Today's Reading

2

ANDREA Stern drove down Abbington Lane faster than she should have. It was a self-contained, U-shaped residential block with fewer than twenty houses on it, a rarity for the McMansion developments of the area. She jerked the Odyssey into her driveway. The bumper scraped the driveway's heavily pitched apron. She pressed the remote attached to the visor several times in rapid succession, but had to brake hard when the garage door wouldn't open. The remote needed new batteries.

"Push it slowly and hold it down, Mom," said Ruth, drawing "Mom" out in an annoyed roller coaster drone.

Mooooommm did as her oldest daughter suggested. The door opened.

Catching Ruth's smug grin in the rearview mirror, Andrea dreaded her daughter reaching puberty. The only thing that made Andrea's present-day misery tolerable was knowing how much more miserable she would be in a few years. She stopped the car in the junk-cluttered garage. Any weekend now, Jeff would be sure to clean it.

Ruth and Elijah rushed between the middle-row seats past their younger sisters and opened the sliding doors. "Dibs on the swings! Dibs on the swings!" they said simultaneously and repeatedly. Sarah undid her seat belt and erupted from her booster seat, already athletic enough to quickly catch up to her older siblings.

Whining loudly, Sadie struggled against the restraints of her safety seat. Give me five minutes, Andrea thought. Just five minutes without one of them screaming. Andrea released her youngest, lifting her aloft as her little legs cycled in the air.

"Taking Daddy to the train station naked from the waist down might have been an exciting adventure for you, but if you're going on the swing set, you'll need to put on a pull-up and shorts, okay?"

Sadie struggled with the choice. Her two-and-a-half-year-old mind calculated, knowing that her mother was probably right but also knowing that a playtime delay of a minute was like a lifetime lost in toddler years. "Okay," she said softly. And the second Andrea set her down, Sadie ran away as fast as the two chicken wings she called legs could carry her.

Andrea smiled. She hated her life, but she loved her children.

Mostly.

It was five minutes after seven in the morning on a Monday and the kids were already playing in the backyard. The neighbors were going to kill her. Having moved to the neighborhood a year ago, the Sterns had the youngest kids on the block.

Andrea shouted, "Ruth and Elijah! Watch your sisters! I'll be inside!"

She held the car keys in her hand and, as always, heard Jeff's voice hammer in her head: 'Why can't you ever put them on the hook when you come through the door?'

She tossed the keys on the kitchen island.

She put some more water in the teakettle and made her way into the powder room, struggling to turn her body in the small bathroom so she could sit and pee. After finishing, she pulled her maternity panties over her hips, lamenting the loss of her body. She wondered if it would bounce back after her fifth child. She was only thirty-three. Scientifically, it should be possible. Science fictionally, at least.

The teakettle whistled. She grabbed a white "I <3 NY" mug, which had been her favorite since college. The decal was badly worn. She used a metal tea ball to scoop a healthy spoonful of a Teavana blueberry-pineapple blend from a canister on the counter. When she was pregnant, she always switched from coffee to tea, the fruitier the better. She really missed coffee, but right now the smell of it nauseated her.

She took a deep breath to catch the initial waft of the tea. She was so tired. It had only been six weeks since Jeff had started his new job, requiring a ride to and from the train station every morning. He would likely be on the waiting list for a parking permit for a year. That meant ten more months of chauffeur service on top of the baby's due date in October, which was over two months away.

Andrea ran her hand across the kitchen table. She felt the pockmark indentations the kids had left on it from banging their utensils. She looked past the wood railing that divided the open family room from the kitchen. They had brought their furniture over from the old house even though Jeff had wanted to buy all-new stuff. He continued to act like the money would last forever even when so much of it had been lost.

Not lost, since that implied an accidental misplacement. Squandered. Stolen. Litigated. Adjudicated. Reimbursed to the clients he had cheated. Paid to the IRS to avoid going to prison. Any and all of those better defined where their money had gone as a result of Jeff's transgressions.
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