Janey looks at herself in the large oval mirror stationed at the foot of the stairs as she prepares to go out the door. The angular features of her face, once beautiful, are now drawn tightly, angrily back, aging her well beyond her twenty years.
Empty, bloodshot eyes demand answers that she does not have. She examines her nose and inhales sharply, applying foundation to the telltale redness that has developed underneath. Her pale skin rejects the concealment, the foundation drawing more attention to it than before, so she wipes it off on the sleeve of her sweatshirt.
Her hair is oily, she meant to wash it today but there is no time for that now. She pulls it back into a ponytail that cascades midway down her back in a straight sheet of flaxen gold.
The foyer is dimly lit by a weathered chandelier dangling high above her from the vaulted first floor ceiling, a ceiling speckled by flaking paint. A narrow stairway to the right is set against the wall and leads to the second floor, with an identical stairway above leading to the third. Both are in desperate need of repair, but this bottom one has started to pull away from the wall, slipping to the left bit by bit.
She grabs a light jacket from the coat tree and has her umbrella in hand just as Nana Audrey comes charging in with Janey's little brothers - twelve-year-old Michael and eight-year-old Dennis – bringing the wind gusting in behind them.
Low tide. Only the faintest trace of it makes its way up the hill on either very humid or very windy days, but it is unmistakable. The smell is both comforting and nauseating, with trash, moss, rats, and only God knows what else lurking beneath, contrasted with the smell of the sea salt that is at once distant and familiar, reminding her of something far away.
The boys push past Janey as they run ahead of Audrey. Each boy is carrying four bags and knocking the other into the walls forcefully as they race toward the hall leading to the kitchen. Neither allows the other to advance and they settle for squeezing down the narrow passageway side by side, elbows flying.
“Hey, careful! You make another hole in these walls . . .” Janey’s words are lost beneath Audrey’s.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Dip and Shit – enough!” Audrey hollers after them.
The boys calm down a bit as they explode into the kitchen and Janey can hear bags rustling, their contents spilling to the floor as the boys tear through them in desperate competition to put everything away quickly, find the bulkie rolls and cold-cuts and make quick sandwiches before settling down in front of the t.v. to watch Ripley's Believe It Or Not.
Though he has four years on his little brother, Michael is neither significantly taller nor significantly more mature than Dennis. He is a sweet boy subject to more than his fair share of teasing. Born premature, Michael never seems to catch up. Dark hair, dark eyes, and an ability to withdraw into himself when the going gets tough allows him to pretty much disappear when he feels like it. This is a quality Janey envies at times.
Younger brother Dennis is the wise guy - only eight but ready to take on the world, particularly when the world involves Michael. Blue-green eyes, dirty blond hair and a rugged look that gives older boys pause, he is the spitting image of Janey, masculinized. Quick with his words as well as his fists, he is still a child most of the time, and a mini misguided adult during the rest.
“Grab a bag!” Audrey shouts at her granddaughter as she huffs passed her toward the kitchen carrying three bags herself. A plastic rain bonnet is tied neatly under her chin. Though the rain hasn't started there was wind to contend with. Audrey is solidly built with powerful arms and legs made more so from years of manual labor. Her skin is extremely tan, distressingly so to her doctor who is constantly warning her that the years of overexposure will catch up with her sooner or later. Audrey dismisses this every summer though as she sits out with the neighbors at the Bunker Hill pool, rubbing baby oil on her self-bronzed skin. “I’ll sit in the goddamned sun till they put me in a box, how’s that?” And she’s a smoker on top of it, her raspy voice making harsh words harsher.
“Jesus, Nana!” Janey says, blocking Audrey’s passage and attempting to take the bags from the sixty-eight year old woman. “Trying to give yourself a heart attack?”
Audrey stops for a second to yank the bags back, looking closely at Janey’s face. Does she know? Janey turns away, ashamed.
“Where you off to?” Audrey barks, eyes hard and penetrating.
“To see Dad.” Janey replies weakly. “It’s Father’s Day so I –“
“ – Right, better get going then, huh?” She snaps, finally taking her eyes off of her granddaughter and moving quickly down the hall without turning back.
“Hey, I wanna go see Dad too!” Dennis says excitedly, pleadingly to his grandmother.
“No.” Janey hears Audrey say with finality as she walks out the door. “A prison is no place for kids. You’ll see your father when he gets out next month.”
Read more by clicking over to Wattpad. It's free. Relax.