by Christina Ward-Niven
In those days, the woman favored deep-winter Sunday afternoons. The four inhabitants of the house scattered among its rooms while wind whipped and ice storms rendered roadways treacherous. In pockets of the home, they burrowed into their projects.
On the sofa, the woman curled under a plaid blanket, reading. It was contemporary autofiction. It was a Nabokov novel. It was an essay in a magazine. It was the news on a screen.
The younger of the two teen girls hunched over the kitchen table, making a poster about electricity or geology. Or the Civil War. Scratch of pencil, vibration of eraser. Marker caps pulled off, clicked back on. Absentminded humming of a pop song.
The older teen girl sprawled upstairs on her bed, face in laptop, half studying for an exam, half wandering the wilds of the internet. Her time left in the home would soon be measured in months. It was an undiscussed countdown, a ticking clock with a jarring alarm, pre-set.
The man folded laundry in the basement while watching a European football match. Old cotton t-shirts bearing the faded names of aging rock bands. Wool-blend socks. Tan pants for work. For many years his daughters flew in cleats across flat green pitches, and he drove/coached/cheered, but they moved on to other endeavors, and he now watched the sport at great physical remove from any actual action.
If the woman happened to check her phone, idly, and discover thanks to a news alert that, say, an abandoned newborn baby had been found in an ice-cold city storm drain, she could—horrified, sickened—throw the phone to the end of the couch and go back to reading
Later there would be dinner.
In those days, a smart screen in the kitchen flashed headlines—of generally benign ilk—which the girls sometimes read aloud as they ate.
“Sausage Hotel Opens in Germany.”
“Bingo Brawl at Nursing Home.”
“Prince Phillip Turns Over Driver’s License.”
One could ask the screen, whose name was Alexa, to tell more about a specific headline, or one could turn the whole goddamn distracting device off, but the family rarely bothered to do either.
Cats prowled counters. The beautiful elderly dog nosed at their feet for crumbs.
“Could you pass the parmesan?” the younger girl asked.
“I’m dropping my car off tomorrow for inspection,” the man said.
The older girl took a long, slow swig of two-percent milk. “Himalayan Glaciers May Be Doomed,” she read, and she wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“After work, I’ll go by the library and pick up that book you put on hold,” the woman said. “For the Nazi-education research paper?”
If all went according to plan, the woman well knew, those days would come to an end. Her daughters would pursue their projects elsewhere, and she would not usually know where they were. She would be apprised of their lives mostly via text message.
If all went according to plan, driver’s licenses would be obtained and there would be no swerving into harm’s way, no shattered windshields, no crumpled metal in the median.
If all went according to plan, the woman would not find a wide hard lump under soft flesh, in a spot no hard lump should be. The lump’s cells would not spread, nor multiply, nor invade surrounding organs.
Military-style assault rifles were perfectly legal and everywhere.
The woman’s body was so strong.
In those days, the woman’s parents were still alive and she spoke with them often. Podcasts were all the rage; the woman listened to them as she drove, as she walked the beautiful elderly dog. The dog was still alive in those days. Politically speaking, things were in shambles. It was 2018. The children were always accounted for and safe. One doesn’t necessarily expect to visit the Himalayan glaciers, but in those days one could google them and there they were, intact on the little screen, snow-covered, stunning, frozen in time.