Word Count 566
By Anne Nassar
“Mom’s home,” Ella observed.
“It can’t be,” Lynn said, “it’s only five-thirty.”But when she drew the curtain aside and looked out the window, she saw the Audi pulling into the garage. “Game’s over, she said to the girls, Let’s clean up.”
Sophie said, “but who won?”
“You did,” Lynn said.
“Wait a minute,” Ella said, “I got Yatzee!”
“You won, too.”
“There can only be one winner,” Ella said. Lynn got the game put away and the tablecloth straightened out before Tessa walked in. Tessa’s face was flushed. She smelled like alcohol.
“How about saying hi to your mom?” Lynn suggested.
Ella and Sophie begrudgingly said, hi.
Tessa said to her daughters, “Why don’t you two go upstairs and get ready for bed?”
Ella retorted, “Because we’re not two years old. It’s five thirty.”
Tessa said, “Go watch tv, then. Out. Be gone.” Sophie obediently scrambled up the stairs, but Ella remained seated. She folded her arms.
“What did I just say?” Tessa said.
“Don’t yell at Lynn, it’s not her fault.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We threw out your cigarettes,” Ella said, defiantly.
Tessa said, “If you throw out my cigarettes, I’ll buy more. I’ll buy twice the amount. So don’t throw out my cigarettes.”
“Fine!” Ella said, and got up from her chair and stomped from the room with her fists clenched.
Lynn felt her heart racing. Here it comes, she thought. But Tessa went into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee, doctored it with milk and sugar, and drank it in sips. It reminded Lynn of religion class, back in the day, when she’d have to wait in the pew until it was her turn to go into the confessional. Tessa sat down at the dining room table, and Lynn sat down across from her. Tessa looked old and haggard. Her eyes were bloodshot. There were dark circles beneath them. She was still beautiful, but she wasn’t otherworldly beautiful like she used to be.
Lynn lived in the narrow passages between things. She had millions of things. She spent all of her money at garage sales and estate sales and she could not leave a sale until she’d bought an item. She didn’t buy anything stupid. She bought things that she might need someday. And she didn’t keep garbage. She put out the garbage. She washed her dishes. She wasn’t dirty. No one ever saw her apartment. She didn’t invite her friends over; she invited them out. She worried that something might break that she couldn’t fix, a window or the toilet. She worried that she might be crushed to death by an avalanche of crap. But mostly she worried that she was insane.
She understood why she’d become a hoarder. When she was a child, her mother would disappear for days at a time and there would be no food, no toilet paper, no soap. She would go to her neighbors and beg on behalf of herself and her sisters. But that, she reasoned with herself, had been many years ago. She had a good job, she made lots of money. She lived half a block from supermarket and five minutes from Wal-Mart. Yet whenever she made up her mind to throw away or give away some stuff, she felt sick to her stomach, panicked.
This went on for years. Then one day, the house burned down.