By the time Riley and Bella made it to the Cranes’ house, their pink pillow cases of candy dragged against the sidewalk. Illuminated by the porch lantern was a frog-shaped wicker basket as high as the girls’ waists. Ping pong balls with markered on pupils had been crammed into the eye sockets. Inside its potbelly were king size Snickers. The sign said, “Please take one each.”
Riley tilted her witch’s hat. A last minute costume filched from her mother after she decided being a fairy was too baby-ish. “Let’s take more than one.”
“If we don’t, someone else will. Why not us?”
“Because it’s creepy looking?”
If Riley’s father had taught her anything, it was to seize every opportunity. And maybe a little extra to offset gender discrimination. So Riley stuck her hand into its inviting jaw and clasped two. The stubby arms and spike fingers twitched. The eyes rolled toward her. The mouth clomped down.
You Can Go, But You Have to Come Back There’s the scent of burning. Not fire. Burning. The house has never been so quiet. There’s no heat or air conditioning rumbling. No music or TV. Emerging from the basement is like surfacing in another world. One that’s too cool and silent for the smell. “Mom?” I call. No response. There isn’t even a rustling sound. There’s a stillness I’ve never felt before, an absence. I’ve never been this alone. When I look out the long window by the front door, her car is in the driveway. So she’s still here. “Mom?” I follow the smell to the kitchen and from the doorway spot the orange-red glow of the electric burner in a sea of white tile countertop. Mom doesn’t let me cook anything. She’s afraid I’ll set the house on fire. It’s a vague worry for her, but a sharp one for me. At a sleepover Laura told me about her babysitter’s house burning down so I had my parents move my bed across my room so I could always have a view of the door and shave off precious seconds in case of fire. But I know the rules. You always watch what you’re cooking. Never leave a hot stove. On top of the burner is a small pot. My feet cross the chilly white tiles and the thick blue Persian rug. Inside the pot are four beige eggs covered in spider web cracks. They smell rotten. The bottom of the pot is black. There’s no water. I turn the knob to OFF. My finger pads sting a little despite the tea towel that I use to remove it from the heat. I want to throw out the eggs, but I’m afraid the trash bag will catch fire and that seems like too big of a problem for me to handle. I need to find Mom. She’s not anywhere on the first floor. I climb the stairs and her bedroom door is ajar. I sneak through and she’s a snowman under the covers. I step lightly and whisper, “Mom? Mom?” Her back’s to me. I can’t see her face. “Mom?” She gasps awake. “What?” The tightness in my body is relieved, but it’s like the beige eggs drop into my stomach, one by one. “You left a pot on the stove. I took it off, but the pot’s burned.” “Oh.” When she turns toward me, her face is a stranger’s. Groggy, drawn, disconnected. It’s like she was somewhere else entirely, like she’s still there and doesn’t recognize me. “Thank you.” She rolls back onto her side. “I must’ve left it on,” she mumbles into the pillow. Mom doesn’t take naps. She doesn’t leave things on the stove. And she wouldn’t abandon her diet food like that. Even though she’s awake, talking it’s like she’s dead right in front of me. I don’t understand how she can be both at the same time. “What do you want me to do with the eggs?” “Just leave them.”
Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, MD. Her work has previously appeared in Jellyfish Review and is forthcoming in formercactus. Find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.