by Ann Kammerer
EVERYTHING WAS EMPTY when we moved from the city to the suburbs. Everything was quiet, too. No kids in alleys. No starlings on wires. Only trees on vacant streets, their leaves clapping like Janie’s tiny hands when Mom sang us songs from musicals on TV.
Men moved things from our old to new house, hauling furniture and boxes from a long white truck. Janie and I watched them sweat, their shirt sleeves rolled, their faces teethy and strained, cigarettes angled behind their ears. Dad stood by, saying to put things here or put things there, telling us to stay out-of-the-way and to quit being pests.
I took Janie’s hand and went to the backyard, tumbling and rolling in prickly soft grass, fat clouds hanging overhead. Wild rudbeckia grew close to the house, brilliantly petaled against fresh white paint. I picked two and we raced to a hedgerow, peeking through yews to a faraway house.
‘I want a flower,’ Janie said.
I handed her one. She tore off the petals, first one, then two, then the rest, leaving just the black eye in the center, heavy on the stem.
Dad tucked in his shirt as the movers left, the truck belching smoke as it rumbled from the drive. Putting on a blue vest, he straightened his nametag, tying his wingtips as he readied for a shift at Sears.
‘I’ll be working more hours,’ he said. ‘To pay for this place. You know, to get ahead.’
Mom crossed her arms. She tapped her foot and sighed, surrounded by boxes and out-of-place furniture.
‘Why would you go to work?’ she asked. ‘Today of all days. Look at this mess.’
Dad smoothed his hair over his ears.
‘Have the girls help you,’ Dad said. ‘Unpacking all this. You’ll feel better.’
After Dad went to work, Mom unrolled a braided rug, one stained with gravy, ground-in potatoes, and ice cream. Sitting cross-legged, we had potato chips and Coke while Mom smoked L&Ms and drank from a clear rectangular bottle.
‘Go to bed now.’ She took away our snacks and poured our Coke down the sink. She flicked us with a dish towel when we didn’t get up. ‘I set up some things in your new room.’
We ran down a short hall to the first open door, seeing a mound of bedding and two pillows without cases on the blond wood floor. Still in our clothes, we burrowed into the blankets, muffling the echoes of the gray plaster walls.
‘I need a glass of water,’ Janie said.
I stroked her snarled hair, sticky from the Butterfingers we got from the movers.
‘I’ll get it,’ I said. ‘Close your eyes.’
Slipping from her side, I wandered to the kitchen, past stacks of boxes, tripping on trash, seeing no one, hearing soft rustles beyond the open back door.
Standing in the threshold, I peered into an expanse of dark purple shadows, my mother distant, her dress a deep ripple, as she lifted a bottle to a sky pierced with stars, cut by a crescent moon.
Ann Kammerer lives near Chicago and works as a freelance writer for small business and higher education. Her work has appeared in The Thoughtful Dog, Open Arts Forum, The Ekphrastic Review, and anthologies by Crow Woods Publishing and Querencia Press. She has received top honors in contests by Crow Woods and Current Magazine, and made the short list for the 2018 Tillie Olsen Short Fiction Award.