Susan sits low in her chair, her legs stretched out, crossed at the
ankles. She watches Jake in the barber's chair, the black apron
spread over his lap, his little shoes swinging a foot above the
floor. Beside her, Aaron thumbs through the pack of baseball cards
she bought for him at the Superette check-out. He tugs on her
"Can I hold Jake's pack?"
"No. I'm keeping it in my purse."
"Why can't I hold it?"
"Because you'll open it."
He fidgets with his cards, shuffling them, turning them over,
studying the statistics. Across the room, the barber swivels Jake's
chair. The clippers buzz, racing up and down the back and sides of
his head, leaving tracks of pink scalp and short stubble. Small
black curls drift down, settle on Jake's shoulders, tumble down his
"Can I please hold Jake's pack?" Aaron asks again.
"No, I said... It's Jake's pack and you'll open it. Didn't you get
anyone you like in yours?"
"Nobody good?" She doesn't look at him, stares at the rain pelting
the front window.
"I got some good ones, but nobody I like. Can I have another pack
while we wait?"
She opens her purse and pulls out her wallet. Her husband's picture
watches as she counts the small stack of singles. She covers his
face with her thumb. Eleven dollars.
"You'll have to wait 'til next time, honey. Sorry."
Aaron sighs and stares at his sneakers. "I hope he doesn't get a
She isn't listening. She slides her thumb from the photo and looks
down at her husband's dark eyes. Three months since she last saw
him. One month since she last heard his voice. A collect call. He
said he was in Florida, but could have been lying. She remembers his
sigh when she begged him to come home.
She folds her wallet, covering the photo, tucks it back into her
purse and looks at her watch. She wanted to be home by now. He may
call again. He might not leave a message if she isn't there.
The barber swivels Jake away from the mirror, raises a smaller hand
mirror, shows him the back. He laughs as Jake tells him something
about first grade.
Aaron tugs her sleeve again. "Do you think Jake will trade me Roger
Clemens for this card?" He holds up a picture of a man in Yankee
stripes, following through his swing, staring up out of the border
at the flight of a homerun ball. "This guy's pretty good."
"I don't know. Maybe he won't get a Roger Clemens, either. Did you
think of that?"
"But if he gets a Roger Clemens, do you think he'll trade me?"
"I don't know." She grips his shoulder, twists to look him in the
eye. "But if he does get one and you want him to trade, never, ever
let him know how badly you want it."
Hear the shrieks from the Erickson's trailer as you study Algebra on
your bed; listen to your parents talk briefly about calling the
police. Notice the Erickson's furthest left window fill with yellow
light, darken, then fill again. Close your book and watch the
blinking square until you see Sara's figure, their daughter, a plain
girl, the beckon of her hand. Walk past the flicker of television,
past your parents as they sit upright on the couch. Tiptoe across
the gravel drive, across the brittle grass of the lawn. Lay your
palms on the sill of Sara's window, pull yourself upward to take her
hand, slip inside. Listen as she whispers that she and her mother
are leaving in the morning, that she'll leave by herself if her
mother isn't able. When she asks you to make love to her, agree,
though Sara is four years your junior. Lift her shirt and feel the
nerves race under your skin as she touches your neck, guides your
face to her small breasts. Carry her to bed and find a rhythm to
match the stomping footfalls in the kitchen, the staccato chain of
curse words volleyed between husband and wife. Wonder if Sara's
gasps are from pleasure or the shock of each new threat, each new
sound that may or may not be the thuds of fist on flesh or the drop
of a body. When you leave her, step lightly back through your door,
past your snoring parents, slide a chair toward your window. Feel
sorry when you see Sara leave with a small, stuffed backpack, sorry
for her need to run, and sorry that this is the last time you'll be