(Julian’s on a small break this week, and that means I get to write the editor’s note - Fran) Sarah Pinkser’s award-winning short fiction asks readers to occupy multiple realities at once: past and present, the multiplicity of identity, the impact of humans on the world and vice versa. Her short story this week for The Sunday Morning Transport blends all of these at once, in the shape of a yard, in the face of an oncoming neighborhood association.
~ Fran Wilde, March 20, 2022.
Now Is the Time for Expansion and Growth
The neighborhood association marched at dawn. Emma had successfully avoided them for weeks, but she hadn’t expected a weekend assault during the ten minutes she’d allotted to drink her coffee and enjoy the May air.
“You have to admit your lawn has gotten a little—”
“Robust?” Emma suggested, backing toward the house.
“Unsightly,” said one woman.
“Unwelcoming,” said the other. “Your grass is too long. Front and back. If you can’t find time to mow, we’re going to start increasing the fines, or worse—”
Emma managed to close the door on the two neighbors her husband had started calling the “Propriety Sisters”; better not to hear what escalation they’d planned. Anyway, she had four minutes now to make breakfast for the kid.
“Okay, Walter,” she said to the smart display on the table. “Play local news.”
“Playing the local news,” the device said, powering on. They were in the middle of a story about some weird art installation that had appeared on the abandoned lot where the steel mill used to be. She didn’t really care about the content; she liked the voices keeping her company while she cut strawberries and mixed them in a bowl with milk and cereal.
As she turned to put the bowl on the table, she stepped on a Lego. This was a regular occurrence—every other inch of floor usually held a plastic booby trap. A two-stud brick met the soft arch of her foot, causing her to let fly with the breakfast she’d assembled for Amaya.
Her scream brought her husband running from upstairs and their six-year-old from the direction of the den. Alex assessed her foot-clutching hop and shifted from concern to situational understanding as smoothly and quickly as a Formula One driver. He at least bothered to grab the paper towel roll and collect the sodden Os from the floor.
“Are you okay, Mama?” asked Amaya. “Hey, that’s mine.”
The pain faded. Emma turned to Amaya, who’d had the decency to ask after her, kind of. “I’m okay. And yes, I know it’s yours. Can you please put these away before one of us hurts themselves for real? Probably me?”
Amaya shook her curly head. “I can’t, Mama. Now is the time for expansion and growth.”
Emma gave Alex a glance that said Did you think it was cute to teach her to say that? When Amaya first learned to speak, she’d often mimicked the end of their phrases. Alex had used it as a party trick, asking her, “When do you fill up your whole tank, when gas prices are going down or going up?” or “When’s the best time to buy stock, evening or morning?” and letting her repeat whatever he’d said last, to sound like a prodigy. Maybe he was throwing his internet financial theories at her to parrot again.
“Okay, baby. How about at least confining the expansion and growth to downstairs?” Emma put the offending brick in her daughter’s hand.