Oh, Tyler & the Black Snow of March
With the Third Installment of Cleave
He gasped and tossed the phone onto the table, like it was at once electrified. The phone stopped near a pile of spaghetti sauce escaped from the toddler’s plate. We gaped at him. “What is it!” I can never wait for an explanation from my husband. I always need to pull it out before it’s ready. His hands covered his mouth. He shook his head slightly. I’ve seen him cry twice – once after his brother broke his back and the other time for the duration of the Trump presidency. He stared at the phone. We all stared at the phone. Tyler and Muffin, big kids in first grade and kindergarten, chewed nails and twisted hair, all while keeping their eyes on the phone and their voices quiet. The toddler spilled spaghetti sauce in slow motion, dripping it from an overturned spoon. I watched sauce threaten the phone like lava rolling from a volcano. Maybe if it ate the phone whatever horror lay within would be swallowed, too. “Tell me!” My husband parted his hands just enough for me to hear him say, “You, too.” “What does that mean!” The spaghetti sauce settled. Tyler twisted his fingers. Muffin chewed her hair. “Your phone.” His voice sounded burnt. “E-mail.” “What is it!” Now my husband put his hands over his eyes. I exhausted him. On cue, my pocket rumbled. My hand, cold and sweaty, pulled the phone up to my face. I opened my e-mail. “Tyler,” my husband whispered as I fumbled for my phone, “What did you do?” Congratulations! Your household has been selected as a foster home for the pair of pigeons TAMMY and RICO, who will be arriving by Priority Mail Express to the address you provided on your application. Thank you for your generosity in caring for these pigeons. Though we have no realistic time frame for the length of TAMMY and RICO ’s stay with you, know that we can usually place pigeons within three to five years. The arrival of your pigeons is estimated between one and three days, but could be sooner depending on the availability of the mail carrier. Along with your pigeons, TAMMY and RICO, you will receive all of the items you need to start your relationship off right! You’ll find attached all of the additional information you need. As we are a staff of volunteers, we unfortunately cannot receive direct communication and therefore do not have a central phone number at this time. You are encouraged to reply to this e-mail with any questions you might have. The e-mail went on, but I didn’t have time to read it because the doorbell rang.
March is the snarling, unfed stray dog you find limping near the teeter-totter in the playground behind the school that closed two decades ago. The dog looks nice, in theory. Like it could be a true companion. You dress it up in your imagination, groom it, give it some love and manners. Clip its nails. Soon it will bark nothing but flowers and sunshine and you’ll play fetch in the meadow while butterflies kiss your nose. You just gotta believe it’s gonna get better. But then you open your eyes and look at it and realize it’s several feet of months-blackened snow the melts just enough to re-freeze clear enough to see your reflection in it as you’re watching yourself fall on your face.
But my kids are cute, I guess?
Kate pulls down the dirt road that leads to the gate where she agreed to meet Malcolm and Kenny. The headlights shine into the barn, overrun by weeds and moonlight. She scans the field and sees no sign of anyone. The car is warm. She’s been driving for more than an hour. She finally puts the car in park and rests. She listens for her phone, assuming Marianna will call to apologize. She wonders if Marianna would have found a car somewhere, somehow, and met her here, at the gate. But there is no one here. Kate checks her phone for messages of any kind. Nothing new. Malcolm and Kenny must have found out. At Kate’s parents, what happened wasn’t supposed to happen. Kate wonders if Marianna got to them. Maybe Marianna turned them against her. Even though they were all part of this. Together. Instead, she is alone in the rain in a car with a gun her identical twin sister left behind. Kate dials Malcolm. Then Kenny. Then Marianna. She texts them each the same word: “Gate.” Each text sits “delivered.” No one responds. She decides to kill the headlights and turn off the car for just a half hour. She reclines the seat. She hopes finding a new position will help her see the situation more clearly. And, as she drove, her adrenaline wore off. The night before, they hardly slept. They planned that Marianna and Kate would be in the home for only as long as necessary – fifteen minutes, tops – and that they would drive to the gate to do the hand off to Malcolm and Kenny. But the plan clearly failed. Malcolm and Kenny, though, should have known to stick around. Kate moves her head on the headrest, trying to shake the night away. And then she sees, shoved behind the passenger seat, a black backpack. She reaches for it before she understands what she’s doing. It’s Marianna’s backpack, left behind.
Thank you for reading. I hope March is warm and pleasant for you.
If you like Fiction at Five, please share, subscribe, and comment.