Meg’s mother, Karen, was the sort of woman who never sat down. There was a tribe of them out there. If they all lived together, they’d never need chairs or want for refills of soda. Meg and Devin stood in the open garage. Karen kept running past them, into the house, ferrying plates and glasses with pleasant urgency.
“Devin, do you need a Coke? You don’t look so good.”
“I’m good. Just a bit hot. And it smells like the 1970s in here.”
“Um, what do the ‘70s smell like?”
“The unfinished wood of an A-frame house and…resentment, I guess.”
“Oh, okay. Ha! You’re funny.” Karen said breezily, dodging men sitting in lawn chairs and the kids drawing on the driveway with chalk. She let the door slam hard behind her.
“—Air from a sealed-off room,” He continued as Meg gave a long, disapproving blink, “All-natural peanut butter. Unwashed pillow cases—“
“Right. Cool. That’s really enough. She’s not even here.“
“—The dust on an old game of Parcheesi. That sort of thing.”
“Oh. Okay. Listen—can we be normal?” Meg poked him in the arm. “I want you to talk to people? Did you meet Uncle Matt?”
“He has been thrilling me with his stand-up routine. God, that guy’s a craaaaaaack-up. Oof.”
“What a hoot!”
“A real card.”
“Can you stop being such a—“
“Pill. Sorry I’m being a real pill.”
“Dick? Can you stop being such a giant dick?”
“Whaddya call a girl with one leg?”
Sumac fronds hovered low over the yard, chaotic and menacing—looking too tropical for the Northeast. The air was heavy. Along the guardrails down the road, Tiger Lilies and Queen Anne’s Lace turned bold faces toward the sun. How on Earth were they not dying in this heat? This area of New York—with its long-forgotten parking lots, the abandoned Arby’s—felt post-apocalyptic to him. Or maybe just apocalyptic. Maybe the apocalypse was happening right now, in this garage. He liked to imagine vines and toxic mold creeping through the cracks in the concrete, taking back, getting rid of this mess. Devin always rooted for the natural world. If he wasn’t careful, he might become like his mother, who could only empathize with felines and bean plants.
He watched everyone talk and laugh. He couldn’t help but feel they were trying to re-enact something they’d seen in a movie. How many families thought theirs was the funniest, the most loyal, told the best stories? There were no big family gatherings for him, unless you wanted to count the time his grandfather died, and a few of them went to Friendly’s afterward: “Waitress, I will have a watermelon sherbert, a tearful grandmother, and a wool winter coat that smells like an old man, please.” But maybe Devin was just jealous.
“Whaddya call a girl with one leg?”
No, he was not jealous.
Meg’s sister, Jen, sat under a tree. She was just like Meg, but she always wore running shoes and her body had gone slack. She shared a yellow blanket with her husband and the baby. The baby was being so cute, its little mouth exaggerating vowel sounds, rolling and twinkling. It picked up a soft red ball, motioned to give it to his parents, and then faked them out, giggle-gurgling. It was so precious as to be almost a parody of itself. It reminded him of an adorable cartoon animal—a chipmunk or a baby bear…a creature modeled after the cuteness of a human baby, one would suppose. The apocalypse might be hard on a baby. That would be sad.
Devin could teach it how to forage for food, use a bow and arrow. It was probably too late to ask if it was a boy or a girl.
“It’s a funny little guy.”
“Her name is Gabby,” Meg winked.
He loved Meg because she was beautiful and bright, and because—underneath it all—she doubted everything. Maybe, actually, she was only hanging on by a thread. She could go on crying jags, call him at 4 a.m. about some perceived slight or nonsensical crisis. He didn’t love that, but he could really talk to her then, and she really listened.
But then last night, sobbing: “Do you even care about me? Maybe we should just break up.”
But here they were.
“So there was this guy, good lookin’ guy, but he has one eye. He’s got a wooden eye.”
“Why not a glass eye?”
“Go fuck yourself…And there’s this girl, good lookin’ girl, but she has one leg. And the guy sees this girl, and she’s never been asked out, right? And he sees her, and he just sees how beautiful she is. And he says, ‘Would you like to go out on a date with me?’ and she says ‘Would I? Would I?”
“And the guy turns and points at her and goes, ‘PEG LEG! PEG LEG!”
“Look, it’s just that it’s really hot. I don’t know these people. I’m sorry,” he said, pressing a hand into the small of her back. He felt suddenly as if his bones were made from glass, like the ornaments that his mother placed on the kitchen windowsill at Martha’s Vineyard, the artisanal, hand-blown sort that was so fragile he could break them by squeezing with one hand, watching his blood mingle with the shards—
“It’s okay. I mean, I’m glad you said that, but I know it’s hard for you.”
He longed to just go back to the hotel and have sex with her in the shower. Barring that, he wanted to go back to the hotel by himself, watch porn, and wait for her to come home. They could fall asleep on top of the taught blue hotel bedspread. He could rest his head near her hair and breathe in the smell of her 2-in-1 shampoo in the too-cold air conditioning. Oh please, Meg. That would be just right.
Anne Murphy Garrity has degrees from Hunter College and New York University. She works as a registered nurse, and lives with her husband and daughter in New York. Her fiction is slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Paper Darts magazine.