsteps move off. Far away, a key slides into a lock. A door opens. Then closes. She lets out breath.
Jane moves to the cupboard for a rag, looks at the floor. She should get two. The phone rings.
She tosses the rags onto the granite countertop.
“Hello?” Her hand is over her heart.
“I have the bagels.”
“Wonderful. I have the coffee.”
“Is Tim there?”
“See you soon?”
She returns the phone to its cradle, drops the rags to the floor, and wipes with her right foot. Cleans the mess.
Her waiting absorbs time. She pours again, into the cup.
Jane picks up the rags, pushes down the pressure rising in her chest, opens the door.
“Hannah,” she says.
“Mom,” says Hannah.
Jane notices. The graffiti on Hannah’s jeans, the tight shirt. She places her arms around her daughter, feels her shrivel.
“Ma, the bagels,” says Hannah, lifting the paper bag between them.
“The bagels,” says Jane, taking the bag. “That was thoughtful. Thank you. Come in.”
They sit in the white dining room at the glass table with the bleached wooden lion-paw legs. Sunlight makes its way through clouds and falls through the window, cutting Hannah and the bagels in half diagonally with a dull beam. Jane spreads cream cheese on a bagel, gives it to Hannah, stares as she bites into it.
“What?” says Hannah.
Jane sips her coffee.
Hannah looks at the bagels. “Aren’t you gonna have one?” she says.
“In a bit,” says Jane. She stares again. “How’re you doing with money? Is it lasting?”
Hannah wipes her mouth. “Mostly. It’s fine, I guess.”
“Does Mrs. Matis need anything?”
“She’s fine. I think. I mean, she hasn’t asked for anything.”
“Good.” Jane bites the inside of her cheek. “Hannah—”
“Mom, I’m fine. We’re both fine.” She looks like she is holding everything in tight.
Jane moves to the edge of her chair, closer to Hannah. Her movements are jerky. “You know,” she says. “Mrs. Matis is worried about you. She told me about Brian.”
“Oh. That was stupid,” says Hannah.
“She says you’re still having trouble following her rules.”
“They’re dumb rules. But don’t worry. We worked it out.”
“That’s not what Mrs. Matis says. She says you’re still closing the door to your bedroom when he’s in there and staying out past curfew. She says—”
“Mom, what do you want from me?”
Jane’s hand is on Hannah’s shoulder. “Well, you know you’re welcome to come home any time. You know that.”
“Of course. And I think it would be a good idea.”
“What about Tim?”
“Sweetie, everything’s okay. I’ve talked to Tim. He’s sorry. It won’t happen again.”
Hannah seems to flatten. “Okay, never mind.”
“Listen, we’ve been working on it. Believe me.” Jane lets out a puff of air that’s supposed to be a laugh. Tries to stroke Hannah’s hair.
Hannah puts her food down. Her face is red. “Fine. Good for you.”
“Honey,” says Jane.
Hannah stands, brings her plate to the kitchen, throws the food away. Her breath sounds unsteady.
“Be reasonable,” says Jane. She walks into the kitchen. “I know what he did was wrong—”
“Wrong, Mom? Wrong? Try illegal.”
“It was wrong, I know. But he loves you, Han. If you would try a little harder to accept him, you would see that.”
Hannah says nothing.
“Sweetie, I know you’re upset. But you have to try. You’ll be off to school in a few years, and I’ll be here alone. Is that what you want? You want me to be alone?”
“Of course I don’t.”
“Then what? What would you have me do?”
Hannah pulls herself in tighter. “Nothing.”
“I’m asking you,” says Jane.
Hannah looks at Jane. She lets out another puff of air. Hannah seems like she wants to say something. She plays with the button on her jeans. Jane looks away. Out of the corner of her eye, something falls.
“Hannah?” she says, her heart suddenly racing.
The pile on the floor is a pair of jeans. Confused, Jane looks at Hannah. Her legs are bare, and she’s lifting her shirt over her face.
“Honey, what are you doing?” Hannah is in her underwear, and she’s crying. “What’s wrong?” says Jane.
“Call him,” says Hannah, shaking.
“Call who? What’s going on?”
“Tim. Go call Tim. Tell him I’m ready to accept him, just the way he wants me.”
“What is this?”
“Call him. I’m waiting. I won’t close my door.” Hannah looks like she is trying to compose herself. She stares at Jane. “What are you waiting for? Call him.”
“Hannah, please.” Jane picks up her clothes, tries to give them to Hannah, to cover her. Hannah’s arms go limp. “Honey, please. Take them. Please. This is wrong.”
Hannah is silent.
“Don’t do this. Please, stop.”
Finally, Hannah grabs her clothes from Jane. Puts on her shirt. Jeans. Sandals. Jane waits, trying to hold everything in place. Before she can stir, Hannah is gone.
A sound emerges from deep in Jane’s chest. She tries to crumple it with her hand.
The spicy scent of Hannah’s breath follows her movement out the door. Jane listens for footsteps. Instead she hears the hiss of a steamroller as it levels the way.