Least Broken, Soonest Mended

by Leslie Haynsworth
It’s in the car on the way to Savannah’s parents’ house in Rock Hill for Thanksgiving dinner that Ann Elise sees it for the first time:  Jack’s begun to go bald.  The bald spot’s at the top of his head and toward the back, and Jack’s a good eight inches taller than she is, so it’s only because she’s sitting right behind him, in the backseat of Savannah’s Volvo, that she can see it.  But having seen it, she can’t take her eyes off it.

Her daddy went bald the same way, back when she was in college, almost fifty years ago now, started just like that with a little, quarter-sized bare patch that you could hardly notice.  But it spread quickly; by the time she graduated, all her daddy had left was a wispy little fringe of graying hair around the edges of his head.  That was when her daddy started looking old, and it had made Ann Elise feel old too, not in a bad way, really, simply more aware of her own adulthood, that she had an old man for a daddy, just like other adults did.

And now it’s Jack’s turn.  It shouldn’t really surprise her—she’s always heard that whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) to a boy’s maternal grandfather’s hair will happen in just about the same way to the boy himself.  But if Jack’s going bald, what does that make her?  She’s about to be the mama of a bald man.  The time she has left not to be the mama of a bald man is slipping away fast.

If she was a good mama, it would be Jack she was concerned for.  He’s the one losing his hair, and lord knows baldness didn’t flatter her daddy.  But what she feels when she sees that bald spot she feels hardest for herself:  sorrow and an oddly nebulous sense of loss, but mostly shock:  You’ve crossed this threshold and you didn’t even know it; here you’ve been, believing you were one kind of person, living your life as if that belief were a fact, when everybody else in the world could see, simply by looking at you, who you really were.



“Do you think we should stop and get her something to eat?” asks Savannah.

“Huh?” says Jack, answering on autopilot, can’t really listen right now honey, but I do want to acknowledge that you said something.  And then as the question registers, registers as being relatively simple and straightforward and therefore not requiring, as Savannah’s questions all too often do, any more effort to answer than he’s got to give right now, he says, “Oh.  Oh, no, I don’t think so, do you?  We should be there in half an hour—even if she is hungry, she can probably make it that long.”

“Mmmm.”  Savannah nods, shrugs.  The real issue here is not that she thinks Katie might starve to death if she has to go another half an hour without food (although she has been known to think such things before).  The real issue is that she, Savannah, really has to pee. Which makes the half hour that remains until they get to her parents’ house feel like an endless shimmering vortex of time.   But she can’t just say, “Jack, we need to stop, I’ve got to pee.”  Not with her mother-in-law in the car.

So that’s that.  But now she’s supposed to be concerned that Katie’s hungry.  So she bends down—scrunching her full bladder mercilessly—and tugs at the handles of the diaper bag that’s wedged on the floor at her feet, along with her purse and the camcorder and Jack’s laptop (the latter brought along because God forbid Jack should be away from his spreadsheets, even for one afternoon; the fucking laptop is like a security blanket for him, just like Katie and her stuffed dog, Woo), tugs until the diaper bag pops loose and she can root around in it for the crackers.  They’re stale. But that’s ok. Ann Elise won’t know they’re stale.  Unless she wants one.   But why would she want a Saltine when she’s about to be fed a lavish Thanksgiving dinner, and Jack has made a point of telling her that Savannah’s mother is a famously crackerjack cook?  Savannah wiggles two crackers out of the plastic wrapping, and twists around to hand them back to Katie.

“Caa-cah!” says Katie, kicking her legs against her carseat in delight.  She leans forward and snatches the Saltines out of Savannah’s hand, sets one of them in her lap, holds the other one up at eye level, and squints at it carefully, thoughtfully.  Then she throws it—intentionally or not, who can say—right at Ann Elise, hits Ann Elise square on the chin.

Ann Elise smiles—a real smile, Savannah’s almost certain, not a fake, I-have-to-act-like-this-is-cute-because-I’m-her-grandmother kind of smile—and scoops the cracker out of her lap, hands it back to Katie.  Katie throws it on the floor.  Ann Elise shrugs.  Katie spies the other cracker, the one in her own lap, and pounds at it with her fist, pummeling it into crumbs.  “Caa-cah,” she says.  She laughs.  Ann Elise smiles again and pats her on the head.

          

Outside the car, the rain falls hard, cold, thick sheets of it pound at the car, are rebuffed by the steady, aggressive thwack, thwack, thwack of the windshield wipers.  It’s a nice noise really, Jack thinks, the sound of the rain hitting the car, it’s a soothing noise, the sound of gray Sunday afternoons on the sofa with a book, snug and warm and dry, while the world out the window gets pummeled.  It’s the sound of a few hours of time to himself, the sound that, for him as a boy, meant his mama couldn’t send him out to play with the neighborhood boys he didn’t want to play with and that, for him now as a man, means no matter how much Savannah wants it done, the yardwork isn’t going to get done, at least not right now.  It’s the sound of the elements taking over, inserting themselves, however briefly, between him and the women—motherwife—who for most of his life have made and enforced the rules that govern his life; it’s the sound of a respite, the sound of time unexpectedly at his disposal, to do with as he pleases.  So even though he is, obviously, not at home on the sofa at the moment, even though he is in fact in the car, driving the car, driving motherwifedaughter to his inlaws’ house for Thanksgiving dinner, which is really not where he’d be or where he’d be headed if he and only he were at the helm of his daily destiny, even so, it’s the sound of, well, of happiness, he supposes, for want of a better word, and the sound carries with it the feeling, so that even here, in the car where he’d rather not be, hurtling toward a destination he’d rather not reach, carrying with him, both literally and figuratively, all the emotional freight of motherwifedaughter, even so, hearing the rain, he’s happy.



Years ago, when Jack was as young as Katie is now, Ann Elise had a friend, Marnie, who was a good ten years older than the rest of their circle but didn’t seem to know it.  It was the late ‘60s then and Ann Elise, having just entered her 30s, was newly conscious of how she had to think about her age as a factor in determining how she presented herself to the world.  She and her friends still wore the short little A-line dresses and the bright, pretty patterned blouses and even the bell-bottom trousers that were all the rage at the time, but they had to be more careful now about how and when they wore them (no bell bottoms at the Country Club, for heavens sake, but they were perfectly fine for running errands on the weekends or having picnics with the neighbors), and they certainly didn’t wear any of the more outré things that their teenaged babysitters were wont to show up in:  tye-dye shifts, sheer peasant skirts over leotards … those things were fine for teenaged girls, but not for young matrons with husbands and children.

Marnie, though, didn’t seem to know how old she was, or else just didn’t care.  She’d show up to backyard barbeques in jeans and a tye-dye t-shirt, come to dinner parties in tiny little skirts and tight sweaters, drop by the club for brunch in these wild little dresses, all big patterns and bright colors.  It was almost as if she’d forgotten, or was refusing to acknowledge, all the years of her life since she was seventeen.  Or more likely, Ann Elise sees now, as if, having been married at 19 and then divorced some 20 years later, she was being her unmarried self the only way she knew how.  The last time Marnie had been herself, all by herself with no husband to wrap her sense of self around, she’d been a teenager, and she’d known how to do it then, had done okay by herself as just herself then, so she was doing it the same way now.

Ann Elise had kind of liked Marnie, but she’d pitied her too.  They all did.  What had happened to Marnie was terrible—her husband Rick had left her for another woman and had managed to get custody of the kids too; since he had a new wife, he’d argued, he’d be able to provide a more stable home for them than Marnie could on her own.  What had really won him custody, of course, was the fact that his new wife was the daughter of a city councilman; she and Rick, a surgeon and scion of a prominent family, had enough social and political clout between them that Marnie, daughter of an Episcopal minister, didn’t stand a chance.

There were, as a result, surprisingly few manifest repercussions for all of Marnie’s sartorial transgressions.  Ann Elise often thought that it was very good of her and her friends to be so tolerant, and to be sorry for Marnie without letting on that they were sorry for her.  She knows different now.  She sees now that Marnie deserves more respect, admiration even, than she got.  (What balls it took, really, to wear those skimpy little swimsuits at the club at her age, even if she did have the figure for them.)  All the same, Marnie has for years been for her a nagging cautionary tale, the moral of which is that if you don’t look like you understand who you really are, people will be silently sorry for you.

And in what ways, she wonders, as she sits now staring at her youngest son’s bald spot, has she been looking, acting, thinking like a middle-aged woman when all the rest of the world knows her to be old?  She is, she can see, going to have to start studying the old, so she can see how they go about things.  And so that she can see more clearly who she is and what she’s supposed to be.



But what if Katie really is hungry after all?  What if the only reason she didn’t eat the crackers is that she could tell just by the feel of them that they were stale?  And what if, like Savannah, she gets carsick when she’s hungry?  And as soon as we get to Mom and Dad’s house, she throws up all over their new living room carpet?  And then won’t eat any dinner because her tummy still hurts, but Mom will think it’s because she’s turning into a picky eater and will blame me for indulging her too much and will start emailing me all these articles from child-rearing websites and waiting two days and then calling and asking me what I thought of them.

And if Katie isn’t hungry, why isn’t she hungry?  Shouldn’t she be hungry by now?  She had such an early breakfast, and not a lot of lunch.  So why isn’t she hungry?  What if she’s getting strep throat, or some kind of flu bug?  What if it’s serious enough that she can’t go back to daycare on Monday?  I’ve got that presentation at 10:00 am, and no way can I postpone it.  But if I try to get Jack to stay home with her, I’ll have a major battle on my hands, and I just don’t have the energy right now, and, oh, God, what kind of mother am I anyway, that whenever my little girl gets sick, all I can think about are the possible negative repercussions for my career?



Ann Elise hasn’t been to Savannah’s parents’ house before, and the sight of it surprises her.  She’s met Savannah’s parents themselves, of course, and somehow, especially from what she knows of Savannah herself, she has, without consciously realizing it, formed a basic idea about the kind of house Savannah’s family would choose to live in: comfortable and ordinary, neither very big nor very small.  She’s had, in fact, a vague picture of it in her mind, and in the picture the house is an almost archetypically ordinary South Carolina house, a redbrick rancher, with white shutters, a wide front porch and a carport, a smallish but nicely mown lawn.

The actual house is nothing like that.  It’s huge and new, one of those McMansiony things, in a gated suburb, in that strange neo-traditional style that always looks so cluttered to Ann Elise, and in that tan-colored brick that McMansion builders so often favor but that Ann Elise has always thought of as diarrhea brown.  It surprises her because she has a sense of what the people are like who live in houses like this, and Savannah’s parents, Phyllis and Rodney, don’t seem the type.  They’re unobtrusive people, a bit dull, frankly, and besides, she didn’t know they were this well off.   Which is why, even if they can afford a house like this one, she’d have expected them to choose a different kind of house, something more understated, a house like the one she grew up in, which had seven bedrooms and a swimming pool but which looked from the street like a perfectly ordinary, cozy Cape Cod.  Although if they are this well off (as they plainly are), it’s probably new money, must be, really, because Phyllis, for one, is obviously not from a background like Ann Elise’s own, can’t be more than one generation removed from the farm or the mill town; and even Savannah, with all her education and polish and her leftist-intellectual ideals, is sometimes just the faintest bit gauche at dinners and parties in a way that makes it plain she didn’t grow up as part of the country club set.  And if it is new money, you’d have to expect Rodney and Phyllis to make a few mistakes with it.

They’ve hardly rolled to a stop on the wide circular drive before the front door of the house swings open, and there’s Phyllis, rushing to greet them.  “You’re, here, you’re here!” she exclaims, sort of inanely, Ann Elise thinks, because why bother to state the obvious unless you’ve got nothing else to say?  But I’ve got to stop this, she thinks.  The truth is, she’s never been sure if she likes Phyllis or doesn’t, and can’t tell if her ambivalence comes from pure snobbery or from some more legitimate factor.  Would Phyllis’s primness, her almost shrilly proper femininity, bother Ann Elise so much in a woman from her own circle?  It’s hard to say.  Phyllis is pleasant enough, really, has a low, sweet voice and a quick smile and an easy way with small talk.  But there’s an odd sort of grimness to her sometimes, the way her mouth gets so tight and hard whenever she feels like someone’s behaved badly.  And it doesn’t seem to Ann Elise so much like an unforgiving hardness as a kind of unsettledness or distress, as if Phyllis needs everything in her world to be just so or she can’t cope.  Ann Elise finds this inability to take the world as it comes (which isn’t uncommon in women of her generation, she’s noticed) vexing.  But it also makes her sad.  It can’t be easy for Phyllis, always anxiously trying to corral everyone and everything into line with her expectations, and surely knowing her efforts are inevitably doomed to failure.

But here she is now, smiling, clearly happy, dressed neatly in a loose-fitting camel-colored wool sweater and a pair of well-cut black slacks.  She’s not a very big woman, and framed in the oversized doorway of her McMansion, she looks even smaller, almost like a girl.  As she gets closer, Ann Elise can see a flash of pink beneath the sleeve of the left arm of her sweater, and then the pinkness resolves itself into what’s obviously one of those funny new fiberglass casts.  Ann Elise feels a flash of sympathy that cuts through her general ambivalence toward Phyllis.  At their age, bones break so easily.  Ann Elise broke her own foot a couple of years ago; it was the first broken bone she’d had since she fell off a horse as a child.  And the doctor said more breaks were likely if she wasn’t careful.

“Oh, where is Miss Katie?” coos Phyllis.  But as she gets closer to the car, sees everyone starting to pile out, that hard look settles in around her mouth, even though you can see that she’s trying to suppress it.  “Why, Savannah,” she says, “Please don’t tell me you made poor Ann Elise ride in the back all the way up here.”

Ann Elise watches Savannah’s face go blank, thinks, what in the world kind of way is that to greet your daughter?  And wants to jump in and say, why surely you know how she gets carsick in the backseat?  But the tightness around Phyllis’s mouth suggests she’d find carsickness a small price to pay for keeping everything the way it should be, which desired order apparently includes catering to the comfort of one’s mother-in-law at whatever cost to oneself.

So instead she says, “Oh, but I asked to sit in the back.  So I could play with Katie.”

Phyllis’s face relaxes—it’s ok, then; her daughter’s thoughtlessness hasn’t unbalanced the universe after all.   She reaches in toward Katie, starts struggling with the unfamiliar fasteners of the five-point harness so she can get Katie out of her carseat.  Jack leans in beside her to help, catches sight of the pink cast and says, “Phyllis, my God, what happened?”

Phyllis shakes her head ruefully.  “I tripped coming down the front steps a few days ago,” she says, “and landed with all my weight on this wrist.  It’s nothing serious, just a hairline fracture.  But they make such a fuss over broken bones at my age, you know.”

“Mmm.”  Jack pulls a sympathetic face and, not wanting Phyllis to think he thinks she’s weak and helpless just because she has a slightly broken wrist, moves away so she can get Katie out herself.  Anyway, he’s got to get his laptop before Savannah tries to carry it in with all those big bags of baby stuff she’s always toting around.  He doesn’t trust her with the laptop; she’s not careful enough.  She’s liable just to sling it onto the floor where anyone can step on it.

Finally wresting Katie free from her carseat, Phyllis pulls her out and hugs her close.  “My little sweetheart,” she whispers.  “My precious little angel, how are you?”  Katie giggles and pats at the top of Phyllis’s head, enthralled with the cushioniness of her thick, stiff, permanent-waved blond curls, the way they sink down under the weight of Katie’s hand and then spring right back perfectly into place when she releases them.  Phyllis grins at her, pats at Katie’s own silky blond curls, and Katie giggles even harder.

“Whoa, ho, ho, there’s my little girl!”

Ann Elise turns and there’s Rodney, tall, a little stout, very bald, with that odd, oversized round head of his.  Ann Elise has always wondered if he has a hard time finding hats that fit him.  Otherwise, though, her feelings toward him are less complex than her feelings toward Phyllis.  He’s nice and not very interesting.  Dotes on Katie like nothing you’ve ever seen and talks to Jack a lot about football.

Rodney strides quickly across the drive, arms outstretched, and pulls Katie away from Phyllis.  “How’s granddad’s little darling?” he demands.  “Just wait til you see all the toys granddad’s bought you—we’re going to have us such a time!”

Jiggling Katie up and down, he carries her into the house.  And Ann Elise, turning to look at Phyllis for guidance about whether it’s time for the rest of them to follow, sees instead that Phyllis is simply staring after Rodney and Katie, looking utterly bereft.  But how odd, Ann Elise thinks.  How absurd, really, that she’d light into Savannah for something as trivial as putting me in the backseat and yet not say a word to her own husband over the way he just snatched that child right away from her.

Because you could see, just from the way Phyllis was still holding her arms out in front of her, as if physically unwilling to admit that their recent burden was gone, how badly she wished she was still holding the child.



Dinner is, as promised, delicious, although Ann Elise always wishes people could be more imaginative about their Thanksgiving menus.  There’s nothing inherently special in roast turkey or squash or green beans or (lord knows) pumpkin pie to make the eating of them something you look forward to, and even all the extra spices Phyllis has put in it can’t jazz up a sweet potato soufflé to the point where Ann Elise wants a second helping.  (And she should have second helpings of everything; her own kitchen’s almost empty at the moment, and her next check won’t come for 10 more days, and what she’s going to eat in the meantime, she doesn’t know.)

During the meal, Rodney talks mostly to Jack, mostly about how deep they think the Carolina Panthers will go into the playoffs this year.  Phyllis asks Ann Elise lots of questions about her other children and grandchildren, and Ann Elise, always happy to talk about her family, worries a little about whether she’s going on at a little too much length about details Phyllis can’t possibly care about.  But Phyllis seems genuinely interested.  Savannah’s mostly pretty quiet, preoccupied, perhaps, with work, as she so often is.  And Katie shovels greedy handfuls of rice and beans into her mouth, throws all her turkey and stuffing onto the floor, then falls asleep in her highchair, head lolling onto her shoulder at what looks like an excruciatingly odd angle.

After supper, Ann Elise and Savannah help Phyllis carry the plates into the kitchen, but then Phyllis tries to shoo them out.  “Katie’s tired,” she says, “and you know Rod’s going to want to wake her up and play with her.  Y’all go make sure he doesn’t completely wear her out.”

“Yeah, okay, you’re right,” Savannah says.  But Ann Elise, who considers herself to be fundamentally self-centered and lazy, nevertheless doesn’t feel right about leaving Phyllis to tackle all those dishes by herself.  “I’ll help you,” she says, and when Phyllis looks like she’s starting to protest, she adds, “I insist.  It’s the least I can do after you fed me that wonderful meal.”

Phyllis shrugs, almost ungraciously, and says, “Well, let me find you an apron, then, so you don’t stain that lovely sweater.”

(And it is a nice sweater, cornflower blue cashmere, but it’s 30 years old, bought not long after her divorce, before she understood all of what it was going to mean to be divorced, before she learned how to shop like a divorced woman.)

Phyllis hands her the apron and she straps it on.  As she’s doing so, Phyllis crouches down, opens a cabinet, pulls out a small white garbage bag, and seems to be fumbling around with it, struggling with it in some way that Ann Elise can’t fully see, because Phyllis has turned her back to her.  She fumbles for a few minutes, and then stops, stands up, turns around and faces Ann Elise.  “Actually,” she says, “if you don’t mind, I could use your help.”  She sounds nervous; her voice is strained in a way Ann Elise has never heard before.  “I’m supposed to cover this cast in something waterproof if I’m going to get my hands wet,” she says.  “And it’s hard to get a trashbag over it one-handed.  Actually—“ she pauses, gives a shrill little laugh—“actually, I’m not supposed to do the dishes at all right now.  They told me at the hospital not to do them for at least a month.  But I ask you, how are the dishes going to get done if I don’t do them?  My husband is a very busy man.  And it’s not his place to do the dishes anyway, is it?  It’s my job.  My job, and I’m going to do it.”

Her mouth, by the end of this, is as hard and grim as it’s ever been, and Ann Elise is starting to feel uneasy. Phyllis has never talked to her like this before.  Why is she talking like this now?

“But anyway—“ Phyllis seems to catch herself, to pull herself back together—“anyway, if you could help me tie this thing on, I’d really appreciate it.”  She hands Ann Elise the trashbag and pulls up her left sleeve.  The pink cast is short; it only goes about a third of the way up her forearm.  Above it are four long angry purple bruises.  They look like fingers, like someone’s fingers grabbing tight onto Phyllis’s arm.  Stunned by the sight of them, without thinking what she’s doing, Ann Elise turns Phyllis’s arm over.  And there on the underside is the matching thumb-mark.

She looks at Phyllis, and Phyllis meets her gaze with eyes that are calm and resolute.  The look in those eyes says, okay, now you know.  But that’s all you’re going to get.  We are not going to talk about it, not now and not ever.



When it’s time to go, when everyone’s gathered around the car so Phyllis and Rodney can see them off, Jack turns to Savannah and says, “Honey, would you mind driving?  I think I’ve had a little too much to drink.”

Savannah looks at him in surprise, knowing all he’s had was one glass of wine with supper two hours ago, but shrugs and says, “Sure.”

As he climbs into the backseat with Katie, Ann Elise thinks, but he has no idea of the magnitude of the kindness he’s just done.  Until half an hour ago, she had no idea of it either.  In his effort to keep Savannah from having to choose between getting sick and upsetting her mother, he’s also done as much as anyone probably could to keep everything right in Phyllis’s world.



It’s just … my god, why?  Why did she show me that, why did she want me to know?  What does she want me to know?  What does she want me to do?



Savannah has a friend, Carly, who got married young, had both of her kids while she was still in her mid-twenties.  Carly’s son is 13 now and her daughter’s 10, and what Savannah and most of the rest of their friends have wondered for years now is why Carly has deliberately raised her children to be such geeks.  Her son plays the piano, sings in the church choir, and always wins prizes in the statewide science fair.  Her daughter’s painfully shy, a little overweight, and has already read half the novels of Charles Dickens.  Savannah and their other friends used to all agree that it was cruel, what Carly was doing to those children, intentionally bringing them up to be the objects of playground bullying and mockery.

But now that Katie’s almost two, is starting to become manifestly a person instead of just a cute little blob of a baby, Savannah knows why Carly did it.  Geeky kids are safer.  Playing piano is safer than riding around drunk in some older, even drunker boy’s SUV.  Reading Dickens is safer than going to the mall to shop for cute, provocative little outfits that will make boys look at you in that way that you love but don’t yet understand, that way of looking at you that can destroy you before you even have a chance to figure it out.  So many things could happen to Katie.  So many terrible things.  (And, Christ, what was she thinking, thinking she could have helped with the dishes, leaving Katie alone with her dad and Jack, who doesn’t know, couldn’t have known how important it was to be careful.  What if Jack had left Rodney and Katie all alone while he went off with his computer, and, oh, God, just the thought of it is about to give her a panic attack.  Her father loves Katie, adores Katie.  But he loves her mother too.)

What she wants more than anything is just for Katie to be safe.  And Katie’s safety seems so precarious, and in so many ways so far beyond her control.  So many things could happen.  All Savannah can do is dance around her daughter like a shadow, trying to ward them all off.



But even if she is older than she thought, even if she’s not quite who she thought she was, surely that doesn’t undo everything about herself that makes her glad to be herself.  (Not that she’s ever really entirely glad to be herself, not that she isn’t always aware of things she’d change about herself or her circumstances if she could; but she does do her best to appreciate her assets and her blessings.  Of which there are more than a casual observer might think.)

She is, of course, very poor now.  Much more poor than she wants Jack and his siblings to know.  It’s not their fault she divorced their daddy, so why should they have to pay for her decision?  But being poor has been harder than she expected it to be.

Still, she could have fixed that if she’d wanted to.  She was only 36 when she got divorced, and she was, as she still is, quite pretty, and could be charming when she wanted to.  She has, since her divorce, had four marriage proposals, all from perfectly acceptable men.  Each time, she said no.  She just kept discovering, when it came right down to it, that she didn’t really have it in her to be married again.  She didn’t enjoy being poor, but it was, and still is, easier than being a wife.  

Maybe Phyllis sees it differently, though.  Maybe, she thinks now, Phyllis showed her what she showed her in the kitchen as a kind of gift, as a way of saying, please don’t think you’ve fallen so far behind the rest of us, just because you’re poor and alone.  A way of saying, we all have choices, and every choice has its tradeoffs.  Here’s what I’m paying for mine.



In the backseat, Katie’s good and asleep now, and sitting next to her, Jack stares at her with fond reverence.  She’s such a beautiful little girl, and already so wise and so fierce, so much her own person that he can’t believe he had a part in bringing her into being.  He wishes they’d gotten started sooner, so they could have had lots more just like her.  If he’d asked Savannah to marry him when he was 24, as he’d once thought about doing, they could have had six or seven kids by now, maybe even more.  But when he was 24, Savannah was 22, and she would have said no then, might have even been scared off so badly by the question that she would have left him for good, and then there wouldn’t have ever been Katie.  And the thought of Katie’s absence from the world is just too awful to bear.

Still he’d really like to have another one, if they’re not too old.  Savannah’s almost 39 now, and he just turned 41.  Thinking of which reminds him, there’s a spot on the back of his head, a place where it feels like the hair is starting to thin out just a little bit.  He really hopes he’s not starting to go bald.  He checked the spot carefully in the mirror this morning, and what he saw was reassuring:  the thinning he could feel when he touched that spot wasn’t visible at all.  But it’s nagging at him still.  So he reaches back and rubs the spot again.  And to his surprise, if anything it feels like there’s more hair there now.  Obviously, that’s not possible.  But what must be happening, he thinks, is that his fingers know now what his eyes have seen, and as a result are less alarmist and more accurate in reporting what they feel.  And from what he can feel, he has a long way to go before he has to start worrying that he’s going bald.

It’s okay, then.  Everything is fine.
Leslie Haynsworth's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fourth Genre, CrossRoads:  A Southern Culture Annual, The Common Review, A River and Sound Review, JuiceBox, Up The Staircase, The Ampersand, Marie Claire, The Denver Post, and elsewhere.  She is co-author with David Toomey of Amelia Earhart’s Daughters:  The Wild and Glorious Story of American Women Aviators from World War II to the Dawn of the Space Age. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Virginia and is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of South Carolina, where she serves as assistant director of the MFA program, web editor for the Arts Institute, and fiction editor for Yemassee.

© 2010, Leslie Haynsworth