When Sandra got home, Josh was drawing at the kitchen table again. She leaned over his shoulder and he pulled into himself. He flinched just when she got close to him – she felt the pain flare, and forced herself to step back. The light from the window trickled down the line of his neck, and she stared for a minute before she trusted herself to speak.
“Josh, babe, what are you making?” She kept her voice low.
He looked up now as though he were just noticing she were there. “Oh, hey. So this is the Irralom. It’s a world, sort of like, um, Tolkien’s.”
She leaned a breath closer, careful not to loom over him. He uncurled enough to let her see the paper – it was a map, snaking rivers and little darts of mountain ranges scattered across a crumpled country shape. He looked up at her, and she pulled over a chair. “Tell me more about it, sweetie.”
A smile sprang to his face. “Okay, so it’s a magic world, of course, but it’s where most people can do what we would think of as magic, it’s sort of taken for granted, and the people who can’t do magic are different. I haven’t decided yet if they’re looked at like they’re special or like they’re sad and there’s pity for them who don’t have normal skills. One or the other though.” Josh’s voice was leaping now, his eyes eager. “The characters I know I’m going to concentrate on are living in this town here – ” He jabbed at a corner of the page with his pencil. “They’re part of the government of the village or whatever it is, like the mayor and her family I think.”
Sandra leaned her chin on a hand and watched him as he talked, smiling when his eyes met hers and hunched over the feeling in her stomach, the resentment and the sadness roiling like acid. He talked about his characters easily enough, but as he spoke he was looking through the window, or into the distance. Every few words his glance darted over to her face, and then left after a heartbeat. She imagined he was speaking to these people, seeing them standing behind her. He could see them so much more clearly, she thought. Sometimes she felt as though he lived with them more fully than with her.
After he’d fallen silent and turned back to scratching lines onto his map, she heaved herself up and slipped into the kitchen. Before long she had a pot bubbling on the stove and leftovers humming in the microwave. She stirred the water absently, letting her mind drift. Under the sound of the boiling water popping in the air and the light collecting in the kitchen, she felt very alone. The heat of the steam clung to her face as she stirred, leaning on the counter as if she might fall and wishing that she weren’t real.