Summer 2021 - Fiction

Chelsea Harris

The Loop Begins Again

 

Maude asked for supper. Eyes cloudy and damp. Outside was bleached in sun, the neighbor’s dog on the porch, yipping at squirrels. We took a bath. Warmth setting behind the trees. Suds clogging up our ears. The stars appeared in a flurry; Maude tucked into bed. Binky between her lips. Morning came, subdued, unobtrusive, and then daytime exploded through the windows all at once. Maude cried for momma. Birds perched up on the windowsill. The loop begins again.

Harry yelled from the parlor. Booming boots forcing themselves up the stairs. Silk against my thigh, Maude napping in the next room. The bedroom curtains lapped at the wind. He undid his belt, the cushions beneath me giving way.

Her mother came, loose strands peeking out of a tight bun. Maude clapped her hands, stuck a fist in her mouth. A single armful and she was gone. The house sighed. Rain slapped against the windows. Harry never came home.

Out. The grocery store unusually quiet. Cans of tuna. Cans of mushroom soup. Fresh baguette from the bakery. Carton of peppermint stick ice cream. The checkout girl is slow, fingers languidly reaching for the items on the belt. Rain lets up, the bagboy watching the doors. $19.72. I pay cash. Have a nice day, eyes darting to the next in line. The car is cold, my breath hanging above the steering wheel. Radio shouts something unfamiliar. Traffic is sparse. The porch light is out. Harry still not home.

Maude calls, her soft voice cooing over the line. Her mother asks if she can bring her over. I prepare something for us to eat. Mashed potatoes. Steamed carrots. Baked beans. Her favorite. Maude eats wildly, cheeks smudged in splatters of mush. She falls asleep against me on the couch. The TV hums. I call Harry but he doesn’t answer.

When Maude goes down I touch myself beneath our duvet. Mattress giving way as my fingers thrust. When I come my vision is dotted. Ear’s ringing. I think I hear Maude cry in the other room, but the silence proves otherwise. I check the phone, expecting a missed call from Harry, but there is nothing.

We met at a park. His chest bare, splashed with sweat, glassy beneath the sun. He was playing basketball. Our friends set us up. He seemed kind, face gentle. Little lady, he called me. We kissed in the parking lot. He took me home.

He finally calls. Busy, lost track of time. He asks about Maude. I wake her, put her ear against the phone. She babbles. That’s my girl, he says. My little lady. He’s coming home soon. I heat him up a plate. His boots are dirty, thick with three layers of mud. He kicks them off by the couch. Clots of dirt scatter across the rug, twisting themselves into the fibers. Maude claps, giggles, shoves the ear of her stuffed bear into her mouth. He asks about her mother, when she’s coming by to get her. Later, I say, quiet, my voice barely rising above the sound of the TV. He falls asleep after a while, his plate empty, feet propped against the coffee table. Maude crawls over him, puts her head on his lap. A storm paves its way through the clouds.

2AM. Her mother beating feverishly on the door. Wood floors raw beneath my feet. Harry no longer on the couch. It happens quickly. Lamp crashing to the floor. Dishes flying from the cupboards. A fit of rage. Chairs strewn across the dining room. Couch cushions ripped and torn. Where is she? Where is she? Where is she? My robe loosens, nearly comes undone. I check Maude’s room. Nothing. I call Harry. No answer. She calls the police. Sirens ringing through fits of rain. Lights pulsing against the living room walls. Questions. So many questions. No charges are pressed. Her mother leaves. The house is silent and cold.

There is a search. He has taken her, his boots no longer on the rug, her clothes pulled from her drawer. Her mother is panicked. I clean up her mess, bit by bit. The storm has passed. Sun shredding the clouds. A warm breeze wafts through the screen door. The oven timer dings. I take out the roast, carve it up.

I bring her a casserole. Steam cradling the saran wrap, a wave of condensation pulsing with my every step. Her hair, once forced into a tense bun, is gushing over her shoulders, a waterfall of grease-sodden strands. She invites me in. We sit, the air damp with silence, at the breakfast nook. She offers me coffee, tea, water, a cigarette. I take it from her hands, carefully bringing it to my lips, our spit melding, us becoming each other. I take a drag. She tells me that she knew he would take her. That she always expected it. We look at pictures of Maude. Her. Harry. All of them together, and not. Maude blowing out candles. Maude kissing a plastic giraffe. Maude on Harry’s shoulders by the lake. She cries at this one, reaches for my hand.

We take a walk. She smokes the whole way. At the fountain we each toss in a penny for Maude’s safe return. They can’t find him anywhere. It’s been three days. As we round the corner by the elementary school she says, Do you think she’s dead? It’s possible, but I say nothing.

This goes on. Each day longer than the last. More casseroles. More phone calls. She is at my door again, knocking softly. She hasn’t slept. Eyes a transparent haze. I take her to bed, cuddle her tenderly, Maude’s binky in her mouth. No more storms, the wind breathless. Day pushes through, her body pushed into mine, finger locked, hair nuzzled softly in my neck.

 


Chelsea Harris has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, The Portland Review, The Conium Review, Always Crashing, Literary Orphans, and Grimoire, among others. Her short story, “What I Actually Am” was recently selected as a finalist for the Best of the Net Anthology. Chelsea received her MFA from Columbia College Chicago and currently resides in Portland, Oregon.


 

This project is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council

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