You stop at the market after work. This Tuesday, that feels like a Thursday, these speeding years and forever days, and, short of death, there’s no end in sight. The weekends where all you want to do is sleep. The vacations you can’t afford. You’re here for dinner, although cereal feels like a saner option than making one more decision. A song plays, and here you are, adrift on a marketer’s algorithm, taken back to your teenage bedroom, and what would that girl say if she could see you now?

Another cart turns into the aisle. A man younger than you, a stranger, yet you recognize him. Slumped shoulders, eyes hollowed by glowing screens. In the cart’s backward-facing seat, a crying girl. A little boy runs ahead,his coat unzipped and a glove dropped in his wake. The father asks him to stop, but the only voice the boy heeds is the one commanding him to rise onto his tiptoes and reach for a pickle jar.

The jar tumbles, and for a moment, it belongs to the air, preserved, safe, and there’s hope, if only for no reason beyond the heartbeat you can squeeze in before the glass shatters, a starburst on the white tile. A bitter smell blossoms. Green juice envelops the boy’s sneakers. He’s frozen, just as you are. The girl’s wail swallows the song you once loved. The man snags the boy’s arm, a harsh extraction, and the boy’s frame melts beneath his twisted coat. “Sorry! Sorry!” he yelps. The man looks at you, and you exchange bodies, seeing yourself in the other. His grip eases, and when he pulls back his cart, you pass without a word, your cart’s wheel rolling over the boy’s forgotten glove. 

You turn the radio off for the ride home. The heavy sky, and ahead the holidays, little different than the supermarket’s songs. Echoes. Reminders of the distance between what you’d imagined and what is. On your street, boys halt their football game, and you creep ahead, your gaze upon parked cars, fearful of the twilight child who might dart into your path. 

On the stoop, you shake out your house key. Above, Vs of migrating geese. The gray ripples with their honks, the flap of their wings. Dark inside the foyer, and you pause, listening. Your cat appears. She allows you a stroke of her arched back before slinking off. You set your bag on the counter then head upstairs. Around you, the flow of memories, of voices. Those years you thought silence was impossible. 

You lay your palm on your son’s locked door and rest your forehead against your hand. In you, the beating of wings, the ticking of clocks, a heart that’s limped through another day. In you, the swirl of a thousand words you’ve said and ten thousand you haven’t. The song of all the times you’ve failed, a tune you’ll never get out of your head.

Curtis Smith has published over 125 stories and essays and over 100 author interviews. He's worked with independent publishers to put out thirteen books. His latest novel, The Magpie's Return, was named an Indie Pick of the Year by Kirkus.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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