So there was this woman named Marlie who lay awake at night, all night, because she hadn't slept alone in fifteen years. With John gone, the bed was oddly enough the emptiest part of the house. She stared at the ceiling for hours in the dark, her world spinning without him on the other side of the bed weighing the mattress down just enough to balance her while she slept.

The pastor had counseled them before marriage and now he counseled them through their divorce. This time they met with him separately, since the divorce was final and they were just going through custody proceedings. Marlie didn't know what John was telling him, but she kept back the darkest of her fears. Expressing her fears would have released them from the back of her mind, where she was keeping them trapped so they couldn't take over her life. Pastor suggested she keep a journal to find some release from the tide of worries she knew he knew were taking over her life. She bought a black journal at the bookstore. When the darkest thoughts threatened to escape, she banished them to her journal in bullet-point lists, like little bullets shooting holes in the life they'd built together.

After a few days, she separated the thoughts into lists. She had a list for money worries, a list for career worries, a list for friend worries, a list for worries about herself, a list for worries about Anna, and a list for what had gone wrong.

The last was the shortest. She had certainly not seen this coming, and as she looked back, the things that had finally driven them apart seemed small and few but were apparently monumental in effect. Just small differences that became gaping, yawning holes, canyons into which their love disappeared. They tried marriage counseling, and it made things worse. So they gave up. As simply as that and in a blaze of furious arguments and senseless accusations, they gave up.

When your life goes quiet after a fierce storm of trouble and strife, the calm is almost more deafening than the noise.

Weekends were definitely weird. She and Anna struggled to fill up their time, together alone. They found some volunteer activities to take up the odd Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The house became immaculately clean as Marlie worked to fill every minute with purpose and distraction. Anna signed up for more school activities, which was good since Marlie spent every afternoon looking for a better job. By the stipulations of the divorce, John would help, but Marlie very distinctly felt the pressure of being a "sole provider" for Anna and herself. Her money worry list was the longest.

"Mom, I need three dollars for the field trip today. I already packed my lunch."

Anna was walking out the door for school. She remembered just in time about the admissions fee for the visit to the museum with her history class after lunch.

Marlie looked over from the sink. Her hands were deep in suds, so she nodded over to her purse on the counter.

"Dig out my wallet and see if I have any cash in there."

Anna fished through the purse and pulled out the wallet.

"You have a dollar and some pennies."

"Hmm," Marlie said, wiping her hands dry on a towel. "Do you have any cash?"

"No," Anna said, "I gave my extra money to the missions offering at youth group on Wednesday."

Marlie laughed. "Maybe we could call the kids in Africa and see if they could refund you a couple of dollars."

Anna smiled, but looked at the clock. "So, do you have any more money? I can't go unless I have the admissions fee."

Marlie sighed. "Well, I can run to the ATM and bring you the money at school. Either that, or we can see what's hiding in the couch cushions."

"I vote for the couch," Anna said, dropping her bag and running to the living room.

Marlie followed and together they stripped the cushions from the couch and the loveseat. Anna shoved her hand deep into the folds of the couch.

"Found a quarter," she called out.

"I have two nickels," Marlie said, fishing a handful of stuff out of the loveseat. "And three skittles."

"Sorry about that," Anna said. "Hey, here's a dollar." She triumphantly pulled out a bill from the side of the couch. "'s ten dollars!"

"Good, because I'm not finding anything else," Marlie said, as her hand closed on a hard round object. She pulled it out and looked down at a black button.

"Can I keep the whole ten dollars?" Anna asked, "They might have a gift..."

She saw the look on her mom's face as she stared down at the button in her hand.


Marlie shook her head and came out of her trance. She smiled at Anna. "Sure, finders keepers."

"That's the button that came off Dad's shirt before he left, isn't it? The one you looked all over for."

Marlie nodded. "I guess I found it too late. Speaking of which, aren't you going to be late for school?"

"Probably," Anna said. She walked to her mom and gave her a hug.

Marlie held her tight. "Love you, sweetheart. Have fun today."

"San Francisco is the only option I have right now, Marlie."

John sat with his lawyer across the table, somber and firm. Marlie sat on her side of the table with her own lawyer, somber and crumbling inside.

The potential disaster of the situation spun inside her head. He had found a job, but it was in San Francisco. That was fine for him, but this meeting was supposed to be about settling custody of Anna. It was hard to set up shared custody of a kid if you lived two thousand miles apart.

After an hour of talking, debating and settling language, Marlie's lawyer summed it up very simply as:

"Anna will have to choose."

Marlie had absolutely no idea how to explain the situation to Anna. She was barely able to understand it herself. If John was going to set up a new life in San Francisco, Anna could choose, if she wanted, to go and live with him in California. Or she could stay with Marlie, a single mom

who as of this moment had few job prospects and $1.04 cents in her wallet.

Dinner was tacos.

Anna stood at the stove preparing a special black bean mash she'd learned to make in Spanish class. She chattered about the museum trip, in particular the fossil exhibit.

"They were excavated from fields all around the city. They think this whole place used to be a giant lake a hundred feet deep." Anna poured another few spoonfuls of salsa into the black beans and carefully stirred the mixture.

"Hmm!" Marlie responded absently.

She set bowls of lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and olives on the table. She was sure she had chopped too many condiments. It was impossible to plan the right amount of food for just the two of them. If she had to cook for only herself, she would probably end up eating leftovers for weeks at a time.

"And next year if I go on the field trip with the Junior class, we get to go out to the fossil beds and see if we can find some for ourselves."

Anna finished mashing the black beans.

"What bowl should I put this in?"

"Oh, just use the green bowl."

Anna wrinkled her nose and pulled down the green bowl, a misshapen piece of glass that was a horrendous bright green somewhere between olive and emerald. It had been passed down from a great-aunt who tried making pottery for awhile. She managed to produce a set of green bowls, which she graciously distributed to her favorite family members. Anna was convinced she had been color blind and possibly also partially senile. Not that she would ever mention that to her mom. Marlie seemed to have fond memories of this particular aunt, something to do with homemade baby dolls and trips to the zoo.

Anna scooped the beans into the bowl, plopped in the spoon and carried the dish to the table.

They sat across from one another. As they constructed their tacos, Anna finished her summary of the day's trip. Marlie listened absently to account after account of fossils, pioneer clothes and kitchens, old yearbooks, and the gift shop.

Anna displayed the bracelet she'd bought with her bounty from the couch hunt.

"It's the same style as the jewelry the Native Americans used to wear. Stacey bought one too and we're both going to wear them to the sleepover this weekend."

"What sleepover?" Marlie asked, suddenly attentive.

"The one I told you about last week. Stacey's dad is driving

the five of us to their cabin over by the lakes. I'll just need some money for on the way there and back."

"Anna, I don't know Stacey's family very well. I don't think I want you going out for an entire weekend with them."

"It's okay, Mom. It's Stacey, Heather, Betsy, Beth and me."

"Still, I think I'd rather you stayed home."


"No buts. I don't want you to go and that's it."

"Mom, I already told Stacey you said I could go."

"I don't remember saying that, but you can tell her I changed my mind."

"Mom, that doesn't make any sense!"

"I don't have to make sense. Nothing makes sense right now. I said I want you to stay home and that's it."

Anna descended into frustrated silence. Marlie, if forced to tell the truth, had no idea why she didn't want her to go. Something didn't feel right about it, and with no one else to talk to or make the decision with, she had to go by her own instinct. Even if it meant Anna was now stabbing her black bean taco with her fork like it was her mom's eyeball.

Can't go this weekend.


Mom says I can't.


Have no idea.

But I need you there! Beth drives me crazy!

Well I can't go.



Anna turned off her phone and set it on her nightstand. She rolled over and went to sleep, hugging her old bear tight into her chest.

Marlie sat up late into the night scrolling through job advertisements in the online classifieds. There wasn't one she was qualified for that paid more than minimum wage. She'd have to try the job placement place.

She fell asleep somewhere near four in the morning, her head resting on a stack of custody papers she was supposed to look over before the meeting the next day. She should have talked to Anna about it over dinner. Now, she would have explain the situation to her before she left for school.

Anna slipped carefully out of the house to meet the school bus. Marlie was still asleep at the computer desk, her face creased with paper marks from the stack of file folders under her head. Anna draped a blanket across her shoulders before she left.

"I'm sorry," Marlie said, slipping into her seat at the table.

She was thirty minutes late for the meeting, having woken up at the computer desk just before noon, drool smeared all over the papers. Both of her legs were asleep by the time she jolted awake and realized what time it was, and she collapsed on the floor when she tried to jump up and bolt for the door. Lying on the floor, waiting for her limbs to regain tingling feeling, she felt like a helpless animal, caught in a trap of someone else's design.

"Did you read through everything?" Marlie's lawyer asked her in a low voice.

Marlie nodded.

"We need to set a date to meet with Anna to discuss her decision," John's lawyer said.

John looked steadily at Marlie as the lawyers tossed the terms of the agreement back and forth. She couldn't decipher the expression on his face. It was as if the man

she'd known for so long had replaced every emotion he owned with a new, improved synthetic version designed to mystify and obfuscate.

She kept her gaze moving, from the lawyers, to John, to the view out the window, to the piles of paper in front of her. It wasn't until halfway through the meeting that she realized she'd forgotten to brush her teeth both last night and this morning. She wondered with a sudden morbid self-consciousness if her breath was wafting through the room, a stench offending everyone else's sensibilities.

"Has Anna given you an idea of when she would like to meet with us?" John's lawyer said, once the overall terms had been decided.

Marlie cleared her throat. "I haven't discussed it with her yet," she said.

John flinched, just slightly.

Marlie took the advantage and added, "I think this is something we should approach her with together."

John whispered to his lawyer.

"In the interest of time, since my client's move needs to take place within the next month, if you feel you would rather not be the one to explain the situation, Mrs. Marshall, my client would be willing to speak to Anna himself."

"No," Marlie said quickly, putting a hand on her lawyer's shoulder to stop him from replying. "I'll talk to her. I want to be the one to tell her."

John glanced down at his papers, then back up at Marlie. She sighed and gazed back at him. Words that would probably never be spoken drifted in the air between them.

Marlie sat on the couch, waiting for Anna to walk in the door.

The house was so quiet. Even when she used to be home alone, waiting for John to return from work and Anna to return from school, the house didn't ever feel so quiet and empty. It was a big house. Marlie realized with astonishment how big it was. By the terms of the divorce it was hers, free and clear since they'd paid off the mortgage two years before. Counting up, she owned almost a dozen and a half rooms in this house, from kitchen to living room to laundry room to three bedrooms and an office, plus other assorted nooks and crannies and spaces. It was hers, to clean and maintain and furnish and update. Her pulse quickened and her breath turned into shallow gasps as the enormity of the task overwhelmed her.

"I'm home...oh, hey Mom," Anna said, stopping short as she walked in the door and was confronted with Marlie, panic blanketing her face.

Marlie banished the panic and jumped up to greet Anna with a hug.

"Sit down, honey. How was your day?"

"Fine," Anna replied slowly, unsteadied by the awkward situation. She sat on the edge of the couch formally, like a visitor. Marlie sat back down in her spot and took a deep breath.

"I have to talk to you, sweetheart," Marlie began. In a few sentences she outlined the situation.

Anna felt and looked as if she'd been run over by a truck. She stared at the rug in the middle of the floor, her face a mask.

"I need to go to my room," she said suddenly. Anna jumped off the couch and practically ran from the room. A moment later, a door slammed.

Marlie stood up and walked slowly down the hall. She paused before Anna's room, listening.

"Anna," she said after a moment, tapping gently on the bedroom door. "Your dad wants to have dinner with you tonight, so he can talk about everything with you. He'll be here in half an hour."

There was a muffled response and Marlie assumed Anna had heard her.

John didn't come in when he arrived, just honked his horn. He used to do that before they were married, when he arrived to pick her up to go out. Marlie hadn't liked it then and she didn't like it now.

She stood up from the computer, where she was researching realtors. Houses in her neighborhood were going for a good price. She could afford to buy an apartment downtown for what she could sell the house for.

She imagined herself waking up and running downstairs to a coffee shop, just a few blocks down from some good job in a bank or big company. Cars honking, traffic rushing, the life of the city surrounding and enveloping her.

"Anna," she called down the hall, "Your dad's here."

Anna opened her bedroom door. She had put on a thick layer of makeup, but Marlie could still see the red in her eyes. She wanted to grab and hold her daughter tight, but all of a sudden she didn't know how to do that.

Anna came up the hall and stopped in front of Marlie. They stood eye to eye, each waiting for the other to speak. Marlie opened her mouth, hoping something that mattered would come out of it. Then Anna shifted her vision. The computer screen caught her eye. A listing for a house just a few houses down was displayed, the price proudly stamped across the top of the picture. Anna blinked once, confused, then looked back at her mom. John honked again.

"You'd better go," Marlie said. Anna backed away, then turned and left.

Marlie sat on the couch that night, leftover taco fillings piled into the green bowl to make a hodgepodge taco salad. She watched hour after hour of television, laughing and smirking with the characters on the screen, numbing the sensation of real life just outside of the flickering light.

Anna came back late, slamming the door as she stormed in. She rushed to the window to watch her father drive away.

Marlie bolted up from the couch. The leftovers of her dinner slipped from her lap to the floor, a few stray taco fillings from the bottom of the green glass scattering on the floor. She had slumped over asleep, the television still flickering at her as she draped across the cushions.

Marlie tried to clear the fog from her brain as Anna turned from the window and bolted toward the hallway and her bedroom.

"Anna," Marlie said, "Wait. What happened?"

She stood up, unsteady with jittery sleep still lodged in her bones. Anna's door slammed and when Marlie finally stumbled down the hall to stand outside of it, she knocked gently, tapping her open palm against the hard, unrelenting wood.

"Anna, tell me what he said. Are you okay?"

"Mom, I don't want to...just go back to your tv, okay? Let me be alone."

"Anna, please let me in. I need to..."

Marlie choked back a well of emotion that jumped into her throat. She held her palm against the door.

"Anna, I need to know what...Please open the door."

There was silence, just rustling and moving and thumps behind the locked door.



"Anna, let me in."

"Mom, I don't want to talk to you." "Anna, I need to know what he said."

"Leave me alone!"

"Anna, open the door!"


Marlie pounded on the door, open palm, slap, slap, slap, until her hand stung with a red pain. She stopped, her hand pressed into the door like if she gathered enough

energy she could transfer it into the door and shatter it into toothpicks.

She stopped. Then she turned and went to bed.

The door opened a crack as she moved down the hall. Anna watched with one eye as her mom disappeared into her bedroom to lay awake on her spinning bed.

Anna left early for the school bus, planning to wait at the corner and finish unnecessary homework until the bus arrived.

Marlie heard her door close and rushed out of her room, at a casual hurry, to catch Anna before she could bolt.

"Good morning," she said as Anna came by her down the hall.

Anna stopped and held the strap of her backpack across one shoulder. She hesitated.

"Good morning."

Anna made a move to slip past her mom.

"I have to go to school."

"Wait, Anna..."

Anna turned back.

Marlie searched for a reason to talk. "What do you have after school today?"

"Basketball practice."

"When is the next game?"

"Next weekend. We're playing Rigdon."

"Home or away?"


"Do I need to bring anything?"

"No, you don't need to do anything."

"I could bring some waters."

"I have to go to school, Mom."


Marlie stepped aside and Anna left for school.

Marlie followed her to the living room and watched her leave. The green bowl was still by the couch, crusty with taco fillings. Marlie picked it up and put it on the kitchen counter. She needed to get dressed and go to the job placement service and find a job and try to sell the house and sign the custody papers as soon as Anna decided and then she could start looking for apartments. She shuddered with a sudden cold chill and went to get dressed.

Marlie dropped her bag on the floor as she came back into the house. There were two possible openings, both with good pay but only temporary positions. She would take the first job and then try again in a few months for a better one.

She turned on the computer and went back to the real estate website. She was in the middle of a contact information form when Anna came in the house. Marlie

jumped as the door opened, then spun around quickly as Anna came in and shut the door behind her.

"How was your day?"

Anna shrugged.

Marlie stood up. "Basketball practice went okay?"

Anna shrugged, then opened her mouth to say something but no words came out.

"What is it?"

Anna took a deep breath. "Stacie really wants me to go tomorrow. Can you please talk to her Dad and see if maybe you think it will be okay?"

Marlie stiffened, her pulse quickened, her anger bit her.

"No, I already told you I don't want you to go."

Anna slumped and said bitterly, "Mom, that's stupid! You know Stacie and there's no reason to not let me go."

"I said you couldn't and that's my reason."

Anna threw down her backpack.

"Well, then, I guess you're stupid! I'm going to go!"

"No, you're not!"

"You can't keep me here!"

"I'm sure you don't even want to stay here!"

"You don't know anything!"

They circled one another, shouting and angry and holding back an even deeper anger that threatened to choke both of them. Anna circled over by the kitchen, Marlie circled into the living room, like two planets rotating.

"I know I am your mother and I have to make the rules here!"

"You don't have to do anything. You don't do anything!"

"I do what I need to do, and you need to obey me!"

"No, I don't!"

Anna was by the kitchen counter. The green bowl was there, crusty and ugly and stupid and pointless. Anna's hand brushed it and her anger shot through her heart and chest and arm into her fingerprints and surged into that ugly, malformed bowl. She grabbed it and held it up

and smashed it to the ground. It shattered into a million ugly, malformed, stupid pieces.

Anna stared at the bowl, glad it was dead.

Marlie stared at the bowl, blinking slowly.

"I hated that thing," she whispered.

Anna looked up, her face melting into surprise.

"You did?"

"It was so ugly."

"I know," Anna said, "I thought you loved it. I didn't know why, I couldn't understand why."

Marlie felt the giggle start deep inside, and it bubbled up until it dissipated the pain and anger and escaped through her heart. She shook her head.

"No. Aunt Erma must have been senile by the time she made it."

Anna was laughing, too, now, shaking with laughter.

"And completely blind," she said, tears coming into her eyes.

Marlie hugged herself, the laughter hurting her stomach.

"Everybody hated those bowls. But we kept them. I used it all the time hoping it would break."

"I was always so careful with it," Anna said, moving away from the glass and collapsing into a chair, shaking the chair with her laughs.

"And I dropped it every time I thought I could get away with it," Marlie said.

She collapsed back onto the couch, leaning back and letting the laughs take over until they died away.

When quiet took over again, Marlie looked over at Anna, who was sitting still and tired at the table.

"Thank you," Marlie said.

"I don't want to go to San Francisco," Anna said.

"I have to sell the house," Marlie said.

"I know."

"We'll get an apartment."

"I know."


Marlie leaned her head back against the couch and stared up at the ceiling. The silence in her head and in the room was bliss. Without pulling her gaze down from above, she said:

"You can go this weekend."

"I know," Anna said. "But that's okay. I'd rather stay."