Emily Jean Conway, BFR Staff

Mom is sitting on the couch again.

She’s been doing this lately. “Fishing,” she calls it, as if a little self-reflection is all the rod and line she needs to remember what is—has—been gone, going, for the past five years.

Mostly, she naps.

But when she wakes up, she’ll tell me about the lake again. Those are her favorite stories; it’s what’s made the most impression from her childhood. Lasted the longest, after school and old loves and adventures didn’t. But there’s a little less detail every time, so I remember for her—remind her of the time her uncle fell in the water one spring and kept falling in; when her brother broke a canoe in half before it’d even touched water when he was eight; the year the algae bloom cut the vacation short, the smell was so terrible; and when she was seven, she’d caught two fish with one hook and no bait. She likes that last one the best. There’s even a picture I can bring out for the occasion.

What’s better than me doing the remembering is when she remembers on her own and she tells me something new. A detail oddly specific—maybe too specific, so who knows how real it really is? There’s no one left who can say.

It’s happening less now, the remembering. But sometimes, whatever’s been submerged resurfaces, and the fog of her eyes clears. She calls me the right name, remembers I’m her “little bird.” And then she’ll talk about the news that morning and make a joke I haven’t heard in years at her own expense and it’s almost like having her back again.

More often it is that I walk in and she is staring at the wall and when she looks at me, I may as well be another piece of furniture. It’s these moments that remind me better than a schedule to take my Omega-3 and B-12; anything to stave off this decline.

But today she sees me. She smiles, at least, when I walk in. She stops looking at the wall. “Susan!” she says and beckons me over, patting the seat beside her. “Little bird, I have the best story to tell you. Do you have a second?”

“Of course, Mom,” I say and take the seat and smile. She doesn’t notice that it looks wrong. She would have before; she used to know me so well. Better than I know her now.

“You know that summer house my father, your grandfather, used to take us to? The one with the dock and that lake that looked gorgeous any time of the year? Really picturesque, I’ve heard it called. You remember? I’m sure there’s a picture around here somewhere.”

“I think you’ve mentioned it.”

Well, one of those times, I was out fishing. I was a little thing, so I wasn’t really thinking things through when I took out the rod that morning…”

Two fish this time.

Caeli Benson, BFR Staff

I have a talent for recognizing faces in the crowd while remaining a face in the crowd. They stand out more than I do in my tie-dye and Hawaiian shirts or my Frida Kahlo socks. I see the flags flying over their heads; the staff marks where our paths have crossed, and the colors mark our memories. There’s Marge from Beverly Cleary, the girl who defends R-Kelly when she’s drunk. And there’s Nick from Latin American Studies, the lacrosse player who pronounces Chile like “chili.”

I relive these experiences constantly with different people all the time. I’m the only one who recognizes the other person, but it’s not like I do anything about it. I don’t say hello or wave frantically to get their attention. But with her, I did.

 

Dorothy sits with her feet crisscrossed, her fingers interlaced in her lap, and her head bowed low. Before I approach the green bench she rests on, I see how much age has withered her. The clothes she wears—her light pink plaid shoes, dark grey slacks, white dress shirt, and the black North Face jacket—hang loosely on her. Her hair is completely white, whiter than the dress shirt she wears on a daily basis. It seemed like only a few years ago that she was the woman who protested eating hamburger after the Mad Cow epidemic hit the US, who told me when I was eight years old that I’d never be a better writer than her, and who drove both of her Volvos into two different telephone poles.

I walk slowly to the bench, the dry grass and wood chips crunching under my feet. She looks up and the sun hat shifts on her head, “Well hiya, kid!”

“Hey, Grandma. How are you?”

“I’m good. Just resting.”

“That’s good. Can I sit here?” I point to the seat next to her.

“Oh, sure.” She grabs the small purse sitting next to her and sits it on her lap. It’s a new purse that she’s used the past two years. She never opens it, but she always fidgets with its zipper.

I sit next to her and we watch the families flooding out of the dining hall. I watch their every move, hoping that one of them will help spark a conversation between us. We used to talk a lot more than we do now, but it’s been six or seven years since it happened.

“What’s… that thing over there?”

I look in the direction she’s pointing. I tell her that it’s some sort of pipeline that firefighters can use in case of an emergency. I don’t know if it’s entirely true, but she gives me a small shrug saying, I’ll take your word for it. She looks up at the sky, staring at the tops of the trees. I follow her gaze, trying to see what she’s seeing.

I flip my phone open to check the time. “My dad wants me to take you up the hill to take your meds. You almost ready to go?” I ask, predicting the answer she’s given me every time I’ve asked.

“You know, I think I’m going to sit here for a little while longer.” I nod, and we return to our silence.

For the next hour and a half, I ask her icebreaker questions that I already know the answer to. How has the weather been in Berkeley? Really… cold. Have you been going to the Happy Hours at Amy’s cabin? Yeah… Lars brings me some wine and crackers. Have you written anything new recently? Well, no. I haven’t had time. I’ve been… busy lately. (I call my Uncle Lars every night who responds, “Oh, we just watched TV.”)

She swatted an ant that was crawling up her leg. She let out a laugh, “That was huge!”

“I never knew ants could be that big!” I joke.

I was thinking of another question when she asked, “Have you seen my mom?”

I don’t let the sigh leave my chest. I know that I should tell her the truth, but what’s the point? I remember the lesson I learned at Miller’s Place, when the patients would ask the head nurse where their husbands and wives were. “I haven’t seen her around in a while. What does she look like? I’ll keep an eye out for her.”

“Oh, yeah okay.” She chooses her words painstakingly, fitting each into her narrative. She tells me how her father, a Portuguese butcher, left my great-grandmother when he found out she was older than him, how they sold produce on the side of the road, and how her mother would only smoke two cigarettes a day—once after breakfast and the other after dinner. The more she talks, the longer it takes for her to form her story. I let her struggle through it because I’ve never known much about her or her family. She never liked talking about her life, but she showed me the diaries and bundles of old envelopes she wrote in for most of her life.

I hardly recognized my dad walking down the hill. “Hey Mom.” He said, waving at her.

“Well, hi…” She nodded, trying to remember the name she gave him.

“Let’s go take your meds.”

“Oh, okay.” She struggled to get up from the bench, so I gave her my hand. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I whisper.

We begin the trek up the hill, stopping every five or six steps to let her catch her breath. As soon as we get to her cabin, my dad asks, “Do you know who this is?”

She looks up at me, “Well, no.”

“She’s your granddaughter.”

She looks up for the second time, “Oh!” She shines a smile up at me, and I smile down, trying to hold back my tears.

Margaret Chen, BFR Staff

In supplication the queen and king had knelt at the bottom of the steps, their foreheads pressed against the cold floor. But now their heads were lifted, their necks cranked back. The queen’s heavy crown sagged into her nest of dark hair, her face appearing all the more ashen. In the king’s arms, the baby shifted sleepily to the side. Below the statues of gods, the priest stood in his ivory robes between two columns of billowing curtains, as silent as the rest.

The frieze held for no longer than a second. Having no part in the prophesy, the queen moved first, extending her graceful arms to tear past the space between her and her husband, to grab at her child. The king turned away on instinct, and the queen collapsed at his feet, anchoring herself to his leg. Her sobs echoed the hallowed room.

Ceremonial blankets shrouded the baby’s young frame. The king parted the fabric where it covered the young, squirming creature’s face and then watched it with some morbid fascination, as one would stare at a fly caught in a web. The queen’s pleas he ignored, perhaps thought them to be a crow’s call. When she clawed at his thighs and gouged out flesh, he did not flinch.

Of course, the king looked and felt disgust at the existence of such a creature. Meat wrapped in bone, more liquid than bones—human children were such soft beings. One slip of the hand: one splotch on the ground. It would not be difficult to do, not at all—the man could feel his own grip slacken then, no doubt, to a point where he could not stop the child from falling even if he tried—give in, let temptation take him by the hand, let gravity guide it to its course—let this small sacrifice secure his own mortality—

The baby must have been feeling quite chilly at this point, because it cried. The wail stuttered at first, then lengthened, piercing through the infected air. It would be surprise, more than anything, that forced the king—clean, smooth-faced, and beardless; altogether shockingly young—to wind his large hands around the baby’s delicate waist. To hold the little thing, gently, against his own chest. To listen to the boy’s screaming declaration of his own life. To feel his son’s small chest flutter with his first intakes of the world. To continue himself of this little soul’s continued existence.

Then, gone.

Then, the queen rocking the baby to her chest clear against the other side of the room—mother and son, both, sobbing blindly. Her fingers shone, wet and red, and bloody little ovals dotted all over the baby’s blanket.

Shame battered the king to the floor; he sank into his pile of white robe. The corrugated curtains above them twisted and sashayed like the dresses of those mad maidens who lived their days in the ancient legends. Together, the humans in this house of the gods breathed, in and out, in and out.

Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff

            Robert,

                        Another day, another hundred errands. Could you please take Robbie to the beach? I’ve packed some snacks for you. For dinner I’m thinking pizza. Call for trouble. xoxoxoxoxo

                                                                                                Mathilde

*

Robert thought of paintings on the drive to the beach. The sunny day expressed every detail in his sight with loving focus. Robbie rolled his window up and down, stealing highway breezes that kicked up his hair. Another day, another Mathildeless venture. The hours and the errands she said she did didn’t match. Neither did her car’s odometer.

“Dad, are we gonna catch fish?”

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said.

Robbie started clapping his plastic shovel and bucket together. Robert let the hollow sounds soundtrack his thoughts. Would Amy be there? He’d told her last minute, but figured they were both used to it by now. Mathilde only smiled at Robert’s complaints about working on nonexistent work projects. As for “getting to this point,” he’d long since gotten over it.

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said again.

“Huh?” Robbie asked, but they were already pulling into the beach lot.

**

The woman walked up and down along the bottom of the sheer cliff face that overlooked the jetty. What was a jetty anyway?

We’ll be at the jetty, he said.

The what?

Just meet us—me—at the beach, near the cliffs.

Us. He was being sloppy again. She kicked away a spinachy pile of seaweed. Seagulls flew overhead, and she resolved that, if shat on, these meetings would stop. She found a small pool where she chased crabs with her finger. It was easy to disrupt them, or anything, really. Hell, she’d let him disrupt her life after a chance meeting at a coffee shop.

“Hello,” she finally heard.

She worked up a smile before looking at him.

“I’m not doing it here, in public, with your son here she said,” pointing to a small boy with a plastic bucket and shovel, running to the tide pools with his back toward them. “Lotta fucking nerve bringing him here.”

“I just wanted to see you, Amy,” he said. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“Well, you see me Robert,” she said. “Now, what can be helped?”

***

The starfish looked like his Mom’s jewelry. He liked to watch her put it on for big parties, a five-pointed sunset red necklace. He reached in the tide pool to pull the ocean gem out. Saltwater wetted and weighted his clothes, but the starfish felt as light as the paper masks he made at school. He couldn’t wait to show Dad.  They could take it home to Mom, who wasn’t really with him and Dad anymore except at dinner and maybe breakfast. Mom would love the starfish.

“I’m gonna take you home,” the boy whispered, stroking its five limbs. He ran back to where Dad was.

Dad had his arms around a lady. He’d seen Dad wrap his arms like that around Mom. The lady smiled, and now Dad kissed her. He did that with Mom too. He never saw Dad do that with anyone else. He clutched the starfish tighter. He didn’t know he walked to them until he was right next to them. The lady noticed first.

“Robert,” she said.

Dad quickly unwrapped himself from the lady and took a few steps back.

“Got a fish, buddy?”

Robbie nodded and held up the starfish. He touched his thumb to the center. He imagined a magic button on the starfish’s center, and when you pushed it the ocean would rise, higher and higher until it turned the world into a pool.

“It’s beautiful,” the lady said.

****

Mrs. Robertson noticed Robert and his boy pull up in their driveway while she watered her plants and went to say hello.

“Why, hello there, handsomes!” she said.

“Hi,” Robbie said without looking at her, and headed straight for the house. He threw a plastic shovel and bucket set on the grass.

“Hold on, buddy,” Robert said. “Hi Mrs. Robertson.”

“Robert, how are you? Father-son outing?”

“Yah, beach day today,” he said. Mrs. Robertson smiled at him. His face was red, and he kept tugging at his collar. He noticed he had missed a button on his shirt and fixed it. “Robbie found a starfish,” he said after some silence.

“I hope the next time I go to the beach I find one,” she said. “Take care.”

“You too.”

She thought of Robbie and Robert. They looked exactly like each other. But Robbie had Mathilde’s eyes and nose. The mother’s car wasn’t there. She’d be back later this evening, then, to cook dinner. Robert, Robbie and Mathilde sometimes ate dinner with the drapes open, and every now and then Mrs. Robertson would see them eating together.

What a lovely family, she thought, and continued to garden.

Elise Cox, BFR Staff

The world was churning, churning, churning. Not the real world, but the world in my mind. The world where things appeared a thousand times more grotesque than they really were, the world where every thought latched itself onto the previous one, until my every thought became one more bar in nightmarish prison of my mind.

My rapid inhalations made my teeth tingle and I wanted so badly to shut my eyes—tightly, tightly, tightly—but that would only accelerate the construction of the iron bars of my mental prison.

So many things to do, do, do. So many people to see, see, see. Places to go. Go, go, go. That’s what the blinking cursor on my blank Word document was cackling at me.

What did I have to say about the Mayans, when I hadn’t done the readings for this class for weeks, because I couldn’t keep my eyes open; when I hadn’t been to a lecture since the first week of classes because most days I couldn’t bear to get out of bed. Even if I had been a proper student, how could I possibly focus on the significance of Mayan culture in modern Mexican society if I had to do the dishes, walk the dog, polish my résumé, call my mother to ask how her chemo was going, going, going.

With every blink of the cursor, my thoughts churned faster, more powerfully, until they were a whirlpool of panic. I sighed shortly and slammed my laptop shut, holding my face in my hands. I was too exhausted to cry, so my shoulders shook and my throat rasped dry exhalations.

My roommate, Candace, looked up from her bed, where she was watching Netflix on her laptop. She pulled an earbud out, asking me what was up. I began to tell her about the churning, the prison, the Mayans, the dishes, the chemo.

“I’ll do the dishes,” she said placidly.

“It’s my day to do them.”

“So? I’ll do them.”

“You’ll do them.” Do them, do them. I bit my tongue to hold back the echoing utterances. So hard that I drew blood, blood, blood.

“Hey, um, John and me are going on the roof tonight. He’s supposed to be here in just a couple minutes, actually. Come with us.”

I protested—I couldn’t bear to third-wheel. I felt lonely enough, just being inside my own skin.

But John did come over just a couple minutes later, and he and Candace literally dragged me out onto the walkway outside our apartment. The crisp autumn air embrittled the iron bars of my mind and the whirlpool slowed a little. I was able to climb onto the roof by myself, tightly gripping the cool metal railings. The gravelly rooftop crunched satisfyingly under my Chuck Taylors. The faint, syrupy scent of weed mingled with the underwhelming dusty smell of autumn air. The night was quiet, save a siren wailing somewhere in the distance.

But the crunching, the smells, the quiet of the night—none of that stilled the ceaseless churning of my mind. It was the twinkling, twinkling, twinkling. Not of the stars above, but of the little amber dots as they blinked across the Bay Bridge. The cars were all kinds, I imagined—little Coopers, big semis. But from that rooftop, they all seemed so small and slow.
Small and slow. Small and slow. Small and slow.

Jenna Mohl, BFR Staff

Mr. John Crumpet and Mrs. Victoria Crumpet were in the middle of breakfast on a dreary Saturday morning. Mrs. Crumpet was regaling her husband with delightful tales of social scandal, while Mr. Crumpet read the paper, tugging on his whiskers whenever he read something that vexed him, which was often.

“And then she spilled wine all down the front of Mrs. Butterston’s white dress! Isn’t that quite shocking?”

“Hmmm…yes. Indeed, dear. Quite shocking” answered Mr. Crumpet, without looking up. “Damn idiots, the lot of them” he muttered under his breath, in response to a particularly offensive article.

Mrs. Crumpet smiled as she buttered a piece of toast. “I daresay she won’t be invited to another one of their parties, which is really no loss in my opinion. She’s terribly dull.”

“Indeed, dear.” Mr. Crumpet attempted to eat a bite of egg but, as he was not looking at the table, completely missed his plate. He let out of a hum of surprise when he raised the fork into his mouth and it yielded no delicious results.

Mrs. Crumpet, taking note of her husband’s inattention, watched him over the top of her teacup. She daintily wiped her mouth with her napkin, before saying, “It all has worked out quite splendidly actually. I didn’t invite her to our party next week and was beginning to feel rather bad about it.”

Mr. Crumpet nodded his head, muttered a few “indeeds”, and took a sip of tea.

However, suddenly he began to choke. Coughing, Mr. Crumpet put down his paper and sputtered, “What do you mean our party?”

But Mrs. Crumpet, who had become very interested in the appearance of a snag in her lovely lace tablecloth, was conveniently prevented from answering by the arrival of their maid, Matilda. Matilda had served Mrs. Crumpet for years and was utterly devoted to her.

“I have a letter for you, ma’am.”

“Oh, thank you, Matilda!” Mrs. Crumpet clapped her hands upon receiving it. “Look John!” She flashed the letter towards him in such a way that would have made it impossible for anybody to actually ‘look’. Mr. Crumpet, unfortunately, could not have looked even if he wanted to, as he was still choking on his tea.

Mrs. Crumpet took no notice of the hacking coming from the other end of the table. “It’s from Lady Garda!” She opened the seal and scanned the contents of the letter, with Matilda standing just behind her chair.

Mr. Crumpet, by this time having fully recovered from his coughing fit, ventured to try again, “What do you mean—” Mrs. Crumpet held up a finger as she continued to read and Matilda shot him a silencing look.

Incredible, thought Mr. Crumpet. I am to be subject to the glares of a servant! However, worried that Matilda might see his face and know his thoughts (for though Mr. Crumpet would never admit it, he harbored a fear of his wife’s maid), Mr. Crumpet lowered his gaze and focused on a piece of bacon.

Mrs. Crumpet finished the letter and placed it next to her plate. “What does it say, ma’am?” said Matilda, at the same time Mr. Crumpet demanded, “What party?”

Mrs. Crumpet ignored the query of the latter and said “Oh! It’s wonderful news, Matilda! Lady Garda is coming and she’s bringing her two nieces with her!”

Mr. Crumpet tried to follow. “Bringing them where? Here? When?”

Matilda shared in her mistress’s excitement. “Yes, but I’m afraid we shall be short on gentlemen then, ma’am.”

“Quite right, Matilda. Perhaps I could send an invitation to the…”

Mr. Crumpet’s mouth opened and closed, like that of a fish; he watched helplessly as the conversation (and his money, for, knowing his wife, it would be no small affair) flitted further and further away from him.

Finally, he slammed his hands down on the table and thundered “Victoria!”

Matilda and Mrs. Crumpet ceased their chatter. Mrs. Crumpet waved Matilda out of the room. As she closed the door, Matilda gave Mr. Crumpet a reproachful look.

“You should not shout so, dear. It’s bad for your health,” said Mrs. Crumpet, once they were alone.

Mr. Crumpet took a breath and with effort, lowered his voice and spoke very slowly. “Victoria, my sweet, what is going on at this house— our house— next week?”

Mrs. Crumpet laughed gaily, as though this were the most hilarious question in the world. “Why, we are having guests over for dinner and dancing.”

Mr. Crumpet gave his wife a look of utter indignation and began to tug at his whiskers. “Am I to find out this way about a social gathering in my own home? A mere after thought?”

Mrs. Crumpet rolled her eyes. “Oh don’t be silly, dear. I told you about it weeks ago.”

“You most certainly did not!”

“I most certainly did!” said Mrs. Crumpet, color rising to her cheeks.

Mr. Crumpet leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms with the utmost dignity. “I heard nothing of the sort.”

Mimicking his stature and air of nonchalance, Mrs. Crumpet raised her eyebrows. “Do your ears not work? I’ve heard that’s common as one gets older.” Mr. Crumpet, as his wife well knew, was incredibly sensitive about his age.

Taking the bait, his eyes widened and he sprang forward in his chair. “I beg your pardon, Madam!”

“I said—”

“I heard very well what you said!” said Mr. Crumpet, brandishing his piece of bacon.

“Do not take that tone with me, Mr. Crumpet!” said Mrs. Crumpet, who was also now leaning forward in her chair. “It is not my fault if your ears are defective!”

“Defective you say!” Mr. Crumpet suddenly stood up, as if he were addressing an angry crowd, rather than one person. “I’ll have you know that no human ever possessed a pair of ears superior to these!” As he spoke, Mr. Crumpet alternated between gesticulating wildly with his piece of bacon and pulling his ears out on the side of his head in a manner that brought to mind a monkey. “These ears are a masterpiece of creation!”

Mrs. Crumpet narrowed her eyes at this display and curling her lip, said “Well, if your hearing is an impeccable as you seem to believe, then you should recall my informing you about this party two weeks ago!”

With a vein pulsing in his forehead, Mr. Crumpet put his hand to his head and clenched his eyes shut. “Madam, if I listened to every single trivial thing you said, I should have no time to do anything else!”

There was complete silence for half a heart beat, then hysterical sobbing as Mrs. Crumpet threw herself, face down onto the sofa in the corner.

“You are cruel, John! So cruel—You don’t understand my pain: that my thoughts and impressions should be disregarded and scorned by the person I love most— it is almost too much to bear.”

Mr. Crumpet was dumbstruck, for he found himself confronted with the one-thing men fear above all else: a crying woman.

He hesitated before sitting down on the edge of the sofa. Knowing he should perform some act of comfort, he reached down to stroke Mrs. Crumpet’s hair. However upon noticing the intricate braids, he thought better of it. He tried again to pat her shoulder, but at the last moment remembered the bacon grease on his hands and wisely reasoned that getting bacon grease on his wife’s dress was unlikely to improve the situation.

Mr. Crumpet settled for awkwardly rubbing his wife’s arm with the back of his hand. “Darling, I apologize. I spoke in anger. You know I defer to your judgment in all things.”

Mrs. Crumpet, whose face was turned towards the couch, shook her head and sniffled. “I don’t believe you.”

Distraught, Mr. Crumpet entreated his wife again. “Truly darling. I love you and my sole reason for existence is to make you happy.”

At this incredibly romantic statement, Mrs. Crumpet sat up and kissed Mr. Crumpet on the cheek. “You are too good to me John. Thank you.”

Then, wiping her suspiciously dry eyes, Mrs. Crumpet leaped from the couch and sang out, “Matilda! I need your help with the guest list!”

Mr. Crumpet watched her go. He remained seated on the couch, with a look of utter bewilderment, which morphed into one of extreme concentration as he tried to figure out what had just happened.

Hannah Harrington, BFR Managing Editor

There were hors d’oeuvres to make, kids to feed, a pool to be cleaned. There was a husband to yell at, a party to plan, and a kitchen to scrub. How am I supposed to throw this party in this heat? Simone Selke took a long inhale, wiping a bead of sweat from her brow as she opened the kitchen window, trying to beckon a draft of cool breeze into her sauna of a home. She was exhausted from this weather, having spent the last night sleeplessly shifting positions to find the coolest spot on the bed. Her husband, radiating heat, had not helped her plight.

Her husband now fought the heat on the couch, legs up, dirty feet hanging over the side with a damp rag on his forehead, eyes gazing on the flat screen ahead. Their home team was losing.  Simone turned on the faucet in the kitchen, welcoming the cold water as she loudly clanked and scrubbed the dishes in the sink thoughtfully. She wondered where the kids had run off to, but the stillness of the heat forced her to stay at her station.

“Tom, could you go out and clean the pool, please? We have guests coming over soon,” she tried to sound as gentle as possible despite the red flush on her face.

“Honey, yeah, could you get me a glass of water? The Niner’s are down by seven,” Tom hadn’t looked up from the flat screen.

Simone took another long breath and walked out of the kitchen. She heard her children, finally, running up and down the staircase, giggling and chasing each other in tireless motion. Simone felt a drop of perspiration slowly crawl down her neck, and walked towards the front door, hoping for an outside oasis. She slowly turned the knob of the front door with great effort, listening to the hinges creak as it stubbornly allowed itself to be opened. Waiting, as if for a gust of air, she stood in the gateway, disappointed as she walked onto the shade of the front porch, greeted by a still stifling swelter.

Why didn’t I wear shoes out here? She thought, angry with herself as she looked at the blackness on her feet. Yet another thing I’ll have to clean up. She closed her eyes for a moment, wishing that she had hired a cleaning service to tidy the house before the party.

“I will just clean the pool myself,” she said in a voice loud enough for her husband to hear, and sauntered back into the house. The cool marble floor brought a second of relief to her feet, but it didn’t stop Simone from glaring at her husband as she gathered the nets, the telescoping pole, and the vacuum hose from the closet near the back door.

“Simone, they’re saying that the temperatures are record breaking today!” Tom happily informed her, oblivious to her frustration. He had switched the channels, at least. She ignored him, walking behind him to the front door.

Dreading the task ahead of her, she opened the sliding glass door and took a breath of humid air. She looked at the view of the valley past her home for a moment, taking in the beauty of the blue sky against the brown hills. Still looking in the distance, she set the net in the pool, mindlessly walking around its circular edges.

Suddenly, there was a tug at her net, causing her to look in the pool for the first time. There it was, a grizzly, rubbing the net in between its massive brown paws. Stupefied, Simone set the net down, backing away slowly as she watched the bear happily swim around.

Simone walked into the living room and stood at the front of the couch, her husband finally looking at her and smiling.

“Honey, call your boss, the party’s off.”