She sinks down on the edge of her bed and idly kicks off her flip-flops. The hem of her worn jeans tickles the tops of her feet as she stretches her legs out and lets her head fall back. The smell of baked potatoes from dinner lingers in the house, and through the open window comes the tinny far-away refrain of The Sting as the ice-cream truck circles the neighborhood. The wind picks up and carries the thin melody away and the rustle of leaves from the big elm in the yard takes over. She rubs her neck and closes her eyes.
The wall clock ticks of the seconds, giving an odd comfort and cadence of permanence to what has otherwise been a day of chaos. A timed final took up much of her morning at the university, and without a sitter, her five-year old had played Angry Birds on her phone while she tested. She was thankful for professors who were also mothers and understood. Her scores were good enough this time- skirting the edge of where she wanted to be, but no longer the perfect 4.0 she had last year.
Two more papers waited being written when she went downstairs to swap out Angry Birds for Alice in Wonderland. Poor child. One more week, and then she could be fun mama again. The little girl was perched on the edge of the spinning desk chair that had been drug from the office to the TV room, and the woman stopped in the doorway. The room swam before her eyes. Grabbing the doorframe she felt sick. The thick navy leather of the sectional was split open and eviscerated piles of fluffy white down and poly batting littering the floor like snowdrifts. The little girl is watching her intently, “Bean did it, mama.”
She sinks to her knees, and the tears well and drop on the floor as she gathers the fluff and batting. Two of the five cushions are gutted, the leather cut, and her sewing shears are there on the floor. Mr Bean did it, in the TV room with the scissors. Her mind mines the thinnest thread of humor it can pull; if she doesn’t, she fears might shatter like a hot dish dropped on cold concrete. The tears come anyway, but it’s better than breaking.
It’s good the boy is at school. By the time she picks him up, she can be calm and logical with him, instead of emotional and reactionary. Whatever her gut reaction is as a mother, autism forces her to almost the exact opposite. She wishes to grab him, but instead folds her arms. She wishes to cry, but instead meters her voice. He knows as soon as he sees her that he is in trouble, and starts to cry.
He hides in the closet and honks in misery, but she insists he must clean up what he created. Insisting with this boy means a quiet stance and a lack of emotion, which allows him to calm himself, and when she leaves him alone, he rights the room into perfect order. Her other two children are in their rooms, as she starts the potatoes for dinner, and fills the dishwasher. Lemon verbena soap suds cover her hands and smell like spring. Small things make her happy on days like today.
She still hasn’t started the papers that are due on Friday. One is for a class on identifying and protecting abused children and the other on modifications to IEP’s for teens with ADHD. She may not have her MS yet, but she feels like she could teach these classes with her eyes closed. She idly outlines her paper while the kids eat dinner and she nurses an ice water in a tall mason jar that sweats a ring into the old wood table.
“We’re out of ice”, she thinks, still sitting on the edge of her bed looking at the now almost empty jar in her hand. She chews ice the way some people chain-smoke or gnaw their cuticles. It’s ice for her. There’s a lot she misses about her old life some days, but she thinks it might be her stainless steel side-by-side fancy icemaker she misses most. That, or the hardwood floors. It might be a toss up.
The light has changed and the wind died. How long has she been sitting staring out the window? Sounds of the kids, happy and quiet, float up from downstairs, and she flops back on her bed. The papers can wait until tomorrow. She’ll get up early and get a jump on them before the kids find their way into her room and the day starts all over. Maybe tomorrow things will be… whatever they will be.