Mari stood in the kitchen wiping her hands on a soiled dish towel. It was littered with crumbs and debris from many days of cooking and mothering. Taking a moment to decompress and lean against the counter, she closed her eyes and took in the sounds of her children skipping around in the backyard. Their bare feet slapped the ground with joy. Four of them. All on her own. Wayne hadn’t been home in nine months. He left for work one day, briefcase in hand, and the last thing he said to her was, “Please no spaghetti tonight.” The women in the neighborhood waited a couple weeks before they came and started fishing around and asking questions. Mari was grateful. The shame was an elephant’s foot on her chest. She didn’t know what to say to them. She didn’t know what to say to herself. Seven years of marriage and partnership went up in smoke, and he didn’t even have the decency to explain what happened, or even send money for the children. Mari wasn’t sure what was more important, Wayne being there for the children, or making sure they had enough food to eat. Either way, he wasn’t interested, and she was growing wearier by the day. Sometimes, she cursed at the walls, or locked herself away in the bedroom while the babies peeked under the door, panting while begging for her to come out and be with them. No one had a clue where he had gone. There were a couple guys he used to play cards with who came and asked about him after the first month, but they seemed to know no more than Mari. Whether or not they were being truthful was a mystery.
She called her kids in to eat supper and after they had filled themselves with beans and ketchup, she sent them to their beds. The house was lit with candles, creating a warm, yet eerie sensation all around the house. She didn’t know how much longer they would be able to live there, but she felt good knowing even though the children were no longer able to have meat as a part of their meals, they were still blindingly happy in only the way children can be. As she crept into each room to make sure the children were okay before going downstairs, she saw the briefcase. It frightened her, but not more than it intrigued her. Should she touch it? Should she pretend she had never seen it? How could it be there in the house when he had left with it that day? She let her fingers, dry with the wear and tear of the wash bin, roll over the top of case, then her lips. Mari couldn’t remember the buckles being this shiny, or the leather feeling so supple, but maybe she never touched it very much. Yes, that’s how she would rationalize things. Without realizing what she was doing, she knelt down and released the buckles of the case. There he was, lying on a tufted pillow. His face, once creased with worry and exhaustion was now smooth and supple. Wayne, the father of her children had been turned into a miniature version of himself. Carefully, Mari took him up and walked him to the bedroom, placing him in the bed next to her before falling into a deep and restful sleep.