I dance in the car.
My thighs shimmy with injections of a pile-driving bass.
Chest pops out, head juts left, hips shift open, feet point and flex, press the pedal for fast, faster, faster—
It has been a long time, but my body remembers.
I’ve completed the route hundreds of times. The wheels know it well. They take me home while my veins swallow a fresh blood.
Jessica could care less that I haven’t taken off my coat and is pulling me toward the parade of My Little Ponies on the rug in the living room. All I want to do is check my e-mail. She leaps in a flourish of ruffly dress toward the plastic pastel mob and lands too close to her brother, who is trying to balance a red Matchbox car on Pinkie Pie’s back. He crashes into the ponies.
“Tom-MASS!” Jessica shakes her fists. Thomas wails. I can feel the resistance rise like a wall in my stomach.
“Good evening, children,” I say through gritted teeth.
“Play with me,” urges Jessica and tugs me down. She has this sticky, whiny voice that pierces my forehead like sinus pain. Before I can answer, she starts to hum.
“Let me just take off my coat.” This move should buy me five minutes.
“Okay,” Jessica replies distractedly.
I rub Thomas’s back a few times then leave him crying – he’s always crying – and return to the kitchen to fetch my laptop. Soundlessly, the balls of my feet spring me up the uncarpeted stairs. The Mac in the study has frozen on a website of kids’ games and it plays a jaunty team-like chant.
Preston won’t be home for an hour. The sheets are cold on the unmade bed.
I hear the faint, anxious scuffling of a son searching. Up goes the tempo of my heartbeat with the start-up beep of the machine.
“Mummy, where are you?”
Don’t follow me. Can’t I have one fucking millisecond to myself?
“I’M UPSTAIRS”—the growl bellows out of me, more harshly than I intend.
“I want…I want (garbled request).”
“I’ll be right there, Tommy!”
I log in. A waft of my husband’s musk drifts by, spicy and dank. I’m sitting on one of his undershirts.
I love you so much, but please, stay in your space…give me mine.
A reply message is waiting in the rich black font of possibility. The sender’s name piques a warm nostalgia that starts somewhere below and radiates outward through my nerves. My heart rate stretches, slows. I breathe.
“Mooooom,” it’s Jessica, now.
I open my link to the past. An airy sensation is fluttering in my system like a gasping moth set free from a pile of old sweaters.
Dear Tiny Dancer,
The words take me by the waist.
“CHRIST! WHAT IS IT?”
“I’m getting Tommy a Yoo-hoo.”
“No!” I picture her scaling the cabinets—plunging to a linoleum death because of a stupid drink box. “I’m coming!”
I take the stairs rapidly, hot anger pulsing in time with the clops of my dress heels against the wood, and stalk through the kitchen past Tommy with his seeping nose and cowlick.
“Here. Go on, play with Jessie.”
Before he hops away, he embraces my legs and spins around them.
I’m on my way up the stairs again and suddenly the cover of my open laptop nearly rams into my face.
“What are you doing?” I bark, and grasp the laptop on both sides.
“I want you to be with me,” Jessica says. “I’m bringing your computer downstairs so you can be with me.”
“Don’t ever touch Mommy’s computer!”
Jessica’s face crumples with injury. “You don’t like me!”
“That’s ridiculous,” I sneer. She looks sickly, washed in the blue-white glow of my message.
“If you don’t like me, you can throw me away!”
I pull at the PC. My heart fumbles over its own beats, now, drugging me with the rhythm of crazy. This must be what self-loathing feels like. “Give me the computer.”
Jessica yanks the computer toward her, blinking hazel tears. “Just put me in the garbage can!”
I used to have flawless balance. But when I try to repossess what she has taken away she loosens her grip and the force of my own abandon sends me reeling backward. My heels slide from the two steps I’m straddling.
My partner and I take graceful, extended flight.