Amanda Marbais

[FICTION] Centerlines

Eddy’s neighborhood has a pool of phone numbers and sunbathing mothers communicating through pursed lips and arched eyebrows.


At birth, Eddy’s mother counted the last leaf clusters on the diseased sycamore nearest the window. Eddy’s father left or died. Eddy’s not sure which. Her grandmother ditched them, maxed credit cards, drove to Las Vegas, did not call. Eddy lowers her head, pops her gum in wet bursts, and repeats her family’s history like an ant leaving a broken trail.


Down the street, the guidance counselor, Quay, grows thin on a diet of Viceroys as her husband polishes a Datsun 280z between beers. Psychology Today says this predicts divorce. There are a lot of harbingers of divorce: unequal division of housework, significant age difference, your city of residence, fluctuating barometric pressure. Quay doesn’t give a shit. She prays her daughters won’t age, that their telomeres will lengthen into a never-ending map of elongated DNA. Quay pushes the word smothering to the furthest corner of her head. The oldest will scream it after too many texts to call home.


That summer, Quay ferries her daughters to the lake. It’s filled with leeches but has the lure of ice cream and “hot” boys. The girls spend an hour playing “find the fish” underwater with two douchebags. Even from the beach Quay can tell there’s some under-the-suit work.


When she is seething, they say “chill” and Quay listens, knowing her daughters sometimes lie about the novel and the ecstatic. Even when their faces flush and they say they have to pee, and they go to the dirty bathroom to share secrets, to relive each amateur fumbling, Quay seals her lips, says squat. This requires stoicism, resolve, like the nestling of a neon child in a Swing-o-Matic, to ride the rhythmic ticking, winding down to the dirt.


A code demands Quay pseudo-parent the neighbor girl Eddy, a code she can’t name. The girl’s gestures recall the march of insects. Eddy likes The Cure, penny loafers, Saturdays, cat posters, whichever trend soaks in. So do her daughters, electrified head to toe with repetition. Quay lights up, opens her Buick door, wills herself to be a better person. In the unoiled squeak, she hears neighborhood mothers collectively sigh, a seismic pressure under the cul-de-sac.


Each time Quay speaks, it is like her daughters have just discovered the outside world. Eddy’s grandfather is French. Eddy has been hunting for badgers. Eddy had an uncle whose arm was sucked into a metal press but came out whole. Eddy is full of shit, thinks Quay. She’s made a family history both wonderful and terrifying. She’s committed to a personal story no one would want.


Her youngest daughter predictably says Eddy is “cool” until Eddy is recovering in the hospital from SoCo and barbiturates. Really, what her daughter means is that anything outside the family, which will soon disintegrate, is cool. Because in her new autonomy, her daughter can imagine every possibility at once, and she’s chasing it balls-out. She’s running from her mother, who, composing herself on a beach towel listens to the announcements about E Coli and missing children. She’s chasing excitement like she’s driving that Datsun, following the reflection of the broken centerline, god knows where.


The other daughter will stay put, in a way that worries Quay too.


The girls cross the lake in a paddle boat with three dickheads, disappearing into murky rushes. They possess secrets and knowledge of condoms. The girls swell with optimism, wedded to a belief in sexual autonomy. Quay never felt that. But, she would cut her right arm off before destroying it.


On the ride home, Eddy’s foreign presence adds an element of shame. Quay suspects something off-kilter when Eddy sinks her shoulders, adjusts her bathing suit each time her daughters call out a boy’s name. But, with nothing to go on, Quay lights another cigarette. She pilots them home. The girls look like fallen leaves on the Buick’s vinyl.


Lying in her tub, Quay thinks about the bathing suit strap. She imagines Eddy’s mother drinking her wine, waiting for Murder She Wrote. Eddy’s mother can’t utter two syllables without crying. She will not understand. She might even use the word “slut”. She will lose herself in an endless loop, gurgling like a cyclone of water.


Amanda Marbais‘ fiction has appeared in Portland Review, Apalachee Review, Joyland, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Hobart, and many other journals. She’s written reviews and cultural essays for Your Impossible Voice and Paste Magazine. Her collected stories, A Taxonomy of Lies, is available through Bottlecap Press. She’s the managing editor for the literary journal, Requited.

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