Robert Edward Sullivan


Robert Edward Sullivan is from the Midwest (Iowa and Michigan) but now lives in Oregon. He holds an MFA from Portland State University. He has stories published by The Southeast Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, A Capella Zoo, Fiction Fix, The Northville Review, and others. He is currently working on a novel as well as a novel-in-stories.



Saturday morning Dad will make the choice—who gets to go with him to pick out a new bed, mattress, and whatever other random gloriousness IKEA has to offer. It's his special one-on-one trip with one of us four kids, to ask how's school, how's life, pretend things are hunky dory, and slowly replace our furniture. I'm the only girl in the family and I don’t know if that hurts or helps my chances. No one knows Dad's system of choosing; it's probably convoluted, intricate, possibly organized. We don't know why he chooses the eighty or so stale miles to get to a Swedish furniture store to have "quality" time.

I hope it's me. I need a mattress made out of marshmallows and puffy cotton clouds, mashed potatoes and grandma sweaters. One with more tightly coiled springs than all the stars in the universe. It's only the first few months into the school year and I don't want 9th grade to be a repeat of 8th grade. I need sleep, good sleep, so I can "imagine my success" as my counselor says on the rare occasions I talk to her. Just imagine it Abbie, that's all you really need to do. She probably believes it, has faith in her own bullshit, as if the imagination holds some sort of magic. She probably would've said that even before my mom killed herself.

There's cheering coming from downstairs, more hoots than hollers. My brothers are in the TV room watching Monday Night Football. I'm in Dad's room. The Seahawks must've scored or fumbled or something. Tyler, the senior, only watches for his fantasy football league; Josh, who is one grade ahead of me, watches because he says it's just like war; and Kyle, who just turned six, likes fierce birds and lime green. Dad is working late again, apparently. He comes home at odd hours, quiet, and smells like peaches and cigarettes.

I'm digging around the back of one of my dad's closets, which used to be my mom's closet. Still is mostly. Her clothes, all of which now fit me perfectly, even her bras. Her records. Her books that aren't on the family bookshelf. Boxes. Bags. I'm looking for one of her necklaces. It's the Star of David. My mother told me she used to be Jewish. Used to be. She never really said anything more about it and I never thought I could ask. I didn't know it was something you could choose. I've been looking for the necklace for thirty-three months and ten days.

I pause to listen. I'm hoping for fumbles, touchdowns, bullshit pass interference calls. Anything to tell if my brothers are still down there or not. They get weird when they see me in here.

I emerge from the closet and go over to my dad's bed. His room is cavernous and echo-y and you could fit like five king-size beds in here. Above his nightstand is a painting my mother did and it might be the last one she finished. It's a twisting, barren tree in the bright moonlight. I lean over to look at the blue in it.

More noise from the TV room. I open the top drawer of my dad's nightstand and find a shit-ton of condoms. I decide I'm done looking for now.


Later, I'm in my lumpy mashed potato bed that's full of rocks and marbles. Can't get comfortable, can't drift, there are too many swinging shadows in my room, too many dark corners, too much bloated emptiness. Tried humming myself to sleep, but no tune comes to mind. I am my mother's daughter, I suppose. She couldn't sleep either. Some nights I used to crawl out of bed and find her on the couch, not awake, but not asleep. Some nights I'd find her in her studio, just staring.

My mother was a painter, a former model, Just a few catalogs when I was young, she'd say. She listened to Billie Holiday, Joy Division, Morphine, and other moody things. She would unearth a record religiously from a crate and play it loud while she did the dishes. I liberate records from her closet and play them on the rare occasions I'm home alone. Dad gave me an iPod last year. He said we don’t need records anymore.

The sheets are strangling me and I throw them off and then beat the shit out of my pillow. I jump out of bed, and in the dark, I flip the mattress over for the third or fourth time this month. Tires me out. I hum low notes until I fall asleep.


In my dream, as with most of my dreams, I'm with my mother. Maybe they are rooted in memory, or maybe there's just nonsense neurons shitting all over my brain. In this one, I'm in her studio, now my room. She is painting.

Abigail, she says, I can't get this fucking color of blue right.

She steps back from this swirling, cloudy, blue dream-mess. Maybe it's an ocean. She is the perfect version of my mother. Fantasy-novel body, auburn hair so auburn it's twinkling. Her clothes look part rock and roll, part smoke and flannel.

It's more of blueberry blue, she says.

Gross, I say.

We both have a serious disdain for blueberries.

She turns to me and she has no face. As always.


I'm eating breakfast in our brown and orange kitchen. It's like a Thanksgiving explosion. Dad's work papers of crazy scribbles and numbers cover our gravy brown table. I won't sit on one of our turkey brown stools, but lean against the counter. Kyle stumbles in wearing his motorcycle pajamas. His hair is messy like the pile of clothes on the loveseat that I’ve yet to fold. I'm not sure his eyes are open.

"Is there any Life?" he says.

"Life is all around you. Live it up, Champ," I say.

He yawns. "What are you eating?"

"Steak and eggs, hold the steak and sub the eggs with oatmeal," I say.

"Who do you think Dad's going to choose? For IKEA?"

Kyle has never been on an IKEA trip. Although he did see the Space Needle with Dad, but he barely remembers that. He doesn't remember much of our mother, except what I tell him. He doesn't know about the tiny mole on her neck. Or that she had told everyone she quit smoking, but I'd see her in her bathrobe out on the back porch, smoking almost every morning. He doesn't know that she put sour cream in our mac and cheese, and that's where I got the idea.

"What do you want to eat?"

"Can I have popcorn for breakfast?"

"Sure," I say, and throw a bag in the microwave.

"Do you think Dad will pick me? I'm trying to imagine it, but I can't."

The kid can't keep still. He's the opposite of Tyler who sometimes will only move to turn the page of whatever he's reading. Kyle is bobbing his head. He gets up. Sits back down, hops up again, starts pacing, he wanders out to the hallway. I lean around the corner to check on him. He's staring at a photo on the wall. I know what photo he's staring at. I do the same thing each time I walk by it. It's a black and white photo of me smoking, but it isn't me. It's Mom.

Lately, people tell me I look like her.

You sure got her green eyes.

You talk with your hands just like her.

You totally have her nose, her ears, her sass.

Don't have her voice apparently, as I can't sing for shit. I can't paint as far as I know. I don’t think I'm going to play tennis any time soon and if I do, I'm sure I won't have "the serve from hell" as Dad says. I doubt I'll learn French, and I’m sure I'll never be able to make chocolate walnut cookies that could only be called divine.

I never believed the comparisons, not really. Not until I looked at that photo.

The microwave beeps. "Come eat your popcorn."

The refrigerator starts to hum, filling the silence while Kyle waits for his popcorn to cool.

Kyle doesn't know she hung herself. I don’t know why I went straight to the basement to look for her that day. I saw a kitchen stool, out of place in the basement, knocked over, and found her swaying gently, her whole face pale blue.

Kyle looks at his popcorn, says, "Can you put some milk on this?"


Dad's Tuesday night meeting was canceled or something. I found it odd that he had meetings at night anyway. He has a DVD from the library and throws it on the kitchen table. Josh and Kyle are watching me stir soup with my big wooden spoon.

"The Chosen?" I say, looking at the DVD. "Really?"

"Your mom loved the book," he says, but makes that face, like he just swore.

My eyebrows are somewhere up in my scalp. "Don't we own this?"

He doesn't answer and goes upstairs. The movie will play to a mostly empty room, like every movie. There aren't enough seats for all of us anyway.

Josh says, "Is that a Jewish movie?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I say, and he looks up toward Dad's room.

Josh snorts. "Whatever," he says, walking away.

"No whatever," I say, following him around the corner, to the hall. I'm holding my spoon like it's a torch. "What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"It's not like we're Jewish, Abbie."

I narrow my eyes at him.

"What? We're not. Dad said so," he says and turns around. I look over at that damn photo, where I'm smoking, and looking off. I go back to the kitchen and resume my stirring.

Kyle asks, "I know Mom used to be Jewish, but what does that even mean?"

"Is your room clean?" I ask.

"Was Dad ever Jewish?"

Dad would probably say he's somewhere between a failed Catholic and an atheist, if he said anything at all. If he talks about religion, he'd have to leave out why we only really have one set of grandparents. Not because Mom's parents live way the hell across the country in New York, but because they didn't want her marrying Dad, didn't approve of her modeling, her choice of schools, her art, and according to Mom, her.

"So, is your room clean or not?" I ask.

Kyle doesn't say anything, just blinks fast.

Dad comes down the stairs holding the tree painting from his room.

"I was thinking you should put this in your room," he says, holding it out like it's on fire.

"Why don't you want it in your room?"

"I'll put it by your dresser and you can decide where to hang it later."


Wednesday, 3 a.m. but still Tuesday night in my mind. I hear a voice, murmurs. I get out of my bed, crawl on the floor, thankful I vacuum every other day. The voice is coming from Dad's room and I feel, for whatever reason, this has something to do with who he's going to choose on Saturday for IKEA. I get close to the crack at the bottom of the door, the light spilling into the hallway.

"Yeah," I hear my dad say. Then again, "Yeah."

His breathing is rhythmic and sounds like it's coming out of his nose, like he's jogging.

"Mindy," he says.

Who in the fuck is Mindy?

I hear what sounds like someone slapping hamburger patties repeatedly. And then, a female's voice. A female voice that is not my mom's. One that turns into a female moan, also rhythmic. I realize all that breathing is, I guess, what two people do at three in the morning. I can't move.

Then Dad sighs. Big. I hear more murmurs. Footsteps. I hear something about using the bathroom. The bathroom that is right behind me.

I crawl in reverse all the way to my room, to Mom's old studio. The room I demanded be mine. Once in my bed, I bite my lip and taste iron in my mouth. I stare at the twisting tree painting leaning against my dresser. In the dark, it looks abstract and blurry. I hear the toilet flush.


Wednesday at school, after lunch, though I didn't eat again today. The only thing that sounds good is IKEA meatballs. It's the only meat I'll allow myself to eat. And I have a very specific craving for it as of late. I used to think my mom was the same way, until Tyler told me it was matzah balls she loved, not meatballs.

"Miss McKay," my teacher, Mr. Jefferies, says. I might've been napping or staring.


"The question I just asked you. The one we're waiting for. Is . . .?"

I can see all those ellipsis spilling out of his face. His grayish hair is not balding, but I can see the on-ramp. He's leaning forward, his glasses sliding ever so slowly down his nose.

"I don't know, actually," I say.

I really wish I had the answer, or at least knew the question. I had been trying to remember if I ever heard either my mom or my dad use each other's name. It was always Babe this and Baby that. Unless it was an argument and then it was her shouting Jerk this and Asshole that – which I found some strange comfort in, knowing it was far better than her silence. A silence that arrived in waves, an abstract thing of dark matter that no one could predict when it would crest, when it would ebb and recede.

I'm waiting for someone else to shoot their hand up and answer so I can go back to the window, to beyond, to deep space.

Mr. Jefferies has pointed his forehead directly at me, his eyes perched above his glasses.

"Shit, I don't know," I say. "How about the Declaration of Independence?"

The class erupts in laughter, and Mr. Jefferies frowns like his eyebrows are trying to hide in his nose. I look over at the board. Written on it is something about To the Lighthouse.

"Does anyone else know the answer?" he says.

My face is hot and soaked in battery acid.

Class ends.

"Miss McKay. A word. If you will."

My classmates' eyes lower and they shamble out of the room. I'm the third McKay kid to come through Mr. Jefferies' class. Josh had him last year. Tyler had him the year Mom killed herself.

"I'm worried," he says. He takes off his glasses, puts them back on. He knew my mom on the few occasions she subbed as an art teacher, even though she was never asked back after she made some kids cry with her Rothko rants and her swearing. "I'm worried that you might be unprepared for Monday's test."


"The one that's twenty percent of your grade?"

"Oh, the test," I say, making my voice go as low as it can. "I just need a new bed and maybe a good lamp. I'm getting them this weekend. I'll sleep better. I'll be able to read in bed."

There's another bell ringing. He looks at me, beyond me. His lips are pursed, but not like I'm in trouble.

"I'm sorry I said 'shit' earlier," I say. I don’t wait for his reply or any more words of worry asking me if "I'm okay" in that super serious, quiet voice that adults use. I walk backwards, slow motion, into the river of classmates rushing through the hall.


Dad won't be home for a few hours. The light is better in the living room and the couch is comfy, so I have constructed an intertwining nest of blankets, pillows, and an ancient Star Wars beach towel. Josh finds me in full nest mode.

"What are you doing?" he asks. I don't hear any venom in his voice. I don't look up. I don’t believe it, but I still hope that if I ignore him, he'll go away.

He says, "Are you making dinner, or is Dad? I'm hungry."

"If Dad doesn't bring something home, I'll make dinner."

"What time's he getting home?"

I look up after some silence. He's chewing on his lip. He sighs. I never know if my brother who used to be my co-conspirator, my co-pilot, my "co," is still in there. Or if it's only post-Mom Josh, who gets angry at me, who sighs at me.

"I'm trying to read," I say.

"You've been on the same page this whole time."

"Exactly. I can't read with all your escaping air."

"Here's some air for you." He sits on me and lets out a musty tuba fart.

"Fucking gross, Josh." I push him over. He's laughing.

"You have such a potty mouth."

"What the fuck do you want?"

My nest of blankets has fallen to the floor. He takes my book.

"Give it back."

He looks convincingly confused. "What am I supposed to give back?" He holds out the book. I reach for it. Miss. "Oh, this? Is this what I'm supposed to give back?"

"Just fucking give it back, Josh," I say.

"You got this off Mom's shelf, didn't you?"

I take a breath and he dives in and tickles me. I hate—hate—that it makes me laugh. That my body betrays me. I laugh out, "Please."

He drops the book and uses both hands to tickle me. My stomach, my armpits, my sides. I'm laughing hard. Both the quiet laughter, and the loud one. I breathe-laugh in, breathe-laugh out.

"Stop," I say, but I'm trapped. Laughing. The more I laugh the more he goes at it. My neck, my calves, my feet. His hands are dark spiders, and they miss ticklish spots but find equally sensitive ones. My chest, between my thighs. My body betrays me again. Jolts of pleasure I absolutely do not want. I am struggling for air.

So, I go to deep space. To the edge of the known universe, where time and matter are all whatever I make of them. To Josh and me building cities in the sand, Mom sitting with us, her tummy full of Kyle, while we waited for Tyler to get out of school. Not the Josh who looks perpetually confused and angry.

I knee him right in his crotch. Hard. He gurgles and coughs and plummets like a sack to the floor. It was a solid connection. All of my knee. All of his junk. He's coughing and rolling around.

Tyler comes into the room, jerking his head to the side to get the hair out of his face.

"What the heck's going on?"

"She," Josh spits, "kicked my balls."

"He . . ." I clench my fists.

"She was just sitting and staring at nothing." Josh moves to the couch, in fetal position.

"I was trying to read. He took my book."

Tyler grabs it off the floor. "Tropic of Cancer? Really, Abbie?"

"It's better than reading about fucking dragons all day."

"Dad's going to hear about this," he says as head snaps his hair again.

"Or fucking space ships."

"Abbie," he says.


"You look . . ." He grits his teeth. "You look terrible."

He swallows hard and walks away with my book.

Josh stands up, though hunched over.

"I hate you," he says. He plods out.

"I know," I whisper to an empty room.


Dinner is KFC, which means just mashed potatoes and coleslaw for me.

"Sorry, Abbie," my dad says. "I keep forgetting."

Kyle is trying to scoop up gravy with his fork. "Who ya going to pick to go to IKEA?"

I'm impressed with his nonchalance, even though his leg is shaking. He must've been thinking of when to ask that the whole day, saving it up.

"Not until Saturday morning," Dad says, grinning. I think if he didn't draw and drag these things out, we probably wouldn't care. I mean, it's not like kids usually get excited about couches and end tables and such. The choosing seems random at best. There might be points. Might have something to do with school, with grades, not arguing, not swearing, not making a mess. He says it's an opportunity to talk to him, just him. It's mostly silence the times I've gone.

"Abbie kicked me in the balls," Josh says. He must've been saving that up for the right moment, too. Dad looks at me.

"Yup," I say. "Sure did. More like a jab. A knee jab. He was misbehaving."

Josh says, "Just because you wear her clothes and read her books doesn't make—"

"That's enough," Dad says. "What were you doing, Josh?"

"What? Me?"

"Do you expect me to believe that Abbie just randomly kicked you in your balls?"

"Knee jab," I say.

"I was trying to make her laugh," he says. He tears off some meat and sinks into his chair.


Still Wednesday. 11:58.p.m. according to the clock, the blue digits illuminating my room. I crawl by each door. Josh and Kyle's lights are off but there is flickering light. Josh is probably playing Call of Duty or something and Kyle is pretending he's asleep but watching. Tyler's industrial fan is on, which means he's out cold.

I crawl by Dad's room, thankful no lights are on and I don't hear any harlots giggling. But there's light from the kitchen. I stand up at the pictures lining the walls, at the me-that's-not-me-smoking one. There hasn't been a photo added since Mom killed herself. I'm the only one that says that. That she killed herself. My brothers, if they say anything, act like something random fell from the sky and crushed her, like a piano, or she stepped in a hole. Something accidental. Something she didn't plan. Didn't choose. Dad refuses to say anything.

I walk into the kitchen. Dad leans over papers that cover the entire table.

"Go to bed, Abbie," he says without looking up or turning around.

He puts down his pen. I see the book I was reading amidst the piles. Tyler must've debriefed him while I was doing laundry earlier. I reach for it. He stops me.

"Abbie." He turns. His eyes are red and he takes me in. It's like I take all his breath when he looks at me, or like I'm stabbing him, like I'm twisting a dull blade back and forth. It physically hurts him to look at me.

"I was reading that."

"You're a little young for this one."

"Have you read it?"

He nods. "Yeah. Your mom liked . . ." He keeps nodding. "Yeah."

"I've already read half of it. So, I've already been corrupted or whatever."

"It's for adults."

"Oy, I'm not some dopey little kid. I've seen the word 'cunt' before, Dad."

"Jesus, Abbie," he says, shakes his head. Slow.

He pushes the hair out of my face. I can tell he's pleased it's growing back now and it's auburn again. Not watermelon pink.

"What?" I ask. "Do I still have gravy on my face? I know it probably wasn't vegetarian gravy. Is there such a thing?"

He does his smile-grimace. There are more lines on his face than I remember. I'm still twisting the blade, apparently.

"Will I lose points for this?" I ask. "Are there even points? Because I need a new bed. Maybe a new reading lamp. Possibly a new wooden spoon."

When Josh went last spring to get bookshelves and a coffee table, he ended up with this reading lamp that looked like it was made out of gummi bears. It's amazing. He doesn't even read.

"Go to bed," he says. He hands me the Miller book, and turns back to his papers.

I wait for a few beats, a few pauses, and then do what I'm told.

The sun is coming up when I fall asleep.


Thursday and I'm in the stars. I'm seeking out horizons and studying them. It's a drift day. I float through school, ignore questions and looks, concerns and ridicule. I ignore my brothers. I manage to take a bath in the upstairs bathroom without a single knock on the door, or without any rolling thunder of steps, or stampedes. I don't snoop around Dad's room, don't look for any of Mom's necklaces, or records, or clothes, or old grocery lists. My tongue is fat and I vomit up everything I try to eat. I plant myself in pages and look at words from left to right, shifting and tossing in my bed, trying to find comfort, the right amount of light. So, I keep drifting. Just seems easier to ride waves to deep space as much as I can. I wait for the day, the night, to pass over.


Once upon a time, there was a Friday, near the end of the day, when the sky turned cosmic orange, copper, and licorice red. My freshly bathed mother in her yellow Big Bird robe was arranging flowers in her studio. She lit bone-white candles that weren't pumpkin scented, or vanilla, or cranberry.

"What are you doing, Mom?" I asked, standing at the doorway. She nodded at me and I knew it was okay to enter.

"I'm lighting candles." She smiled. She looked tired

"I know that. I mean, why?"

"Because it's almost sundown."

She pushed her hair behind her ears. Her eyes were my eyes. Green fire.

"It's something I used to do every Friday when I was a kid," she said.

"Are you going to paint?"

She knelt down in front of me. "No work. Just rest until sundown tomorrow."

"Can Josh and I watch a movie?"

She held my chin, held my gaze, breathed deep. "Yes, Abigail, if you want."


I don't light any candles on this Friday, but it's dusk.

We're having dinner. Our talk starts off so small it might as well be grunts. Dinner is some poor attempt at lasagna that my dad bought. But before I even take a bite, he says, "I got a phone call today, Abbie."

"That's great Dad. Thanks for sharing." I'm trying to keep my Jenga piece of lasagna from toppling over.

"From school."

"Uh oh," Josh says, "Abbie messed up again."

"They said I need to come down on Monday after class for a meeting? Something about your grades? Sleeping in class? About swearing?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Don't talk to Dad like that," Tyler says.

Dad holds his hand out. "Is there something I should know about?"

"I got a little frustrated and I might've said shit, or fuck, or go to hell you cocksucking motherfucker. I honestly don't remember."

Kyle drops his fork. Tyler starts eating even faster. Josh is smiling.

"Go to your room," Dad says.

"Why?" I ask.

"Because your language—"

"You asked me if there's something you should know, and I told you what I might've said, what I might've been in trouble for. I wasn't calling you a cocksucker."

He takes a big, huge breath. My family, bags of air, the sigh-ers. He leans back in his chair and leans forward, puts his hands on his head, rubs his temples, and deflates. I don't wait for more deflating. I go to my room.

Before they finish eating, I turn my light off and pretend to sleep. Soon enough, I am.


I wake to the smell of bacon. Saturday morning. Sizzling and plates clanking, French Roast coffee, the microwave beeping.

My sheets are clinging to me. My skin has fused with them and it takes a good five or six seconds to peel them off. I'm raw, and pink, and newborn-ish. I get mostly dressed and tiptoe to the kitchen.

Josh sits up as soon as he sees me.

"Sorry about the other day, Abbie," he says, too loud and too formal.

"Sorry I had to knee jab your balls," I say. I yawn and sit down on the table, my legs swinging.

"Morning," my dad says. The plates are lined up on the counter. He plops some eggs down, all cafeteria style. He pulls out some fake bacon from the microwave, tosses it on my plate. Does the same thing with my brothers, except real bacon. Deals out toast like cards. Kyle is possibly still asleep, and yet he's squirming. Tyler is reading yet a different book with different swords and dragons, et cetera, on the front. Josh looks like he's praying to the bacon.

"Before you grab your plates and start eating," my dad says, stepping around the stove. My heart is knocking against my ribs. Kyle has perked up and his legs are bouncing. Tyler has closed his book on his finger. Josh is chewing his entire mouth. "I have an announcement."

Dad pauses. His pauses are the worst. They're dry, and solid, and stale, and time has been known to stop, as it has now.

In this pause, I try to focus, try to imagine my success, but instead I think of a moment when Mom tucked me in.

I was young, like four or five. Her necklace was dangling over me.

"What's that star?" I asked.

"The Star of David," she said, real whisper-like. Then smiled. Perfect smile like girls in catalogs have.

"Who's David?"

The concept of another male that wasn't one of my brothers or my dad was inexplicable. And that she'd be wearing a necklace of his was scary in an exciting way. Like there could be this whole other life, this whole other Mom that I didn't know about.

"Sometimes Abigail we make choices that . . ."

I kept watching the necklace.

"It's just something I used to—" She squinted. "It's just something I wear."

The pause is over.

"So," my dad says. "For the IKEA trip. I'm taking . . ." He looks at each of us. He is grinning. "I'm taking Tyler," he says.

"Fuck," I hear someone whisper. Me!

Everyone is staring at me.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck," I say, each one getting louder. My skin has melted off and someone just rubbed jalapeños all over my body, my eyes. Then I shout as loud as I possibly can, "Fuck!"

"Abbie," my Dad says, hands up bank robber style. Everyone is freeze frame frozen.

"I can't. Fucking. Sleep. She couldn't either. Don't you see that?"

Then I'm just screaming.

I grab my plate and toss it against the wall.

I take someone else's plate and do the same thing. Then again.

Then I'm kicking over chairs. Pushing over stools. Throwing papers from the table.

I run to my room, swiping the photos off the hallway wall.

I plunge through my door.

I pull my hair. Hard. I can't see. Everything is white and blurry and raw. Except that painting. It's bloated and the blue is grotesque.

"Abigail!" my dad shouts. Right in my ear. He wraps me up and holds me tight.

I turn into a puddle. An Abigail puddle. I have no bones.

He wraps me up tighter and I can hear humming. It's me. I'm humming. Like I used to do with Mom. When I'd come home from school and find her curled up on the couch in the same exact spot she had been when I had left. I'd nestle in next to her, wrap my arm around her and hum, and try and figure out how far away into deep space she was. And would she ride a wave back before anyone else saw her like that? Did she hear my voice? Maybe she did and that's when she would eventually smile. Next thing I knew, she became my mother again, said something like she wasn't getting enough sleep, asked about school, or have I seen the TV remote, or what should she make for dinner.

Dad rocks me back and forth as I hum.

He says, in a loud whisper, "My God, Abigail." He is choking on his words. He might be crying too, can't tell because it looks like the walls are crying, the carpet is crying, everything. He says, "I was going to say . . . Tyler, Josh, Abbie, Kyle. You . . . you all get to go."

My brothers huddle in and around.

"You okay, Abbie?" Tyler says, his voice cracking, the words thick in his mouth.

"I don't hate you," Josh whispers to me. "I don't." He is sniffling too.

Dad is saying he's sorry, about being gone so often, about how tough it must be, how he's doing a terrible terrible job with us. Something about being a team, about family, about sticking together, we'll get through this, all that stuff. I know what he's trying to say. Been almost three years since the first and only time he said it.

But I'm trying to imagine Mom. Just how far to the edge of deep space she went. Did she see the universe expanding into nothingness, did she know she could just choose to ride some wave to that edge, beyond it, and she didn't have to ebb back? Is that what she did?

And when the rope was around her neck, she had to know I would find her. Was she warning me? To know that the darkness is there, will be there, and I had better fucking be prepared. Better find a way to imagine myself out of it, in the ways she couldn't or wouldn't. Knowing that maybe I'd understand she was unable to cast back to earth, unable to imagine herself in the world, and unable to return to it?

Maybe it takes imagining to come back for real.

So with my father holding me and my brothers surrounding me, I try for now, for the moment, to ride the wave back. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe my life depends on it.

I take a heavy breath. I let the air fill every part of me. I imagine a belly full of meatballs, a test I'll at least pass, a necklace I will find and will wear every single God damn fucking day. And I imagine a mattress that will be like a lofty cloud, soft and infinite, one that enables me to sleep deep and long. Something that will feel pure and maybe a little bit holy.