His wife had stormed out. He did his best to take care of their two-year-old, wiping the food that smeared around his mouth and buttoning up his jacket before they went outside. The boy was golden-haired like his father and smiled easily. “I love you,” he said when he pressed the boy to him. They went grocery shopping and to the park together. He pushed the boy on the swing, one-handed, watched the birds scatter and take flight when the boy ran towards them. The boy cried before going to sleep. “Home,” the boy said. “I want to go home.” They lived in the same house they’d lived in since they moved from the city, after the boy was born. It smelled of dogs even though they’d never had any. The windows were low. His wife had convinced him to move from their apartment, the one he’d held onto as he cycled through roommates. It wasn’t worth giving up the location, rent control, light that streamed through the windows. When the baby was newly born she told him, “I don’t want to lug the stroller up three flights of stairs. He needs fresh air. He can’t fall asleep with all these city noises.” He was too tired to argue. She found the town house and they signed the lease the next day. Remembering, he pushed his baseball hat backwards then called his childhood friend who was in town visiting. She picked up on the second ring. He hid the sound of his cracking voice with sips of leftover beer. His friend was married to a man he’d made little effort to meet, but she’d said he was funny and took care of her. “How are you?” she said. Her voice on the line was far way. “He cries for home,” he told her. She heard what he didn’t say, We’re not okay. Out loud he said, “It takes hours for him to go to sleep.” She heard, I’m just holding on. When he asked her how she was she told him about the friends she’d seen since she flew in. “It’s been good to catch up,” she said. She didn’t say, It’s strange to be here again, but I’m making the best of it. “I’m worried about the boy,” he said. “I’ll come over tomorrow,” she told him. The boy ran to her when she opened the door, then back to his toy truck. Dirty dishes filled the sink and covered the counter tops. The floor needed sweeping. “I know, it’s a mess,” he said. His arm swung out behind him as he spoke. He was wearing warm-up pants and an off-grey t-shirt. They hugged. Her hair fell around her face and she tucked it behind her ear in a familiar gesture. “It’s gonna be alright,” she said. He jerked his head ever so slightly backwards. She took off her jacket and put it on top of her bag on the floor. He brushed aside some clothes on the couch and handed her a can of sparkling water. It was cold from the fridge. When they were younger she’d never imagined that he’d leave the city. His strut revealed a childhood city streets. In eighth grade, he’d told her he’d be a firefighter after realizing he couldn’t make a living as a beach bum. She’d laughed, telling him he’d make a good one, he was kind and gentle, good at thinking on his feet. Condensation collected on the can of sparkling water he’d handed her. She left it unopened. He sat down in a chair across from her and put his hands on his face. They covered his eyes for a moment. “I don’t know what to do,” he told her. His voice was dry. The boy rolled the truck across the floor, to her feet. She said the boy’s name and he looked up at her. She smiled. “He calls for her. I don’t know what to do.” “I know she said.” She got up off the couch. “Help me,” she said. And to herself, Though really, I’m helping you. “Alright,” he said. They began picking up the strewn clothes.
Sarah Leslie holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. She is a former participant of the 2021 Tin House Workshop. Her writing has been published in Barnstorm Journal and K’in Literary Journal among others. Sarah writes and farms in the mountains of Liguria, Italy.