Tarah caught a glimpse of the backyard through the dusty kitchen window as she removed a recently expired jar of peanut butter from the cabinet. The yard’s rusted swing set was partially swallowed by weeds and knee-high grass. That rickety thing looked dangerous even when it was shiny, but now it offered a certain charm to the new generation when they’d visit.
She pulled four pieces of bread out of the bag, then spread them with peanut butter and jelly. Like a robot. One for Brett, and one for her, like always. His sandwich sat there for days, waiting for him until the sugar ants began to drag pieces of it back to their families. It became invisible, like other warm bodies in the house had over the years. They were all wrong, but they couldn’t see it. Not like she could.
The snapping of little fingers lifted her from the haze. They were sticky when they touched her arm.
“Mom said we could play on the swing outside, as long as I wear my jacket.” Nicky’s face was an inch from Tarah’s, and ring pop residue circled his mouth in blue.
The peanut butter and jelly on the kitchen counter looked like the start of a fuzzy green sweater.
Tarah slid the dinette chair out from under her, and it scraped the tile. The dog barked at her feet. “That’s fine, honey, just stay where I can see you from the window,” she said.
She watched Vela push Nicky on the swing, its corroded chains trusted for many years by her own kids, long gone. Back and forth, back, and forth. It was hypnotizing. Nicky flew higher.
Tarah left the window for a daydream. Her first husband, her second, then Brett, lined up to criticize her for sleepwalking through life—but she hadn’t. She’d made a career for herself and a life for them. It was the fault of her three husbands for leaving her. Then her own kids. They were the selfish ones, not her. They just needed to see it, and then they’d all come back.
“Gram!” Vela towered over Nicky, his still body enveloped by tall dandelions.
She stumbled down the back stoop and nearly snapped her ankle on their sharp concrete edges.
Nicky had fallen flat on his back from the swing and was unconscious. Only the whites of his eyes were visible.
“What did you do?” Tarah scooped him up. “Call 911 immediately,” she barked. Her granddaughter ran into the house, and the screen door slammed behind her, just like it did when Brett left that last time.
The road to the emergency room was clear, and Tarah lost the ten minutes it took to get there. Her daughter was waiting, with a twisted look on her damp face. One she knew well. One of blame.
“Ma, what the fuck?” She tailed Tarah through the automatic doors.“I leave my kids with you for an hour, and Nicky breaks his neck on that goddamn swing!”
“He said you allowed it,” Tarah said. “It’s not my fault your kids wanted to fly to the moon on that thing.”
“You don’t blame a six-year-old for being a six-year-old,” her daughter said. “You’re the adult. Do some adulting for once!”
“I’m not surprised you’re putting this on me,” Tarah said.
“Because it is on you, Ma. It’s always you. No wonder they all left, including me and Brett.”
“What did you say to me?” Tarah grabbed her wrist.
“Just go—I’ll handle this.”
“Leave! I don’t want you here. You make everything worse.” She jerked her arm back and carried Nicky away.
A nurse shuffled the three through locked doors, and Tarah reached for her daughter, wanting to hug her, but it went unnoticed. Tarah was alone again.
She lit a cigarette outside. *Nicky did this to himself. He should’ve known not to play on that old swing. She’ll see this wasn’t my fault.*
She’d fallen asleep to the glow of a sitcom with a cigarette burn on the leg of her jeans. She checked her phone to see if there’d been a call, but there wasn’t. Nobody called.
The nurse wouldn’t divulge whether Nicky would ever leave Room 101 alive, and her daughter didn’t pick up when she dialed.
“I’m just calling to see if you’re ready to apologize. Well, Charlotte, I forgive you. Maybe you and the kids can come over Sunday for goulash?” Tarah knew she’d call back. She always does, but she never apologizes.
She finally threw out the fuzzy sandwich with the remaining sugar ants that’d made it their unintentional grave. There were few stars in the sky, and the moon hid behind a heavy cloud through the bay window.
Her phone didn’t ring, and the dog didn’t bark. She checked his water bowl, and it was dry. His food dish was empty, layered with dust. She wondered if the dog got out when Nicky fell. She called out to him from the stoop several times, but he didn’t come.
Tarah couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard from anyone, but she knew they’d come around and apologize. *All of them.* The house was cold and dark. She lit a cigarette and waited.