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Stories

By Julia LaSalle

Factors

Bereaved Jan visits her younger brother and his wife, whose relationship is slowly disintegrating.

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Realism, Relationships/Family

Story Details

  • Title : Factors
  • Author : Julia LaSalle
  • Word-Count : 5866
  • Genre : Relationships/Family, Realism

About The Author

Author

Julia LaSalle 's work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in the following online publications: Drunken Boat, MonkeyBicycle, Storyglossia, Opium, and Mississippi Review. She has been honored twice by Glimmer Train as a finalist in the selection of the Best Stories from New Writers and long-listed in Fish publishing contest. She has had stories selected for anthologies by traditional publishers, including Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House.

I found Amy sitting alone Sunday morning. She was cross-legged on the couch and looking at Spike, a pretty blue betta fish with a long flowing tail and a feisty disposition. My brother Eric and his wife had chosen him a few weeks ago and he was the only thing in the way of pets that Eric and Amy could seem to agree on — or in the way of anything else it seemed.

It was early Sunday morning, or early Sunday morning for me, after the night out Eric and I had, but Amy was up and dressed in crisp blue pants and a button blouse. She had her hair done up, like maybe she was going to work, but, of course she wouldn’t be. It was Sunday and she hadn’t gone to work since she’d married Eric.

Eric was already in the basement studio, banging on the drums, already rocking out with music too loud for morning. I always loved that about him. He’d been that way since he was a teenager: an early riser, a day attacker. I was happy to see that the passing years and troubles hadn’t changed him. And neither had his day job at the bank and neither had his wife.




I walked past her to the kitchen, opened the cabinet for a coffee cup and found a row of spices instead, proud labels: Anise, Basil, Black Pepper, all in the same font. I closed that door and opened another. Two rows of shiny, white mugs stood with handles extended like soldiers’ arms, all uniform, and orderly and bright bright white. I pushed a few of those soldiers aside and peeked behind; did exactly what Katrina would do.

There were a few old mugs with thick, sturdy handles hidden in the back; the college mugs and joke mugs that had never been part of a set. One said Colgate and I grabbed it. It was, after all, mine and when I turned it over I saw my name written in magic marker, “Jan ’81.” Neither the dishwasher nor time had erased it, and it touched my heart to know my baby brother had carried it with him all these years. I filled my coffee and leaned against the counter listening to Eric play along with some song I didn’t know and watching Amy wave the wand in front of the fish.

When the music and Eric’s drums stopped for a minute, I went to sit next to her on the couch. “What are you doing?” I asked.

Behind her the gray morning threw whatever light it had to offer through the window. It backlit her hair and made the blackness of it shine blue.

“I’m trying to teach him to swim through a hoop,” she said, dipping and then lifting the bubble wand.

“Who? The fish?”

“Spike. Yes.”

“Ah.”

Spike had his nose in the farthest corner of the tank. His tail fanned out and swished, revealing tiny glimmers of pink. The surface of the water pulsed slightly with Eric’s kick. The fish showed no interest in the beat, no interest in us, appeared to deliberately ignore the wand.

I looked at Amy’s profile. She was practically a stranger to me, a hostess that hadn’t yet asked about my sleep. She looked pretty, sitting there with Spike. Pretty and also, I have to say, she looked sad. I’d never seen anyone train a betta fish before, but I can recognize Sad a mile away and when these enormous white snowflakes started to fall behind her, beautiful and quiet and cold, I thought they were just like her.

She must have felt me taking her in then and got nervous. She brought a hand to her hair.

“Through hoops, eh? That’s really something.”

“Well,” she lifted the wand out of the tank, tapped off a drop of water and then lowered it back in again. “It’s a long process.”

She went back to concentrating on the fish and I took a pull on my coffee; holding the warm mug in both my hands. The surface of the coffee pulsed in the same rhythm as Spike’s water. And then it came again hard, as I knew it would, that old and awkward friend, that Sad, that longing for Katrina. I tried to breathe the ache away and made a big sigh. It didn’t work. It never does. It’s been a while now, almost a year, and people have less patience for displays of grief than they used to, so:

“Seventy-two.” I told myself and started.

One. Seventy two.

Two. Thirty six.

Three. Twenty four.

Four?

I caught a hint of nutmeg wafting from my coffee; realized that Eric had stopped playing; noticed that still it ached, but I hadn’t actually cried, and that was the point. Katrina had taught me the factoring trick; that 72 was a good number because you got some play out of it – all the way up to five. Does two times anything equal seventy-two? Does three? There are times when  playing a numbers game doesn’t work and some tears leak out, but still I try.

And Four? Eighteen.

Eric emerged from the basement then. He burst into the room still wearing his pajama bottoms. His hair was tousled up and I smiled, realizing my hand itched to smooth it.

“You two look cozy,” he said. He laughed and raised his eyebrows; his face like a child’s wondering if he had been caught doing something bad and unsure of what trouble he might be in.

Amy took the wand out of the tank and set is on the table. “It’s after eleven.”

“Oh?” Eric said, “Is it?”

“Yes. And we’re going to be late for church.”

“Oh.” Eric walked into the kitchen. “Well,” he said, “Why don’t you go without me,” and then a cabinet door closed. “You guys want any more coffee? I’m finishing this pot.”

“No.” Amy stood and laid the wand down, aligned it to the side of the tank with clean white fingers, then turned and walked upstairs.

Eric came back with a shiny white mug in his hands. He sat in a chair across from me. He leaned back in the chair training his eyes on the high ceiling.

“Some night we had,” he said.

“Some night you had,” I said and listened to Amy clomping in dress shoes upstairs, her heavy steps looking for this or that.

“Sure I did,” he said.

Amy came down the steps wearing pumps.

I sort of hoped Amy might ask me to church; but she didn’t. And I guess I wasn’t very surprised. As a rule, church-going people don’t think a person like me wants to go and she walked between us without saying a word.

Eric’s eyes found me as she went past, and I could see he was nervous about what I might say. I said nothing.

Amy shrugged on a red wool coat and wound a long scarf around her neck. She poked her head inside a matching cap, opened the front door and left Eric and me alone.

“You mention anything to her about last night?” he asked reminding me of those times he asked if I saw a teacher’s note in his backpack, torn between wanting to confess it and wanting to hide it.

“You mean about your friendly fans?”

“Yeah. Or anything we talked about.”

“No.”

I thought I might see some expression of relief cross his face, but that’s not what happened. His expression passed from nervous to despair. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “I’m pretty sure it’s all stuff she already knows.”

I let that sit there for a while, tried to sit real peaceful like, and tried to be open to God or intuition telling me what to do. Sometimes things come to me in stillness; but nothing did, so after a while I just said: “Really? What is it that she knows?”

Eric put his hand in his hair, and rubbed his head. “She knows I’m lonely and sad, same as I told you last night; same as she is, I know.”

He turned his face to the window and watched the snow fall. “I know she’s sad,” he said, and then turned his eyes toward Spike. “Believe me, I know. It just seems that neither of us can quite figure how to help the other, and so we’re just going it alone.”

I leaned forward, picked up the bubble wand and tapped it on the tank glass. Spike jerked his tail.

“Sometimes,” he said, “it’s almost as if being together makes it worse, And right now, I don’t even know if she’d care if I – “

“Ok,” I said. “That’s enough now.” I set the bubble wand on the table, and nudged until it was parallel to the glass tank, not wanting Amy to know I had touched it.

We were quiet then together. Quiet snow. Quiet Spike. Quiet room. Quiet us.

Until I smiled at him, and said, “The band sounded great last night.” and he lit up. I knew he would. Little brothers are so predictable.

***

When Katrina and I found each other we were grown women, thick-waisted despite best efforts and well into ─ if not just slightly past ─ our prime. I met her at Taylor Alderdice High School, my alma mater. I was doing wintry laps around the track because running on the Buffalo roads that time of year is a thinly veiled suicide attempt. I was shooting for three miles that day, but in the middle of lap nine, the gym door opened on my right. It made a crashing noise and some PTA mom propped the door open with a chair. It was dark outside and the light and sound of the game pouring out through the door grabbed me and I stopped to see. It was a high-school basketball game, and even through my earmuffs I could hear the squeal of sneakers on a gym floor.

The boys ran this way then that, all the bright colors and swish of basketball uniforms, their hairy legs rushing. Beyond the flurry of numbered jerseys, on the other side of the court, was Katrina. She was at the bench, whispering advice to a blond-haired player. She had her head down, and the thick knot of a braid hung over her shoulder, pointed like a carpenter’s plumb to the floor. The ball-player could only be her son.

The boy pointed at something on the court and Katrina raised her head. I saw her face. I saw that she didn’t see what he saw and, realizing she was looking at me, I moved on. I finished lap nine, got in the car and went home.

***

They had me staying in the baby’s room. We didn’t talk about it, but it was clear.




Friday night, the night I arrived from Buffalo, I kicked the dirty snowy slush of Pittsburgh off of my boots and handed my present to Eric, “Thanks, Jan,” he said, kissing my cheek, and then passed the package to Amy.

It was late when I arrived there and I smelled the lingering scent of tomato sauce. Eric offered to make up a plate of their old dinner, but the warmth of the place after a long cold drive and the high high ceiling of the foyer confused me and I said no thanks. I stood there melting and dripping onto a welcome matt three sizes too small for winters such as these, until finally I remembered to unlace my boots.

Amy started on peeling off the plastic bags of their present. When those were gone, she started on the layers of brown paper and scotch tape, until there was only the blue vase. “It’s lovely,” she said. She set it on the coffee table next to the fish tank and then finally took my wet coat in her hands.

She hung my coat in the closet and before I could even hear the hanger click into place, I started worrying about Katrina’s plants back at home. It’d been getting harder and harder even to move my limbs at all without Katrina, and leaving that place where we were together, well – it was worse than hard.

I made myself do it though, for Eric; made myself look after him, just as I always had.

After watering Katrina’s plants, turning back the thermostat, and watering her plants again, I went.

I hadn’t visited my brother after the wedding. Hadn’t been to Pittsburgh in three years, since I stood at his side in Amy’s church, a modern best man, a gay woman. I always felt a little that Amy didn’t approve of me, but that isn’t what kept me from him.

Katrina and I had fallen into a hole in Buffalo with each other, for better or for worse. Had I abandoned Eric during those years? I had never thought so until I entered his and Amy’s house that night.

As I followed Amy up the stairs, the Spartan atmosphere, the cleanliness, the vastness for just two people, the orderliness, the obvious presence of a maid service; it all caught me off guard. The clutterless clean lines looked just like what I used to like, when I was alone, spending the days as an accountant and the evenings in an ever-more-tidy and increasingly sterile home. But with Katrina that same home had become cluttered and close and full of plants, her plants — were they already dying? — her fickle spider plants and tender ferns, until a clean straight line was nowhere in sight.

“Here’s your room,” Amy said, leading me past an office room, a work out room, and the master bath. I batted my eyes at the single bed and looked at her.

If she realized my unease in her house, her face didn’t reveal it. She just handed me some towels. I sat on the bed clutching those towels as I watched her close the door. Watched her leave me alone, and felt alone. Fifty-six. I told myself.

One? Fifty-six.

Two? Twenty eight.

I looked around the room and saw a tiny bassinette in the corner. White and whicker, a baby thing in a grown up room, and yet, not out of place.

Three? No.

Four?

There was a pink blanket folded where a baby’s head would be.

Four? Fourteen.

I walked to the bassinette and opened the blanket.

It had been knitted by hand, by Amy’s hand I knew, would bet my life on it. The yarn had little shimmery pieces.

Five? No.

Six? No.

When I squeezed the fabric, it was the softest thing I’d ever held, and when I put it next to my face, I started to feel some salty water in my eyes.

Seven? Eight.

***

That winter after Eric and Amy got married, I fell into an easy rhythm. A rhythm that slowly brought my mind away from my brother and his life in Pittsburgh and closer to her. Ever closer to her, running at the track the night of the basketball games. I got used to seeing Katrina: her braid, her ex-husband, her SUV, her son. She got used to seeing me too. And then, one night, it happened, just as I knew it would.

I was walking away from the track toward the parking lot. Katrina was standing by her car alone, her son and her ex-husband having pulled away a minute before. She saw me walking toward the parking lot, toward her car, though really it could have been any car.

“Would you like a warm drink?” she asked, and I said “yes.” I got in her SUV, left my heart and my car behind. And that was that.

We were only ‘friends’ until her son went away to college the following year, and even then we were quiet about it. She wanted it that way. Kept up her house even though she spent every night at my place, planted her heart along with her ferns at my apartment, and how I nurtured all that life blooming around me. Even before we knew she was dying I cherished her — though I didn’t always act it.

Katrina is the one that got me going to church. At first it was just a place to go in public with her, where church ladies were expected to be friends, but before long it started rubbing off on me. Put my life in a context bigger than the spreadsheets I’d been focusing on. It was in this way, bit by bit, that Katrina showed me many things, the church, the plants, the possibility of dirt, and the comfort of towels that hadn’t been bleached. She showed me these things, sure, but I’m afraid I didn’t make it easy for her.

***

Saturday morning when I woke, the baby blanket was still in my hands and I could smell eggs cooking.

I walked out of the bedroom and saw Amy on the stair-master; working hard. Her Pitt sweatshirt was soaked and sweat dripped off her nose. She had been at it a long time. She was staring straight ahead at something and nothing, with her tight little apple butt working.

I turned away from her and went toward the smell of eggs.

My brother wasn’t in the kitchen as I had hoped, but there were signs of him: the skillet with several spoonfuls of scrambled eggs; a plate in the kitchen sink; an empty coffee mug with a brown circle on the counter underneath it. I sat down at the kitchen table, still groggy, and felt as if in a dream.

***

I can’t fall asleep,” I whispered to Katrina, one night when our legs were tangled and my face was in her long hair, the cancer in her breast.

“What’s the matter?

“Scared” I said.

“Of what?”

“Everything. I feel sad and I feel scared.”

Katrina took a big breath and I wrapped my arms tight around her ribs; held her as tight as I could.

“It’s ok,” Katrina said. “It’s okay to feel that way. I do too.”

I had Katrina in my arms and what the doctors had said would be months ahead of us. It didn’t turn out to be months though, just a handful of weeks. Not long enough. Nowhere near long enough.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“Well I’ll tell you what I do. I take Sad and Scared and I make friends.” She had this way of making proper nouns; this way of slipping into a motherly tone.

“What do you mean?”

“We play games.”

“What do you mean? What games?”

“Well we do counting.”

“How’s that?”

“We make factors.”

Brilliant. She knew how to appeal to me, my sense of order. She could have said a million different games to make the same point, but she knew me. She knew I liked numbers.

And before long we were remembering old math lessons about perfect numbers, like six, where the multipliers summed equal the number being factored. Her memory fresher than mine, having been through it not so long ago with her son.

I sat up to look in her face. “The next perfect number is 28,” she said, “and beyond that four hundred and ninety six. Someone figured an equation to figure out after that.”

“Ah.”

Katrina sighed beneath my arms with a half-smile, so beautiful. She had succeeded in distracting me from Sad, but just for a moment.

***

After I sat there at the kitchen for a while, Eric came in. He was just returned from some quick errand.

“Jan,” he said. “There you are.” He put his hand on my head as he walked by. “Thought you’d sleep a little longer, after your drive yesterday. Can I get you anything?”

“No thanks.”

Eric sat down at the table and looked at me, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too.”

“How are you?” he wanted to know.

“I’m good.” I said and it was only a part lie. Eric didn’t know much about Katrina or what it’d been like that last year. That was by design. My design. I wanted to protect him first from the details of her illness and then from the vastness of my hurt and need.

“I saw Amy upstairs working out.”

“No doubt,” he said.

“She looks well.”

Eric looked away, stood and poured more coffee into his dirty mug.

When he sat down Amy came in. She was showered and dressed already. She walked directly to the sink and turned the water on over the dishes.

“I was thinking you girls might like to come see the band tonight,” Eric said.

Amy clanked the skillet into the sink.

“Eric, I’d love to.” I said.

“Go on without me,” Amy said, turned off the water and walked out of the room.

Eric and I looked at each other; he put his head down and said, “She’s just gotten so cold. Just icy cold.”

“Hey, that’s enough…” I started to cut him off but Amy came back to the kitchen then, caught us with our heads together.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d keep quiet with your gossip until at least I left the house.” she said.

“Oh, Amy,” I said and reached for her.

“Don’t ‘Oh Amy’ me, Jan,” she said. “What do you know about it? Any of it?”

There was nothing for me to say to that. In many ways, she was right. I had never been pregnant. To her mind, I had never been married. Eric didn’t say a word.

Amy really did leave then, and after Eric first put a hand on my shoulder and then through his hair, Eric left too.

I walked upstairs to see about a shower. I walked into the bedroom and saw that my bed had been made. Saw the baby blanket had been returned to the bassinette. I sat down on the bed, the same place as the night before.

***

I never really learned about the child trouble. Only child I raised was Eric. Of course, I was just a child still, and Eric was hardly a baby when mom passed; but Katrina talked about it some. What it was like with Edwin.

“He is more than precious,” she told me. We were walking the track together then while Edwin practiced inside the gym. We were cold and muffled and falling in love. I loved walking around the Taylor Alderdice with her and the symmetry it created in the narrative of my life. I’d sprinted this track 20 years ago, and here I was again, with her. Just starting to realize that I was a seven; I was a prime number; only divisible by one, and she was it. The only one of my set.

When she said it I waited to hear her say that our friendship had become just as precious, and then felt guilty-envy when she didn’t. Felt a true resentment when she said, “And he is just as precious to Roy.”

And from this family feeling, I have always been excluded. Katrina always kept me-not exactly a secret, but ‘away’ from her son. Always just a friend, invited to drop by for dessert on Christmas day but never for the meal. We’d fought about it. I don’t know if it’s the fights that I regret or that they were never resolved. Sometimes at home in Buffalo I’ll get to thinking about things like this and I’ll get angry all over. Angry, when she’s dead.

When Katrina was dying I would see Edwin at the ICU for days at a time, eight days altogether there before she passed, and we would bring each other warm coffee in paper cups and exchange awkward nods. At the funeral Edwin looked at my eyes and said, “I know you were my mother’s good friend.” And I knew he wanted to tell me something, there were things I wanted to tell him too. But I didn’t know what he knew, and with Katrina right there it didn’t seem fair to trespass across the line in the sand she had drawn between me and him. I pressed his shoulder with my palm and walked on.




Weeks later I called him. I wanted to see Edwin, to see Katrina’s hair on his head, but though I left a message he never returned the call. I didn’t try again. I let time pass. Turned inside myself, looked after the plants. More than a year went by, me barely leaving the apartment until Eric called: “Please visit,” he said. Amy had miscarried and the marriage was going down.

***

Eric was playing in a swing band that Saturday night, called Zipper Blues. They sounded great to me.  Although I felt a little old and awkward and out-of-place, I bobbed my head listening. In between sets he sat down next to me.

“What do you think?”

“Wonderful.”

I was smiling at him and feeling proud. A young lady came up to him. “You guys sound great,” she said and she handed him a drink.

Eric blushed.

They chattered for a bit,  and forgot about me. The girl’s name was Rada and eventually she came to sit on his knee and I came to realize that she was only a stranger to me.

I gave Eric a disapproving stare. I wasn’t sure if it would still hold any weight with him, but he sent Rada away.

“I know what you think,” he said. He gulped at his drink. “I can see what you think; but I’m not.” He finished the drink and put it down heavy on the table. Was he drunk? The between-set music was almost as loud as the live music. “It’s not what you think.”

“It’s a damn train wreck is what I think.”

I kept up with the stare. I meant it and it seemed to mean something to him too because he put his head down.

“It’s just so hard,” he said into the glass of ice. “I feel like she makes it so hard.”

“It’s supposed to be hard you big baby,” I said. “You shouldn’t talk like that about your wife.”

Eric went back to play the next set. Another full cocktail was waiting by his seat, and he sipped it before they began.

This set was a slower, moodier set and involved a lounge singer, a lady who came out and sang love songs from even before my time. Her name was Jenny Luv and she wore a red feather boa.

There were lots of words Katrina and I exchanged I wish we hadn’t. Lots about Edwin, her keeping him separate from me, and lots about other things. Too painful and humiliating to recall. Once Katrina accidentally put away an unclean kitchen pot and I called her careless and said something horrible about why her husband left. There were other fights like that, over nothing. Now in hindsight, I think it was frustration over Edwin, the cancer, so many things fueling the intensity of the discussions about dishes. But the reason doesn’t really matter much now. Those hasty insults and careless words should never have been spoken and there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to have those words back.

At the end of the second set, I knew Eric wasn’t going to make it through a third. He was drunk and depressed and unreasonable, and when somebody from the audience asked to sit in at his place, I saw my chance to get him home.

I got him in the car and his head started to droop. After I got through two stoplights I thought he’d fallen asleep, but he hadn’t.

“You were smart not to get married,” he said, almost slurred.

I tightened my grip on the wheel, my leather gloves tight across the knuckles, “Why is that?”

“Because,” his head rolled in my direction, chin down, “Because when you get married all you get is constant reminder of all the things that went wrong.”

“Same could be said about me – “

“All marriage is – is never getting a fresh start. Never having a clean slate.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I kept silent, and somehow managed to get the car home.

***

I have this in common with Amy; I like a sense of order, or did back in those years. Before Katrina taught me about whimsy. She taught me about the beauty of mess and I adored that about her; but it made me crazy too, and when I found a plant in my coat closet, I didn’t even consult her, I just threw it away.

That’s how it is with Love. The things that draw you to a person are the same things that can drive you nuts.

Katrina later explained it’s the only way to make a poinsettia bloom: that they must be kept in the dark. I said that I didn’t care and I didn’t want to live in a jungle, to find my mittens buried in her bizarre garden.

“I know,” she said and she turned her attention toward a bamboo. “It’s ok.”

She said it so soft and sweet and she looked so pretty with that bamboo, that I wished I could get that flower back, wished I could go back in time.

I heard a preacher say once: Anger breeds Regret. It’s a true enough thing, to be sure. But it’s hard to live on when things get so complicated and rough and all these frustrations come pouring out in, day after day. It felt impossible for me not to get mad. And that is something I regret.

One thing they say at weddings, Christian weddings at Katrina’s church is this: Love hopes all things. Believes all things. Endures all things.

And when I think about those fights we used to have, and the ones Eric and Amy were getting trapped in, and the causes of those fights, and that part of the wedding that says: ‘endures all things.’ I think to myself: No shit.

***

Monday morning Amy was cutting some flowers by the sink, trying to fix them for the vase I brought. Eric had gone to work and I sat at the kitchen table watching her and waiting to say the right thing.

My cell phone rang. It was Eric. He wanted me to meet him at the bar after work. I looked at Amy poking stems in the vase, and didn’t know what to say.

So I said, “I’ll call you back.”

When I clicked the phone off, Amy didn’t turn around, “Go, if you like, there’s no point in hanging out around here.”

She cut the stems shorter and shorter, the scissors snapped.

“Why don’t you come with me? We’ll go out together.” She poked a flower into the vase, but it was too short and the purple head fell, disappearing inside.

“No,” she fished out the purple head and tried another. “I’ve had to deal with his drinking enough lately. No, thanks. You’re on duty tonight,” and then the second flower also fell inside. I stood next to her at the sink, opened my mouth to ask something, but didn’t.

“Some pieces just look better empty,” she finally said and dumped the water and flowers from the vase into the sink. She turned on the disposal, and together we watched the heads of the spinning carnations growing shorter with each rotation.

She turned away from the kitchen and stormed into the room with Spike. I flipped off the disposal and then went to sit beside her.

For a while we just sat there: she was looking at her knees; I was looking at Spike. Spike seemed to look back at me and swam to the closest glass side. I put my finger on the cool glass, opposite his nose. He didn’t move away. But I did. I took a deep breath and put my hand on Amy’s shoulder. Tiny shoulders. Felt her breath moving her chest and touched a piece of her hair.

“What is going on?” I said.

She had started to cry. Softly at first then not softly at all until when she put her hand on my knee and took a gasp it sounded a little slobbery and wet.

“What is it?” I said.

And she kissed me.

Hot soft lips like an old friend.

I didn’t kiss her back, but I put my hand on the back of her neck. I pressed our heads together and felt her breathe in my breath. I could have pushed her back, but why? It wasn’t me she was kissing, it was Sad. And so was I. We were making friends with Sad. And it was about time.

“Keep at it,” I told her. “You’ll get through it.”

“I know.”

And she tilted her pretty face away and down. Let her black hair fall between us.

***

I was lying up in the baby’s room, feeling lonely and feeling cold. I started to rub my feet together under the covers, but it didn’t work. It never does. You get used to lying next to someone and you’ll never find a warm bed alone again, even if a year does pass: and if two lie down together, they will keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?

That’s my favorite Ecclesiastes. And my favorite chapter is 4verses 9-12. They’re under-rated in my opinion. Never talked about at church or on Christmas cards, though I don’t know why.

Two are better than one,

Because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,

His friend can help him up.

But pity the man who falls

And has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,

Two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

It seems to me as true an accounting of being in love as there ever was. It has a lot to do with practicality and endurance and a lot to do warmth.

I figured three strands meant ‘and baby’.

In this house, it surely didn’t mean me. Not right now.

The morning when I left, Eric sat down next to Amy and looked at the fish. Spike swam toward the bubble wand and looked, then swam back away.

“It’s a start,” I said and they gave me each a half smile that together equals a whole.

***

When I got back to Buffalo, I found my life a changed thing yet again.

On the steps leading up to my apartment was a gorgeous poinsettia. Blooming red. There was a note in my mailbox.

“I found this in a closet at home, months ago. My mother left me instructions to keep it there, water it, and in the winter to bring to you.

I am sorry I never returned your call. Please get in touch with me when you get back.

– Edwin”

 

END

Julia LaSalle asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

1 review for Factors

  1. 5 out of 5

    :

    Mathematicians or lovers of logic who are familiar with perfect number concept will love this poignant little story of various losses, sometimes guilt-ridden and sometimes destructive. I certainly did. And even more so the clever metaphor about poinsettias waiting in the dark to burst into colour, which was slightly reminiscent of the song The Rose. Thoroughly recommend it

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