Dust to Dust by Maggie Iribane

“I was backing out of our driveway and Amanda Manchester came barreling down the street in that stupid giant pickup truck,” June told Ryan as she rolled a meaty mix into tight little balls, “And you know what? She had one of those Catholic things-like that dirt on her head? She gave me the finger and yelled out her window, ‘Watch your ass!’ Can you believe that?”

“Jeez,” Ryan said, “And I thought I was an ass this morning.” June stopped rolling her meatballs and gave him that look she gave, neither hot nor cold, with just one side of her pink lips turned up.

“You’re not off the hook yet,” she said. Ryan raised an eyebrow, poured a glass of white wine for his wife, leaving it beside her on the counter.

“Then she started texting me.”

“How’d she get your number?”

“Duh. From the neighborhood list,” June rolled her eyes, a habit after one of Ryan’s idiotic questions. He put his beer bottle on the table and picked up Lucy, holding her against his chest. She grabbed his shaggy blonde hair and said, “Daddy!”

“She texted me this crazy sh-stuff about how she cares about safety, how people like me-like us I guess-don’t care about the safety of the children of the neighborhood.” June slammed the oven door shut and blew her bangs out of her flushed face.

“What a bitch,” Ryan said,” How’d it end up?”

“First I wrote a nasty text, then deleted it and blocked her number.”

“That’s mature,” Ryan said absently.

June’s eyes narrowed as she gripped the granite island.

“I could really use some support from you right now,” she said. Ryan put Lucy down, approached June, opened his arms. She stepped closer to accept his hug, but her body remained rigid, like a plank. “I just want to get along with people. That’s all,” June said, pulling away, retreating to her place behind the counter.

After dinner, they bathed Lucy, washed between her toes, pulled her hair into soapy spikes atop her head, read and prayed with her, and watched her fall asleep. June showered and wiggled into her nightgown and into bed, swiftly rejecting Ryan’s attempt to initiate makeup sex by feigning sleep. Soon Ryan snored away in peaceful bliss, but June’s eyes remained open as she stewed. Amanda Manchester- that black smudge wedged in the wrinkle of her crowded brow, that nasty voice raised in that maternal reprimand. June stayed awake all night, chewing on the cud of contempt, covered in the shadowed darkness of her bedroom, thinking, steadying her breath.

By the time the morning light filtered through her bedroom window she’d had an epiphany: cookies. June decided she’d make cookies. Good mothers and neighbors made cookies, she thought. She baked, cooled, and packed them for delivery, then pushed Lucy in her stroller along the neighborhood sidewalk, each step bringing her closer to Amanda Manchester’s. On the way, they ran into Leslie Lopey walking her three year old son, Carson. June filled Leslie in on the Manchester incident, pumping the narrative with juicy details and exaggerations.

“What do you know about her?” June asked Leslie.

“Uh. Not much? She has a dog?” Leslie said, “Hey it’s my birthday Friday and-“

“Kids?” June interrupted.

“Dunno? Maybe grown up ones? I gotta go,” Leslie said, wheeling Carson away. June found Leslie’s speech style to be more than a little annoying.

“Nice talking to you, Leslie,” she lied.

Amanda Manchester lived in a pristine two story white colonial with a neat square lawn, red geraniums, and a closed garage door. June knocked lightly at the front door and waited while Lucy squirmed in her stroller.

“Want out!!” she demanded. June sighed, unsnapped the straps and freed Lucy to toddle across the lawn while June waited. Finally, she abandoned the cookies and note on the step, realizing soon after Lucy was nowhere in sight.

“Lucy!” she whispered urgently. “What’re you looking at?” June said, finding Lucy squatting beside a cellar window. “Don’t you ever, ever, run away from me again!”

“Hand!” Lucy said.

June lowered herself beside her daughter, squinting to study the handprint on glass engaging Lucy’s interest. The print suddenly moved, causing both June and Lucy to scream and jump, yet their eyes remained fixed. HELP-June read the word printed across the palm of the living hand. The hand began slapping the glass, a muffled, unintelligible voice murmured on the other side. June sprung from her crouch, dragging Lucy back to the stroller. As she walked briskly home, legs like pistons, she met Amanda Manchester’s big rig. June stopped in her tracks, breathless.

“I just want you to know I’m sorry about yesterday. I said terrible things. I had a bad day with my teenager,” Amanda called through her passenger side window. She parked the car, unbuckled her seatbelt, and got out, moving decisively toward June and Lucy. June felt her protective instincts kick in, wanted to bolt, but Amanda did not attack, she embraced. For the second time in less than 24 hours June found her stiff body engulfed by strong arms. This time, she softened.

“I just dropped cookies at your place. I think we saw your daughter. Downstairs?”

“Oh. You know how teenagers are. She’s sulking down there.”

A pause ensued in which June looked down at her own daughter sleeping in her stroller.

“I know,” June said, “totally.”

“You’re sweet,” Amanda said. “I’ll be sure to give my girl one of those cookies.”

June said goodbye and began to slowly stroll home. She turned to call back to Amanda, “What’s your daughter’s name?” but Amanda had driven off already, the pickup’s red brake lights, like two red eyes, grew smaller in the distance.

June walked along, kicking herself for judging so harshly. She hadn’t been fair to Amanda. You just never know what’s going on in someone else’s life, she thought.

Selected: March Short Story

Published in Issue #28

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