Ernest sat on the queen-sized bed, its mattress old and tired, sagging beneath his slight weight. Lanie hadn’t been particularly pleased about this motel, but it was better than sleeping in the trailer again. Times were hard. People weren’t coming to carnivals like they used to. Theme parks were all the rage and the news declared them ‘safer.’ This made Lanie indignant. In all her days on the road she had only seen two accidents. Granted, one of them had taken a man’s legs, but that was still a pretty good track record.
"We can’t keep doing this, Lanie." Ernest sighed.
Lanie tried to ignore him as she manually flipped through the channels. Almost all static. Nothing was ever fucking on!
"You’re insane," she hissed, trying not to wake the girls. Chloe and Spring lay motionless on the twin bed, spooned up together for warmth. She could hear them breathing, the deep restful inhalations of the sleeping. "You don’t just walk into a bank and take money. It’s stupid. And illegal."
Ernest smirked. "It’s a small-town bank. I’ve been there a dozen times over the last few years. The security guard is basically Don Knotts. I get the money and we run away to Mexico and live like royalty."
She looked at him, her mouth agape. One thing that TV had taught her was that criminals always get caught. "Ernest, I’ve followed you all these years, but I can’t do this. We have kids to think about. We can’t be on the lam!"
Ernest punched his hand into the bed, trying to put a hole in the soggy mattress. It hesitated but bounced back reluctantly. "We are already on the fucking lam, in case you haven’t noticed! Half the f’ing carnies are 'on the lam!.' I didn’t join because it was 'fun,' goddamnit. I’m tired of running. I just wanna get enough money and settle down. This is my only fucking shot. Can’t you understand that, woman?"
They had been arguing about this for a week now, and Lanie thought he would forget about it, the way he forgot about most things. But he seemed insistent. She slumped down on the bed and placed her fingers between her eyes, trying to ease the pressure that was building in her head. He was serious. He really wanted to rob a bank.
"Ernest," she said. "I love you and I want you to be happy. If you aren’t happy here you need to go and find what gives your life meaning. I had always hoped it was me and the girls, but I see now it’s not. I love you and wish you well, but I can’t be any part of this." Lanie looked at her husband, absorbing him, knowing this might be the last time she ever saw him. He said nothing in response as he grabbed his duffle bag, already packed. He walked to the girls' bed and blew them each a kiss and then made his way to the door. He was really going. He smiled at her, opened the door, and left.
That was the last she heard from him, until a few weeks later when he made headlines in a local newspaper for attempted robbery. He was now serving many years in state prison.
When the girls awoke that next morning she told them their father had gone to see a sick relative, but when Spring saw her father on the newspaper as well, she turned to Lanie with a look that said she hated her. And it was three months before Spring said another word to Lanie, or anyone, for that matter.
Lanie lay naked on the top of her bed, three fans blasting air over her body. She had always looked forward to this time of life, the transition from motherhood to crone-dom. But her ascent into sage-hood wasn’t going as smoothly as she had hoped. Besides the hot flashes and the strange cravings and the weird fluctuations in libido (she would never admit this to a single soul but one day she had even found Sam appealing as he was stirring something in a bowl), there lay a nagging feeling deep down inside of her.
She didn’t feel like a woman anymore. Her eggs were hatched. She was on the other side now, beyond the line that separated the fertile from the unfertile, those who could produce and those whose time had passed. She would never have another baby again. Ever.
She willed up memories of Chloe and Spring when they were infants, tiny bundles of pink flesh, wrapped up like flower bouquets in knitted blankets. They smelled so good. Well, most of the time. And they looked up at her with something akin to godliness as they suckled her, wrapping small fingers around her own. Even her grandchildren did not show her that much love. No one had ever shown her that much love––the love of a child in its first years of life.
She squinted, trying to wring out the few memories of her own mother, but like a dried up lemon, nothing was there to juice. She had left Lanie in foster care when she was six and Lanie must have purposely destroyed any images she had of the woman. Either that, or she was getting senile.
"It all changes when they grow up," she said, returning her attention to Spring and Chloe. "All that admiration, gone in the wink of an eye the first time you forget a holiday." Lanie rolled onto her side, letting the fans beat against her back. The air hit a mole (that must be new) and created a peculiar pulsing sensation. "...We’re all judge and jury of our parents."
An image of Spring’s face in the dark beside her, asking if she had really been a bad kid.
There was a knot in her stomach, a memory knocking, wanting to be let in. Lanie tried to clear her mind and practice her meditation, but this one was insistent.
"Your father couldn’t handle you, and neither can I." She had said this once, when Spring was in the throes of adolescent rebellion. She hadn’t meant it, of course. Hadn’t even remembered it until Spring had asked about their father earlier. The problem with words was once you said them you couldn’t take them back. They hung in the Universe forever like wet sheets that never quite dried.
The real truth was that she wasn’t able to cope with raising two daughters on her own. And the fact that their father was never, ever coming back, and she might be alone for the rest of her life. For all her hellraising about women’s lib in the 60s, she hated to admit that being without a man was the scariest thing she could ever imagine.
"What I’d give for a do-over, learn a real trade, set a good example for the girls." Lanie gritted her teeth. The mole on her back danced in the wind. Maybe she should get it looked at. "I’m too old to cry over spilt milk now," she said, reaching out to stroke her pig. His plastic, hairless body gave her some odd comfort. It wasn’t a baby, or even real, but it was...something.
It was going to be a long night. She wished she had more of Jason’s insomnia medicine, but it was gone the first day he had dropped it by. She needed sleep.She was about to shut her eyes and give it a try when a flicker of pale light in the window caught her gaze. At first she almost ignored it, thinking it was just a ghost. But this ghost had an awfully big head. She squinted in the dark to make it out, and then her eyes grew large as saucers.