pages Chosen

by Jennifer Ruden

Published in Issue No. 165 ~ February, 2011

Maureen was watering her lilac bushes when my garage door rumbled open.

“You got a look about you today,” she said.

“What of it?” I answered, rocketing past her.

It didn’t matter. She would be over in an hour because that’s how Maureen is. She’d call Shana and Elizabeth. Make a production. Then she’d bake something sweet, saying, “I just threw it together,” and we’d all eat it even though we shouldn’t. I’d need more alcohol than I’d thought.

People think you live in a house that looks identical to the one next to it, only their grout is mushroom and yours is sandstorm, you think they’ll get on famously. I can come crawling up a porch step in the dead of night, screaming, “My baby’s sick,” or “my husband’s left me,” and you assume they would open the door. Make me coffee. Wrap a blanket around my shoulders.

Not even.

Neighborhoods are tied together by some tenuous thread I don’t know the word for. Only I know the word’s not friendship. Something like reciprocity. Maybe shame.

This is the third time in four months I called out from work. Maureen noticed first because she always does. My car parked tortuously in the driveway. The kids no where to be seen. A back door gaping open. She called over, wanted to know if everything was all right.

“Everything’s fine,” I said, because I got the ball rolling last January. “I just don’t feel like going into work.”

She sighed triumphantly. “Imagine that,” she said. “Neither do I.”

Today, after dropping off the kids, I put the case of beer and three boxes of wine in the garage. It is Spring , a Spring day so deep you feel your bones budding. Birds cheeping, bees quivering intimately over the heads of tulips, wind snaking its way between the gutters. I feel like pulling every single thing out of my refrigerator and sudsing the shelves. Picking off the crusted peanut butter with a knife. I could positively scrape chewing gum from my sidewalk. But I won’t. I never do. Maureen will be here in twenty minutes with this cake stuffed with fresh berries and almond icing so thick you can stab it with a fork. I don’t want to see her, or hear how her husband grunts half-heartedly when he fucks her. But she brings the cake. Shana and Elizabeth bring donuts. I don’t know if Tyler will come, but last time he brought drugs. Then he got all weepy and told us how he smokes before work just to make it interesting. He smokes a joint before he gets home, too. For the same reason.

Then Shana will disclose what a whore she used to be before she got fat and Elizabeth will persuade us into believing she isn’t queer. I don’t say anything. I don’t need to because they all know my secret. I’m the one who gets this warm thing that starts in my feet the night before. Who can’t sleep. I’m the one with the voice in my head that says, “Listen. If you have to pick up those kids or check the mail or go to work, you know what will happen? You will explode. Fucking boom.”

By noon we are wasted and the music thumps and Maureen’s cake is gutted in the center of my dining room table. I am tempted to tell my neighbors to go home, to let me have my house for just one minute, a sliver of time before I straighten up, toss the cake in the trashcan above the cigarette butts, open the windows and plug in the air freshener. Only as soon as I’m about to, my doorbell rings. We all freeze. My wine, still moving in its glass, sloshes over. The doorbell? This has never happened. Shana looks through the peephole, glances back at us. She smiles skillfully and opens my door.

I can tell by the blonde hair, can tell within seconds as could Shana, Maureen, Elizabeth as well as Tyler that it’s the Mormon. He rides his bike around our block and has been for a few months. When my husband first saw him he said, “They have no say in where they are sent, you know,” as if that would explain how someone would wind up in this dusty square state known only for wind. “It could be his punishment,” he continued, tapping the garage door opener on the visor. “Don’t ever let him in.” Since then the Mormon’s been circling our streets, a Bible in his bike’s basket, his narrow tie twisted around his neck, unfurling down his shoulder like something alive.

“I am glad you are home,” he says, “because often mothers are happiest there.” We all laugh-only Tyler laughs harder. “Now tell me ladies,” he says, swatting a bee that hovers near his ear. “Would you like to invite Jesus into your hearts?” His tie lifts up in a spring breeze and settles again. “Because first you need to invite Him into your home.” He glances around my house: the diamond-cut tiles in my foyer, the staircase twisting upwards, photographs lining the hallway. “I can tell you have Jesus in your heart already.”

A breeze pushes his yellow hair skyward. He pats it down. He is likely not used to the wind yet-you can see it makes him nervous. Pamphlets in his bike’s basket rustle. He turns back and stares at them. The wind quickens. He pivots towards us, as if to continue with his harangue, only before he begins, he looks back to his bike where the literature swishes dangerously. Again his eyes fall to us, to me. Does he save the pamphlets, he wonders. Or me?

I like how he thinks it’s a possibility. That I am worth saving. I crawl beneath Shana’s arm, readying myself to run out into the thick air heavy with the stench of dryer sheets, run towards his bike, steady his literature before it spirals in the breeze. Only it’s too late. Before my feet even cross the threshold, the papers are carried away, scattered like confetti, and twirled artfully before settling along the concrete. He shrugs, inches closer to the door. He could be sixteen. Seventeen, tops.

“Are you the lady of the house?” He regards my bare feet, the cake icing on my shirt. “Would you like to invite Jesus into your home?”

“Of course,” I say, tugging his tie. “Bring Him in.””

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Jennifer Ruden has published in Nerve, Word Riot, Puerto del Sol, Literary Mama, Amarillo Bay, Eclectica and a few others here and there. She just finished a novel and is listening patiently as her first readers tear it to shreds. She writes in Albuquerque when her husband and their two children are napping. Unfettered praise can be mailed to Criticism can be sent to