The girls built a ladder out of the chairs and pillows in the living room. Then they climbed it, each struggling to get to the top first, clearly uninterested in the danger. Stephanie tugged at Sehra’s hair, which was short and brown like her father's, while Sam pinched Terra’s thigh, a little too close to the crotch, Jan thought. The structure wobbled under their struggles, the pillows swallowing their feet and slipping around on each other. None of the furniture was loved. It was unsentimental; unattached. There were no memories in them, except that they were in the "good" room, which the kids weren’t supposed to enter.
The top of the pile sat just below the chandelier, a brass number with six light bulbs, each perched on a tarnished ‘S’ and flickering like a candle in a light breeze. The girls grabbed one apiece, twisting in little turns, having to pull their hands away when their fingers got too hot. Terra, who always wore long sleeve shirts, won their race, and was the first to hold up her bulb and drop it to the hardwood floor. The other girls paused to watch the glass shatter and blink as it tumbled around the room. Then they each became braver, more determined, and grabbed their bulbs harder and with more fingers, alternating hands as quickly as possible until the floor was a diamond field, only two of the bulbs remaining in the fixture.
“Why are they doing that?” Jan’s mother asked through the speakerphone. “It sounds horrible.”
In the newly dimmed room, Jan watched each of her daughters jump in the air, twisting and kicking to outperform the others, landing flatfooted on the tiny, delicate shards.
“To punish me,” Jan said.
The girls walked around the room slowly, as if they suddenly found themselves waist deep in ice water. But when two or more of them came within reach of each other, they began shoving.
"Ouch," Terra squealed as she stepped back. "I landed on the metal screwy part."
Stephanie, who looked like Jan when she frowned, walked to Sam and stepped on her toes, cutting them with the glass stuck to her soles.
"Can't you make them stop?" Jan's mother asked. "They might hurt themselves."
Sehra tried to run, but the blood seeping from the balls of her feet made her lose traction. Soon, all of the girls were sliding around as though they were climbing up a hill they had just sled down. Stephanie and Terra grabbed each others' forearms and swung themselves around until they pitched over onto the sky-blue couch, gray paisleys suddenly swiped with red.
Jan backed her wheelchair away from the kitchen phone using a mouthpiece and her head. She turned the wrong way, still uneasy with the mechanics. She blew into it and the chair moved forward, taking her to her children.
"Please stop," she called into the room. Her faint voice barely penetrated the pinched laughter.
"Why?" Sehra called from the chairladder.
"This is not how you should behave," Jan answered.
"That is not for you to decide anymore," Stephanie said.
"We are adults now," Terra said.
"Two weeks ago, I could not cross the street," Sehra said, having landed from a graceful leap. "But now, I can buy groceries."
“My bosom,” Sam said. “It aches.”
The girls gathered their voices together, and it was noisy. Jan wheeled herself back to the speaker on the wall, nicking the baseboard when she turned too sharply.
"It's no use," Jan said to her mother.
"It's not fair," her mother said. "Oh well. Would you like me to write it down in your journal for you?"
The noise in the good room quieted down, but it took a moment for Jan to realize it. The girls were no longer jumping or giggling, and instead there was silence. Again, Jan left the phone and moved her chair. There were little red footprints leading out of the room and down the hall, and Jan moved to follow, hoping that they hadn't gone upstairs. The blood had started to dry to a salty brown, and the glass was visible only as bumps in the clot. By the chair stack, down feathers had blown out of a pillow and landed in the puddle, looking as though someone had gone duck hunting with a cannon. The trail of footprints led under the door of the guest bathroom. Jan urged her chair forward until it bumped the door, then back again, then waited to see if the girls understood that to be a knock. Sam opened the door a crack and leaned her head out.
"Is everything alright in there?" Jan asked. "Anything I can do?"
"We're fine. We'll be out in a minute."
Sam poked her head back in without closing the door and Jan stayed there in the hall, peeking through the crack. Stephanie was picking glass out of Terra's left foot, while Sehra wiped the right foot with alcohol. Sam picked up a roll of gauze and ripped a long section off. Jan tried to reach out towards them. She looked down at her arm and mouthed her wish towards it, that it would lift up and grab the girls, pull them out of the bathroom and hold them down in front of the TV. That it would dial up their friends on the phone and then hold that phone to their ears until two in the morning. She urged her legs to remember the time, just a month ago, when they had been worth something to so many people. The girls were no longer giggling. They no longer played at violence, or competed. They worked diligently, tenderly washing and bandaging, while Terra leaned back against the toilet and cringed. LS
"Fiction gives a second chance that life denies us."