“I’ll walk. Just pull over there.” Robbie was sounding cool, not like jazz musician-cool, but as someone attempting to stay calm and deflecting agitation. The skewered garage door must surely be revealing blatant evidence upon the rear of the car, which hadn’t yet been seen by anyone, not even Daisy. That was for later.
They reached the block before the intersection of the giant school complex that housed both the middle and high school. It was a modern approach to education: one principal overseeing six grades. Daisy prayed on her daily approach that her kids weren’t going to be the experiment that failed. She hoped they would figure it out before Micah attended, but why only wreck two kids, that would be favoritism, and she certainly didn’t practice that. Not like her mother.
“Yeah, Mom, why stress yourself out in the queue? I’ll walk with Robbie,” Clara concurred with her brother, perhaps for the first time ever, other than how big of a pain Micah was.
Their voices were strange, higher than normal, as if invoking that “you’ll be just fine” tone they might one day use with a friend on a gurney. It made Daisy want to laugh again. She knitted her brows instead, as harshly as she could, pursing her lips for a moment, attempting to look severe and not constipated. There was no way she could laugh at the morning—yet.
She pulled over. The quick tick-tick-tick of her blinker wanted to raise her heartbeat again. Cars arced around them. Daisy said nothing. She wondered if she would come to regret this: what if her kids were run over at the intersection because they were too embarrassed to be seen in a damaged car?
“Love you Mom,” Clara whispered as she got out and tugged on her heavy backpack, almost hesitating before she kissed her cheek. She waited for her brother to climb over Micah in the back seat, who failed to complain this time, no “ouch, you stepped on my foot” or “that was my head!” or, best of all, “that was on purpose!”
“Loveyou.” Robbie always said it quickly, as one word. He wanted to verbalize it but his age dictated he should be embarrassed by it. He was nearly driving and that was the time you didn’t have to say it anymore. It was an unwritten rule somewhere. Maybe it was painted on a bathroom stall in the boys locker room.
Daisy and Micah watched the siblings walk side by side, briefly reflected in the perfectly smooth and curved hood. Robbie helped Clara with the inverted strap of her backpack. They were talking, not yelling, not poking. When was the last time she’d seen that? It warmed her, not to sweating again, but for longing of innocent days. Of hikes they used to take in summer with picnics and fresh lemonade. Of canoeing across the lake the first time she’d trusted Robbie and Clara to go out alone. Of liking her husband simply because they shared sunny days together.
Maybe they were spoiled, her kids, and needed a bit of shaking up in order to grow closer. But the sight of scraped panels in the queue would have led to questions. Assumptions. Wild tales. A teen girl with a ponytail atop her head like a powerless fountain would be pointing and whispering to her BFF. There would be no way to make light of it. There were things like that in life and her children were learning their lessons. Was that a mother’s job?
Daisy turned back to look at her youngest. “I’m fine, Mommy.” Micah smiled. Her cheeks still looked like a baby’s, pink and smooth, seemingly poreless. Daisy’s eyes wanted to burn with the coming of tears, so she forced a grin. Her daughter seemed so much wiser at this moment than she.
“Let’s get you to school.”
Micah said nothing. She smiled again and proudly smoothed her skirt over her leggings, kicking her feet. She would be warm enough in her boots. She liked dressing up, having her own girly style where pinks were vital. Clara despised pink. Robbie liked everything black lately, including his hair, which he dyed without permission. That was a month ago, the last time he was on restriction. At this rate, he might be on restriction all the way through high school.
She listened for a siren, one that might be sent because two children were struck by a vehicle in the intersection, but there was nothing. Winter was arriving with the last of the brown leaves spinning off skeletal fingers, reaching toward the low, dull skies. The traffic on the only straight track between the schools created its own wind, pulling the leaves off easily. Micah liked that, chasing them with her finger on the window or announcing how they raced each other. It was part of their little routine, the one the older kids didn’t know about. They had had their own such secrets once, little things forgotten over time like getting a smoothie or going to the library, to be recalled during odd lucid moments in the depths of senility—or after a broken wrecked door.
“I’ll drive you through, okay?” Daisy asked Micah because they were running so late. Normally she walked her to class. She didn’t feel like it. When her daughter really needed her, needed her mother to explain what had happened that morning—the culmination of so many little annoyances she couldn’t even list—she simply couldn’t. Not for her own sanity.
Daisy needed to get to work and finish her PowerPoint, reeking of nervous sweat, so she could miss another promotion. She needed to add to her children’s therapy hours after they reached adulthood. She needed to be upset again as she argued with her husband about how the door didn’t function well before she even hit it. She needed to tell the story to a friend over coffee the following Sunday with a grand pang of guilt as she laughed as if it had happened to someone else. But, it was just another day.