The Day I Came Home
The air pressure shifted as I stepped through the door. Behind, brown leaves shot through a windblown world, while ahead the living room felt warm and moist and smelled of bread. “I’m hope!” I said. “I mean, I’m home!” And they came for me. My son crawled from under the coffee table, moving fingers like little pincers. “I’m a crap,” he said. “I mean, I’m a crab!” And my daughter ran in from the back room with three books tucked under one arm as she waved an open book in the other hand. “I’ve found the perfect story for me,” she said, and she leaped into my arms. I held her as long as I could, but she’s a gangly nine-year-old, all elbows. As she twisted through my grasp, soft pinches tickled my ankles. I smiled at my wife, who stood at the kitchen table, looking down at a pile of catalogs. She had somehow wrapped a scarf around her head, over the top and under the chin, to strap a couple of soft ice packs to her sore jaw. “What’s in these things?” she asked. I thought she meant the ice packs or the catalogs, but after a couple false starts to the conversation we sorted out she in fact meant the children: what has gotten into the children? “I have no idea what’s gotten into them,” I said. But I knew. At night, for weeks, I had hovered over the children as they slept. When they exhaled, I leaned away, and when they inhaled I wafted steam from hot bowls of vegetable soup toward their open mouths. Just the steam, mind you, and that soup had none of the usual vegetables. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it parsnip soup. Parsnips with newt eyes and frog toes, bat wool and lizard legs, and a dash of adder’s fork. But, as I sat at the table and my son’s pincer fingers fluttered up my ribs, I did not reveal what had gotten into these things, these wild beasts, these crazy kids. I said only that I enjoyed their joy. My wife said she did, too, but she worried happy childhoods would set them up for disappointment later in life. “I hurry about that, too,” I said. “I mean, I worry about that, too.” Which was true. “But maybe,” I added, “maybe things will suddenly change, and the world will become somehow whole and fair and good, as if by tragic. I mean, by magic.” She—my wife—looked as though I had slapped her, which I hadn’t. Nor would I, not in a million years. Our daughter sat beside me and grinned into the book in her hands. “Does it have a strong, complex female protagonist who takes matters into her own hands and solves difficult problems through cunning and resourcefulness?” I asked. She nodded. “Does she have female friends and learn from a female mentor and face a powerful female antagonist with understandable, even logical motivations?” Our daughter nodded again. “And is the author of this book a woman?” I asked. I did not catch her answer, though, because my son’s tiny pincers latched onto my earlobes. I picked him up and held him in the air over the table. I whirled him around. He squealed until I put him down. “I’m carving,” he said. “I mean I’m starving.” I took out the bread knife and cut into the loaf on the counter. It felt warm. Out the window, in the back yard, the dog rolled in leaves on the lawn. I wondered why she stayed with us, when she could so easily run off and join a pack of wolves or whatever. “There’s no pitcher,” our daughter said. “I mean picture.” She was pointing at the inner flap of the dust jacket on her book, where an author’s photo might appear. “What do you think the initials G.D. stand for?” she asked. “I’m not pure,” I said. “Sure. I’m not sure. Your guess is as good as mine.” She demanded to know if the author was a man or a woman. I yearned to know, too. We squinted at the computer on the desk in the far corner, but neither of us moved toward it. Not to go on and on, but somehow we knew it was that machine, not an open window or door, that could suck the warm, moist, bready, parsnippy air from our tomb. I mean room. I mean womb.
Eric Bosse is the author of Magnificent Mistakes, a story collection published by Ravenna Press. His work has also appeared in The Sun, Zoetrope, Wigleaf, The Collagist, FRiGG, Fiddleblack, and World Literature Today. He teaches in Expository Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma.