The Old Future

In the old future, Sandra waited until the very last moment and then she called Will. She sat at home, festering, the rotten anger building up inside her and heating her through until she burned with it. Everything in the house was infuriating. The art on the walls, the stack of unopened mail on the end table, the mug from his coffee that morning when he’d drunk it, scarfed down breakfast, and left. All without talking to her. Mornings had been hard lately. In the old future, things changed.

In the old future, he answered the phone. He said her name and his voice was soaked with relief. She let it bleed into her, holding the phone to her ear and sagging in the comfort where everything was okay. They both said they were sorry in a rush and laughed, words tumbling into each other, their voices woven on the phone connection, both their forgivenesses tightly spun in the air between the house and his work. He came home at once, didn’t even stop for the usual drink with Mike before he got on the train. She picked him up at the station instead of letting him take the bus. In the car he put his hand on her knee and even when they got out and walked into the house she could feel the heat pressed to her skin, the print of his hand still warming her.

In the old future they got into another argument in the kitchen, trying to decide what to do about dinner. Their voices, so recently entwined, knocked and hammered at one another again. Finally Sandra cried. She was so tired of hearing her own shrillness and seeing his face crumpled in frustration. She never cried, but now she did. He melted when she did. She backed into the corner and sank to the floor, shoulders shaking, and he knelt in front of her. His fingers lit on her arms, tentative, pulling her to him. When she looked up there were tears on his face too. “It’ll be okay,” he said to her. “We’ll be okay. We don’t need to fight.” She cried harder from the torrent of wonder, just imagining that things would change. They would be okay.

In the old future, they skipped dinner. They clung to each other and undressed each other and dissolved into each other in the kitchen. They fell asleep on the floor and Will was almost late for work the next day. He kissed her before he left, leaning over while he pulled on yesterday’s pants, his lips holding hers. After he left she could still feel him on her. She spent the day in a daze. Long minutes passed while she stared at her cereal, or at the papers in front of her, or at the blank black screen of the television. Her whole body was lighter now. She nearly floated.

In the old future, Will came home and nearly crushed her in an embrace. They ate dinner in bed that night, flicking crumbs at each other. Laughing.

In the old future, everything was okay. They lived together and they loved each other. Maybe they had some children. Only sometimes did they have moments of passion, but they always forgave each other.

In the old future, Sandra called Will and he picked up the phone. Everything was okay. The old future might have been true until he didn’t answer.

In the new future, the one that is true now, Will did not pick up the phone. Maybe he saw her name appear on the screen and he clicked “Ignore” because he wanted more time to mull the fight over before they talked. Maybe he was in the bathroom. Maybe he was already with Mike at the bar. In the new future, he went for a drink with his friend and then went home with Mike to sleep on his couch. He woke up in the morning and left for work. He was probably short of sleep from sleeping on the lumpy couch with snores drilling at his ears, and that’s why he didn’t look when he crossed the street toward the office. The driver of the car that hit him didn’t stop. They called Sandra from the hospital. She’d been angry that Will had never come home.

In the old future, everything could have been okay. The old future will always be okay, because it isn’t true. Sandra lives in the new future now.

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Losing Light

The sun was singing on the bricks the last day of Malcolm Trench’s life. He had always liked to sit and watch as the sun went down. The day aged and the light yellowed until it faded and left altogether. Something in it enchanted him.

When he was younger, he had used to sit with Eva, his arm around her shoulder, and watch together as the sun went down. He worked odd hours as an engineer, so he was home around sunset. She was an accountant and she got out of work just after five, usually, so she would meet him at his apartment at six and they would sit in the living room by the big window. They used to just be friends, because she had been the younger sister of his childhood buddy. He had loved her forever. Even when they were friends she often came to his apartment to watch the sunlight disappear. There wasn’t a very good view from the living room window. The buildings leered at them, dirty windows and chipped paint, and they could barely see the sky. Instead they watched the sunlight shift colors, briefly making beauty skim the cracked and crumbling buildings. The white inside of the apartment cooled to eerie blue-gray as if the apartment was closing off to the rest of the world, dipped in shadow, and it was just them inside with the blue-gray walls around them.

One day Eva brought a pizza over and they ate and talked in low voices as the sun went down. She made a joke and he grinned. They were quiet for a moment. Malcolm remembered, later, how she looked then with the light cast in a glow down the line of her face and the hair curling free to her shoulders. She leaned forward, as if it was a casual calm motion and not one that sent shivers through him, and she pressed her mouth to his for the first time. Her lips were slippery with grease and soft. They didn’t notice the sun slip past the horizon or the dimming of the world to darkness.

After that Eva came over every evening and they watched the sunlight sidle away across the sky together until they were too distracted by the press of his arm on her back, the warmth of her thigh against his, and they scrambled and pushed at each other on the living room sofa. He could still remember what her sweat smelled like.

When she got pregnant he knew they had to get married. It was the right thing to do. She cried, tears trapped between her cheek and his shoulder, and he held her. They were too young, but they didn’t know that until later. They sat together, her with her growing belly, in his living room looking out the window. He rubbed her feet while the sun retreated. They got married in a courthouse ceremony. Malcolm’s mother came, and Eva’s parents sent them a letter of congratulations. The baby was born three months later. They named it Henry. Malcolm wanted to love the little red monkey as much as he loved his wife. He tried very hard.

Two years after they got married, he left. Perhaps she left. Probably neither of them really knows anymore. There wasn’t any reason to stay together any longer. Technically, they never got divorced. It comforted Malcolm for a while to know that there was still a piece of paper somewhere tying his name to hers. Eva sends him postcards sometimes with updates on Henry, who recently turned fourteen and has so far obstinately refused to discover girls. They both visited Malcolm last year. It was a short and awkward visit, except for the last night they were there. The three of them, the disjointed family, had sat in Malcolm’s new living room in the chairs he picked up for cheap down the street. There were two windows without curtains. The family sat with their dinners on their laps, waiting for the sun to go away. The light stretched thin and the shadows invaded. Henry was calm and quiet, not in the sullen teenage way he was growing into but in a peaceful way. Eva smiled unconvincingly at Malcolm and there was a kind of recognition in her smile. For one moment, they were together again in the onset of evening.

Earlier this evening, Malcolm left work. His boss had finally handed out the Christmas bonuses, apologizing grudgingly that it had taken him all the way into the new year. Malcolm cashed the check and waited too long to tuck the money into his wallet. A teenager shoved into him and yanked a gun out of his shorts. Malcolm looked into the trembling barrel of the gun and the kid told him to hand over the money, now. Malcolm backed away, tried to look around. The teenager whipped the gun into Malcolm’s head. It bounced off his skull with a thud, and Malcolm collapsed back onto the bricks. The kid grabbed his wallet and took off without looking back.

When the gun hit Malcolm’s skull, a blood vessel burst in his brain. He died at once. The kid would probably have been horrified to know that. His name was Brian and he carried a gun without bullets because he wanted to look threatening but didn’t want to go to jail. He thought he had just knocked out the guy outside the ATM. He ran and congratulated himself on making so much easy money. Brian had a long and convoluted life that led him to this moment, that thud, and the pieces of his life fit together in interestingly intricate ways. However, this is not Brian’s story. It is Malcolm’s and it ends here, with the setting sun singing on the bricks.

Messy

Mashed potatoes were all over the ceiling and the boots were making the table muddy. She knew she should never have let Harry look after the kid. As Emma stood in the doorway of the kitchen, she watched a clump of potato detach and fall, with a wet thunk, to the floor. There was a scuffling sound in the hallway and Harry appeared with a spray bottle of cleaner, a sponge, and a dawning look of guilt.

She watched him approach without saying a word, her mouth tight, her fingernails engraving lines on her palms. Harry shuffled past her, into the kitchen, and applied himself to the table. She didn’t move as he scraped the mud off of the wood with a rag and then sprayed the table with surface cleaner. He scrubbed until the sponge had removed all the mud, and then it seemed to occur to him to take the boots off. He dropped them, and they thudded on the tiles. She signed at the spray of dirt from the soles.

“Mama, what is Daddy doing?” Great, Emma thought. Angie was up again. She turned and picked up her daughter.

“Don’t worry, baby, he’s just cleaning up the mess you two made. It’s okay. Go back to sleep, okay?” She bounced Angie on her hip, gently.

The child clung to her neck. “It’s dark in my room. I don’t want to sleep. I’m not tired.”

Emma disentangled her daughter and held her hand, pulling her down the hall. “I know. I’ll put the nightlight in, honey, but you’ve got to sleep. Can you try?”

Angie nodded. Her eyes were round and trusting. Her daughter’s face sent a wave of warmth through Emma, edged with irritation. She lifted Angie into bed and dragged the blanket over her, kissed her forehead, and plugged in the nightlight. Motherly duties dispensed with, she returned to the kitchen to check on her husband’s progress. He had found a mop and upended it to wash the ceiling. The stringy bits of the mop scraped against the ceiling, wiggling at the end of the handle, while Harry dodged the ends.

Emma walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table. She had left the house so neat that morning when she’d left. She had known it wouldn’t stay that way. Harry had a magnetic power to him, a charisma that charmed grease and grime to creep shyly over surfaces. He persuaded everything to get a little crooked, just for him. He was very convincing about it. He liked things a bit messy.

Emma was neat, usually. She tidied and dusted. Harry used to tease her about her domestic tendencies, but she’d been hurt, despite the affection in his voice. He’d tugged at her apron and called her Mrs. Clean. She’d spritzed him with water and they’d ended up getting very messy. She smiled, remembering.

Now Harry had somehow managed to spread the mashed potato in a thin smear from the refrigerator to the space over the stove. Emma wondered if it would dry that way, making a bumpy crust on their kitchen ceiling. It had been a long day, and she couldn’t bring herself to care very much. She would fix it tomorrow. Sometimes it felt to her as if she spent more time cleaning up after her husband than she did after her child.

Harry paused in his efforts, his lips pursed and his gaze resting on her face. He propped the mop against the counter and leaned toward her. Emma’s husband put his dirty hands on her shoulders and he kissed her. She didn’t respond, didn’t move, for a moment. He was soft, but she was annoyed. Harry moved back and looked at her. “Hello,” he said. “I’m sorry, babe, long day.”

“Mine too,” she said, her tone forbidding.

“I know,” said Harry. “I’ll fix it.”

“The kitchen, or my day?”

He smiled, hopeful. “Both?” He held steady, looking at her, waiting for her reaction.

“No,” she said. “I don’t think you will.” His eyes flickered, and she could see him holding his smile in place.

“Okay,” he said. “I won’t. I will try anyway, though. Come here one second.”

“Okay.” This time she kissed him back, letting him pull her face to his.

They looked at each other, his shoulders hunched and her brow furrowed. A chunk of potato that had been awaiting its moment freed itself from the ceiling and fell with a splat to the tiles between them. They couldn’t help but laugh.

An Imaginary 17th Century Scene

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

SIR GILES TANGILL: newly wed to LADY KATHERINE

LADY KATHERINE TANGILL: newly wed to SIR GILES

LILLIAN: maidservant to LADY KATHERINE

JOHN: manservant to SIR GILES

ACT II, scene i

LADY KATHERINE’s chambers; GILES and KATHERINE sit together.

KAT: Husband, as your man is come from my father I must go and fetch the missive he brought. We will not be parted long.

GIL: No, for we cannot, now you are part of me you cannot part from me. Do not fret, dear one, I shall await your return with patience and good cheer.

KAT kisses his cheek and exits; LILLIAN enters.

LIL: Good sir, is there aught I can do for you?

GIL: I think there is naught I need, so aught you can do is not for me.

LIL: Do you not mislike it that your bride should speak alone with your manservant? Aside He will now; I will that he proves as weak as I think him.

GIL: Well that is forward, I had not thought so far at all and you ought not speak so near.

LIL: Do forgive me, my lord, ‘twas but my thoughts aloud.

GIL: And you suppose I desire to hear your thoughts?

LIL: On no account, sir, do I think it is my thoughts you desire at all. Why should they interest you? I beg your pardon for my boldness, I will be silent.

GIL: You think my lady be not true?

LIL: Sir, I would not make such a claim, I am but her maid.

GIL: And so you know her comings and goings, her musings and thoughts, the whispers that escape her in quiet times and the every sigh she lets out when nearly alone. Do not think to trick me, Lillian, I know you to be more than only maid of such dull stuff as that.

LIL: It is true I am with your lady often, but I do not mean to say that I know her mind, or any other. I am my own, and not hers alone.

GIL: You did suggest that there are doings beyond what I know, and I will have you tell me.

LIL: You will have me, my lord? I am, as I said, my own, and not yours entirely. I must be at least as bound to my lady as I am to you.

GIL: You are bound to me, Lillian.

LIL: I am bound to you. But I am my own too, and my lady’s whether I would or no.

GIL: That’s as it may be. Now tell me of my lady’s doings.

LIL: Does it not seem odd to you that she should be gone so long?

GIL: Does she not wish to reply to her father’s message? That seems not odd.

LIL: And that she should not come back to her desk here beside you for ink and such?

GIL: Such is distracting. Tell me your suspicions outright, I’ll not have this dance around the truth, a minuet of lies from a maid.

LIL: I do not dance, my lord, I am not so nimble with deceit. My suspicions are unproved and I dare not give them voice. They must lie in my breast unawaked.

GIL: I will have them out.

LIL: My lord, your lady is seeming close with your manservant, and I fear closer than seeming.

GIL: You think my lady cuckolds me with mine own man? We are but newly wed.

LIL: It does happen, sir. Perchance it is the very fact that he is but a servant that draws her, for some find attraction in different.

GIL: Why should that be so?

LIL: For some, the distance between them is lure, and they hunger for the person across that chasm. For some, the vast distance between a noble and a servant is too tempting to pass by.

GIL: What, that he is so far below her she needs must climb atop him?

LIL: My lord! I do protest, I said naught so bold. Truthfully told that is what I believe, for I understand the temptation of that which is close enough to feel its warmth but so far as to lose all hope of it.

GIL: My lady was innocent when she came to my bed.

LIL: Sir, if you want not to hear what I say then I shall be silent.

GIL: I want very much to find out what you know, or indeed what you suspect.

LIL: How know you she was whole when you knew her first?

GIL: There is proof, is there not? You launder the soiled sheets of the household and know it yourself. The innocence of a virgin is bright against pure white.

LIL: Crafty women know tricks in the bedchamber, my lord.

GIL: You believe my bride forged virginity for herself?

LIL: I have heard of ways, sir. There was a lady (though no lady, truly) in Venice once, all the maids talk of her for she was no maid, and the innocence she bled was but strawberry jam. She profited by the lie until she was found out, and her reward was bitter indeed.

GIL: Well then go you to find out the truth of it with your tongue, and tell me the taste.

If it be the sweetness of a lie you have my gratitude, and I will have my lady’s innocence on toast.

LIL: I do not say she did it.

GIL: You do; the truth lies behind your words.

LIL: This is a dirty deed you ask of me, to betray my lady’s trust and rumple through soiled linens to find a trick.

GIL: It is nothing sinful to find the truth, and if the ways are unclean it is your own doing. I will want proof. I do not trust your dirty ways, Lillian, for no simple maid knows such tricks as you do.

LIL: I am a lady’s maidservant, my lord, and women gossip.

GIL: Then you say all the tricks you know are in word only?
LIL: My lord may have cause to discover the truth of them. I go then, sir, to search your bed linens, and I will return to you when I have found a trick to show you.

LILLIAN exits; KATHERINE enters.

KAT: Ill tidings, my lord.

GIL: Oh, I do not want for bad news today. Your eyes are rimmed with grief and welling, my lady, tell me what is wrong.

KAT: My father is not well. He may die.

GIL: My love, this is dreadful and sad. Shall we go to visit him? Have you made arrangements?

KAT: I waited for your word, my lord, but I have spoken with your man John about the journey.

GIL: aside You spoke, and that is all?

Very well, my lady, shall we go on the morrow? Can all be ready by then?

KAT: I do not know if all will be ready, but I fear to stay.

GIL: As you wish, my dear, so shall it be.

GILLES exits. JOHN enters; LILLIAN enters and hides to listen to their conversation.

JOHN: My lady, I have another message for you?

KAT: From my father?

JOHN: No.

KAT: Not? Then from whom? And must it be seen now, when all is so unhappy?
JOHN: More is unhappy than you know, dear lady. Oh, do not step away from me!

KAT: This cannot be, John. I thought you the best man I had ever met, long ago, better than I, but I did not know you then. It was meant to come to naught.

LIL: aside So there is no proof to be found. Little matter, guilt is as easy to fabricate as innocence, and they are half in love already. My lord will listen to me.

JOHN: You could know me now.

KAT: Please, good John, I love my lord. I cannot love you too.

JOHN: You could.

KAT: I am sorry but I cannot. I could not hide from my lord and I do not want to. You are not worth the risk.

JOHN: Is that the root of the matter then? I am worth less. I mean nothing.

KAT: Your words mean nothing to me. You are still your own. Do not be bound unto me.

JOHN: I am yours whether I would or no. And you are mine too, although you would not own it.

LIL: aside Would that I have better luck in love. I did not know that my words were so true. Perchance I will repeat some of this conversation to my lord. Perhaps he will listen.

KAT: You must go, my lord will be awaiting me and I must dry my eyes.

JOHN: I will too be waiting for you.

KAT: Goodbye, John.

He kisses her and exits. LILLIAN enters.

LIL: Is there aught you need, my lady?

KAT: Oh, Lillian, there are a million things I need and none that you can give me.

LIL: Why so distraught, dear lady? Can I not help?

KAT: You are good with a needle and thread, but even you cannot undo this monstrous knot of lives entwined. It is too complex and jumbled for me to unravel. I love my lord, you know.

LIL: I do.

KAT: And I love you well, Lillian.

LIL: I am honored by your trust, my lady. You know I love you and am your own.

KAT: If only you could indeed untie the snarls of lives, dear Lillian.

LIL: I do only what I can, and that is enough for me. I am sorry it seems not for you.

KAT: You do too much for me, in truth. We shall leave tomorrow for the house of my father, and God grant us the speed to be there before he dies.

LIL: Yes, my lady.

KATHERINE exits.

LIL: Now it falls to me, this twined mass, and I shall be like Alexander and refuse the puzzle. I am no simple maid to sit and untangle that which is hopelessly matted and sigh at the pains of it; I will take up a blade and slice it in two. Mayhap if I cut with enough skill I can keep half for myself, and let the rest of the knot fall. The tension will abate then, will it not? When nobody is left to pull on the strings of it?

I do love my lady well, and it may be that she will forgive me if her husband is faithless, and believes her so. She cannot want John and she will not want my lord, and I will stand with a severed knot in my hand and can craft something new of it. I shall be like the very fates themselves, snipping and weaving lives remorseless. ‘Twould be easier if this new marriage did not pull so on my heartstrings, and if my lady’s grief did not prick me as it does. E’en so I am all wrapped in her, and can see no other way but to cut her free.

End scene.

Truce

She is an old woman, querulous and domineering. He is a gruff timid old man, sometimes biting dry words into splintered shards. She snaps at him, shrilly plies plaints of empty supermarket shelves and rude waiters. He winces at each grating note, flinches when she begins to speak. And mostly he stays quiet, until he can listen no more, and hears a second of silence to speak, and grumbles a complaint of his own– then the cycle begins again. Every so often, he would be quiet for a long time after one of her tirades. She would look at him, and then her voice would be brittle and bright as she recounted some event from the news. Every so often, she would frown and turn away when his voice was too rough and impatient aimed at her. He would put a hand on her shoulder, and hold it there for a moment, before creaking up to standing and walking away.

Audience

Nina was watching the play. Tim was watching her.

The voices from the stage were blaring now, crashing and sweeping. Her eyes were wide, the lashes standing out and the tears glistening, ready to tumble and spill over. She was always quick to cry. Now her lips parted, and she nearly gasped. Tim sat back, and folded his arms over his chest. The action must have caught her eye, and she sank too against the cushion of her seat. Her mouth clenched closed.

Onstage, the actors had quieted, and their far-off voices were earnest now. Nina seemed unable to stop herself – she leaned forward, and her mouth dropped open. Her hands rose to curl beneath her chin, and she pulled her shoulders up around her ears. He could almost feel her shaking, she was listening so intently. He bent to her, and put a hand on her sleeve. She flicked an impatient hand at him, brushing against his arm, and he retreated.

Her eyebrows jumped and lowered with the rise and fall of the voices. Her eyes danced, bobbed and dipped over the stage, and she curled into half a smile. Tim settled back again in his seat, his jaw tight.

Her face moved and her eyes flared wide and then the applause burst over them like a clattering cascade and she was caught up in it, standing and clapping so hard he thought her hands might have blurred. He stayed sitting, watching her, and the spotlights caught and glared into his eyes until tears flooded into his eyes.

They left and he tucked her hand into his arm, pulled her close. He said, “I liked that.” She nodded. Her eyes were still fixed, faraway and dreamy, and she stared into the distance in the darkness all the way home.

Perfect and Falling

Everyone told them that they had such a good marriage. Emma was thinking about this as she stirred, her hand drawing empty circles in the air, dragging the wooden spoon through the bowl. Her thoughts were wandering as Jared talked, though her eyes were fixed. She was staring at the picture of the two of them that sat on the table near the door. In it, they were clasping one another close and beaming at the camera, bright against the dappled grey background. That felt like so long ago, even though it was only a year. It was a lovely picture, though.

“Are you even listening to me?” Jared’s voice snapped her back to him.

She shook her head as if to loosen it. “Sorry, honey, what was that?”

His mouth tightened. “Nothing. I was just telling you about my day, was all. Nothing important.”

“No,” Emma protested. “I’m sorry, I was drifting. Tell me, darling.”

He folded his arms across his chest, dark eyes smoldering. “I went to work. I came home.”

She bit back a sigh, holding the breath locked in her chest so she wouldn’t puff into his irritation and blow it bigger. He hated when she did that. “Sweetheart, please. I really want to know, I didn’t mean to get distracted.”

Jared crooked his eyebrows at her, almost appeased. “You got distracted from me by a cake?”

Berry soufflé.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

She frowned at him. “It’s a soufflé.” His shoulders sagged and she cursed at herself. Now he was annoyed again.

“Whatever. Soufflé.”

Emma stirred in silence, listening to the sound of her breath rustle in and out. She mixed, poured, and moved while Jared leaned against the wall, watching wordlessly.

They ate quietly. Jared told her about his day again, and she heard most of it. They would just have time – she had calculated the baking time so that it would be done ten minutes before they had to leave. They were going to Janet’s, and she’d promised to bring dessert. It was going to be a wonderful evening, she was sure. Their conversation meandered around the party, loitering at the subject of the guest list and skipping over Janet’s mother’s new illness.

Emma got up twice to check on the soufflé. It looked gorgeous, she thought. It was puffing up ever so gently, just peeking over the rim of the pan. The smell of it, delicate and sweet, spread through the kitchen. When she and Jared were more or less finished eating she swept the plates up and into the sink, sliding the food into the trash and leaving all the dishes in a neat stack. Jared came up behind her.

“I wasn’t done with dinner.”

“Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry, dear, I thought you were. It looked like you were just picking at what was left – ”

“Emma, you always do that.” His voice rose and bellowed at her, and she flinched. “You always just decide what you want to be true and then pretend it is. I wasn’t done eating!”

She shrank away. “Sweetie, it’s just dinner. There’s some left in the pot, I’ll get you more. It’s not such a big deal.”

“Of course not.” His voice was flat now, controlled. “It’s never a big deal when it’s something I’m upset about.”

“Really,” she persisted. “It’s just food. It actually doesn’t matter much.”

“No,” he said. “But if it were the other way around you’d glare at me like I’d betrayed you.”

She pounced on that. “I wouldn’t yell and make a fuss though.”

“You wouldn’t,” he agreed. “You wouldn’t make a scene, but you’d make me feel awful. As though I’d done something unforgivable. It’s always like that, like you have to have things exactly as you think they ought to be and if they’re not it’s my fault either way. You have this picture in your head of what I am and what you are and what this goddamn marriage is and you can’t stand anything that smudges the picture.”

She stared at him. “Jared. It’s just dinner. I just threw out your leftovers that I wasn’t supposed to. Goodness.”

“Stop it!” He was shouting again. “Stop acting like nothing is wrong. The dinner isn’t the problem. The problem is that you always do this and it’s driving me nuts. We have to eat dinner over polite conversation and be done when you say and arrive all stylish at Janet’s with a beautiful goddamn cake. You don’t even pay attention to me.”

She shook her head against his words, clinging to her, but they wouldn’t shake off. “No.” She looked at him, fuming, his face close to hers. She said, “soufflé.”

“What?”

“Soufflé. Not cake.” Her voice was level, sensible.

Jared’s hands sprung up and quivered in the air in front of him, and then he spun. He snatched his coat from the hook and turned to the oven, where the screen was counting down seconds; 39, 38, 37. He shot a vindictive look at the fuzzy shape inside and stamped his foot down, hard. Emma felt it send a quake through the whole house, a soft dull crash, but she stood frozen and still. As the door slammed behind Jared, she buried her face in her hands and cried.