Tom said, “Listen to this. Due to extensive cuts in the quarter’s revised operational budget, Franklin City Council has called for an immediate restriction of municipal power usage between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Mayor Barclay encourages Franklin residents to make use of their porch and garage lights if they need to be outdoors at night.”
At ten o’clock the streetlamps faded, held dimly for a moment in the neighborhood dark then clicked off completely, bathing the streets in silence and night.
“Still,” Layla says to Tom over the paper, “We’ve got it better than Newark. They’ve eliminated twelfth grade.”
Jake was upstairs showering again. The ceiling had already started to drip steadily and soon the droplets would come together to form a stream that would make a puddle on the carpet. Tom’s policy was not to knock on the bathroom door until the stream had formed, lest he deny Jake the freedom and space he needed to grow up to be a healthy, functional adult.
“That kid showers at all hours of the night. I don’t understand.”
Layla put the paper down. The parts of her facial mask that had dried wrinkled when she spoke. “He’s a teenage boy, what else is there to understand?”
“Even a fourteen year old can’t commit that much self-abuse. The shower can’t even be all of it. We know the shower isn’t all of it.”
Layla shrugged, which Tom loved best of all of her nonverbal responses. It was beautiful. Her shrug deflected all harm. Her hair rearranged itself on her shoulders in a way that was somehow almost more beautiful than the shrug itself but the shrug had the benefit of being the thing that started the whole chain reaction.
“I don’t think it’s safe for him to be showering at night now. What if the power goes out? And if he doesn’t get out of that shower eventually the ceiling will fall down.”
“I forgot to tell you that a chunk fell off last night. It’s on the fireplace. On the part of the fireplace that would be the porch if a fireplace were a house.”
A book-sized flake of drywall sat propped against the remains of last winter’s firewood.
When Layla became pregnant Tom finally understood the phrase “the miracle of life” and spent many evenings staring in the bathroom mirror after Layla had gone to bed, wondering if his child would have his eyes; if the clump of cells inside his wife was a body yet; if it was a human yet. And once he was born Tom often wondered how they managed to make an entirely new person out of just their human bodies which, he realized when he watched his son successfully ride a bike for the first time, were no less meat than anything they sold at the butcher. Looking in the mirror he often wondered how he had made anything.
Tom rapped on the door gently. “Jake, we’re leaking again.” The sound of the shower through the door was more like a humming pulse than a rainfall. Tom knocked more insistently. “We’re leaking.” The hum continued.
Meghan Ritchie is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied writing and literature. She grew up in Fremont, California and now lives in Windsor Terrace.