by Terese Svoboda
It was the second set of tenants, the wife who was the physical trainer, I tell my big son. The husband who gave you his shirts.
Yeah? he says. The people who left with the baby?
I bring over a new log because the fire has dwindled to the light of my son’s device. I’m sure it wasn’t his, I say.
How do you know, my nosy mother? says my second son, hotdogging a stick.
I don’t answer right away, I listen for the ocean, it’s out there, hot blank swipes at the beach near people luckier than us in tent location. Only once did he leave for the weekend, I say.
Give it up, says my husband. What kind of spook story is this? He’s already on to the marshmallows, he’s thumbing one off to my big son.
Don’t interrupt, he says. I’m wondering how she knows.
Nine months before a guy rang the bell at three a.m. that weekend he was gone. I remember. I let him in.
You walked in your sleep, that’s what. I know, says my second son who did catch me once at a mirror in France when jetlag played a part.
The guy was drunk, she’s right, says my husband, I woke up too, I heard him. Oh, sorry, says my husband, sitting on the big son’s device but the device is fine, it’s still making its noise.
Morality isn’t everything, says my son while the marshmallow flames. Tweet that, he says to his brother.
None of you saw the woman, blowsy, tipsy, calling the guy her cousin for my benefit.
He was nice, that tenant, says my husband. Give him a break. And put that down, he says about the device.
The wind blows ash over the food, the mustard tips over. My big son’s already not sleeping in the tent but the car, he didn’t bring a toothbrush, let alone a bag. He doesn’t put the device down.
My second son asks if the baby looked like him.
It only had to look like her, says my big son, thumbing again.
My husband covers the fire although there’s still wood to burn. The next campsite is raucous with family, no devices there. But the big son can’t not check, he checks. It’s like a firefly, it’s like one of us is not beside a beach surrounded by beauty but sitting in dirt in the dark.
The tenant will never know. I didn’t tell.
Years from now, he’ll knock on our door, says the second son. I lost something here, he’ll say. But you won’t help him.
I’ll be a hero, I say, wrapping the hotdogs. And say nothing again.
A heroine, says my husband.
That’s a drug, says the other son. So? he says as soon as we groan.
My girlfriend’s sister is lost, says my big son slowly. The police are looking for her. They haven’t found her but they think they know where she’s hiding. He stands up as if he’s going somewhere, he takes a step toward the car where the picnic is poised.
At least they don’t think she’s dead, says my husband.
He shrugs and opens a container on the hood. She’s probably pregnant.
Hope it’s not yours, says his brother.
Like rabbit parents, we swivel our heads What?
Just kidding, he says, koolwhipping his brother from a container who pretends-shaves the foam off and eats it. Want to swim? he says. It’s probably dangerous.
Our sons take off for the water, the dark barely glowing campsite behind them, the device part of that glow left behind, on the hood of the car.
My husband castanets his sticky fingers together and says, They both look like you.
Good, I say, and I dance closer.
Terese Svoboda‘s ninth book of prose, Live Sacrifice (stories) will be published next year by Ravenna Press.
Image source: John Larios via Creative Commons.