The squeal of metal on metal woke her just before dawn. Through the open bedroom window, carried along on a cool, silty breeze, she could hear the train that snaked along the lake's north shore.
In the haze of half-sleep, she thought the squeal was her son calling from his room, “I’m reeeeeeeady. I’m reeeeeeeady.”
Ready for what?
As she came to, she realized her son’s voice was the diesel locomotive. She sighed, relieved.
And then, as she was curling her spine into a comma, preparing to drift away again, she remembered what she’d told her husband late the night before. She'd said, “This afternoon, for lunch…I fed you a rotten egg.”
Roland had been close to sleep. But she heard his red-graying hair scratch the pillowcase as he turned his head. “What? Why?”
“Well, I didn’t know it was rotten, of course. And it wasn’t, exactly. It was recalled.”
“What do you mean ‘recalled’?”
“Great,” he said. “That’s just great.”
Now, the sky was just beginning to brighten. The crows hadn’t begun their infuriating squawking yet, like a slack bow across loose violin strings. But other birds began to chitter.
Avoiding looking at her slumbering husband, she got up and crept downstairs. She wished she’d woken earlier, for the meteor shower that was supposed to have happened. But as it was, the few hours she'd slept hadn’t been restful.
She went onto the back deck and tucked a drying beach towel around her knees. It smelled of fish.
Truthfully, she was a little smug about having fed Roland the tainted egg. He’d been on the nasty side lately, too quick to sneer at her and reprimand Jack.
Roland would probably be fine anyway. The man never got sick.
After staring up at the light gray sky for a while, she found sleep trying to overtake her. No, she told herself. No. Not now.
She heard movement in the kitchen. She turned, and through the screen door saw Roland pouring club soda into a glass. “What?” she said.
“Just, you know, feeling a little queasy.”
She pulled the raspy towel up around her hips. Good, she thought.
There was a shattering. Then a “Damn it to hell!” from Roland.
She stood to help, but he waved her away, “I’ve got it.”
There were the muffled sounds of Roland bumbling around, searching for dishtowels and sponges, the snapping of drawers and cupboard doors.
It wasn’t long before six-year-old footsteps padded down the hall above them. Roland had woken Jack.
“Stay back!” Jack’s dad yelled. “Stay way, way back. There’s glass all over the floor. It could cut your feet.”
Jack looked around. His eyes felt scratchy. “But I want milk.”
“You’ll get your milk in a little while. For now, just stay away. Or better yet, go back to bed. It’s only five-thirty.”
Jack’s mom’s voice came from outside, “Come sit here with me.”
He didn’t want to. He had to pee and he wanted milk. He drank milk every morning first thing. He went to the sliding screen and pressed his forehead against it. His mom patted the cushion next to her. She had his Spider Man towel on her legs.
He felt that fuzz in the air again. Like when he laid down in the patch of milkweeds out back. Only this wasn’t a good fuzz. It was crunchy and crackly.
Without taking his forehead off the screen, he shook his head.
His dad said a bad word and, when Jack turned around, he was sucking bright red blood from his finger.
Jack didn’t know why his mom wasn’t in there helping, putting a Band-Aid on his dad’s cut like she did for him. He thought it had something to do with the fuzzy air.
Roland ran his finger under water as cold as he could stand. His stomach churned and he couldn’t believe Jack was already awake. He’d be impossible by middle of the afternoon. At least, assuming Roland felt decent enough to go to work, Samantha would be the one dealing with it. She’d caused this uproar, after all.
Once, a few years ago, she’d fed him expired sour cream and he’d spent a whole night vomiting up chips and dip. He should remember to doublecheck everything in the fridge. She was so sloppy sometimes.
Suddenly, the room spun. Roland crouched and grabbed the edge of the sink.
He opened his eyes, what he assumed to be, a few minutes later. Sam was bending over him, holding Jack on her hip, his small, pale feet dangling.
“It’s the fucking egg,” Roland muttered, rubbing his face.
“I think it’s the blood,” Sam said. “Remember when you passed out after that blood draw during your last physical?”
Sam was always laughing at his squeamishness. It was true, she was the one who tended to Jack when he was hurt, who donated her O negative at Red Cross drives up at the township hall every fall, and who watched, without flinching, horror movies and surgical TV shows. But Roland wasn’t so wimpy as to blank at the site of two drops of his own blood, was he?
She offered him a hand, but he ignored it and pulled himself up using the cabinetry. His brain was a pen spinning across a desktop. His desktop. That he needed to sit behind in less than two hours. He had a presentation early that afternoon, a power-point deal about social media and marinas.
“I want eggs,” Jack said. “Scrambled. Mommy, make me eggs.”
“Not today. Waffles?” she said and nuzzled his ear.
Jack jerked his head back, disgusted by her affection.
Roland almost laughed, but instead got out the Dust Buster and proceeded to make a great, whirring, satisfying racket cleaning the rest of the glass.
Sam had perched Jack on the edge of the counter while she pulled frozen waffles from the freezer. As she dropped them into the toaster, Roland snatched up the box and searched for the expiration date. It was four months in the future. “Okay,” he mumbled. “This time.”
Samantha turned to him. “Do you have something you want to say to me, Rol? And I don’t mean about eggs and blood and waffles. Something else?”
Roland had a sudden, aching desire for coffee. Hot and black. “What are you talking about?” he asked, intentionally gruff.
“I’m talking about how you suddenly hate me. And this family.”
He glared at her warningly.
“And don’t give me that look. Not after you just dropped the F-bomb in front of Jack.”
My God. She was giving him the opening he’d fantasized about for months. Should he take it? Dive through as if he were escaping a burning building?
“I don’t hate you,” he said. He cupped one of Jack’s feet in his palm and held it. His sole was cold and sticky. Roland reclaimed his hand and stuffed it in his robe’s pocket. “Or this family. But.”
He saw Sam cringe. He’d started it, though. May as well see his announcement through. “She makes sails at a loft downtown. She rides this bike, bright green with a wicker basket out front,” he demonstrated with his hands the perfect roundness of the little basket and felt himself begin to smile, stomach ache forgotten. “She has pots and pots of strawberry plants and she raises chickens.” Roland realized how ridiculous this last remark sounded and made himself shut up.
“Who?” Sam asked, her usually placid face contorted. Confused.
“Well, Julia,” he said. Of course, Julia (a proper woman's name, by the way). But then, Sam didn’t know about Julia until just this moment. She hadn’t been the one pining and daydreaming about Julia for the past year. “Julia. The one I’m–,”
“The one you’re what?”
The waffle popped up from the toaster. Sam grabbed it and savagely buttered it. Jack sat next to her, his eyes wide, his hands over his ears.
That is when Roland decided to stop. “We’ll talk later,” he said, and left the kitchen, still sucking the blood from his gashed finger.