She was absorbed in an image. On the page it stood out starkly. Was it a symbol? Was it a sign? What did it say about the people that left it, scratched on a rock?

“Mommy!” the little girl yelled. “It’s all wet now.”

The little girl, playing not too far away had spilled milk all over her toys. 

“Oh sweetie!” she said, rushing over from her books, grabbing a dish towel. 

The interruption wasn’t unwelcome. She’d been absorbed in the material for some time, searching it for clues, validation, evidence. 

“Let’s clean up this mess,” she said. 

“Clean up the mess!” the little girl repeated enthusiastically. As soon as it was, the phone rang. She answered. 

“Hello,” she said. “Oh yes, of course. I’ll check. Thanks for letting me know.”

The text she’d requested was ready. The library had gotten better lately about making reference material available remotely, via modem on the World Wide Web. 

“Ok, sweetie,” she said, moving some toys onto a clean blanket. “Mom has to check out the computer.”

The little girl was mostly low maintenance, keeping herself busy, often talking to herself and her toys. She watched her mother move down the hall to the monitor. She always watched her movements. Sometimes she’d stare at her in a kind of awe or envy. 

When she arrived she sat down and flipped some switches. The computer annoyed her; he seemed to love it, spending hours testing its limits. 

Often, she didn’t know what she was doing and didn’t care. She kept clicking and hitting return until she got what she was looking for. The mumming of the modem started and then made the abrupt and grating sound that meant it connected. 

“You’ve got mail!” a mail voice said. She’d heard it before. But a box opened up with blue names, a colon, and messages. She wasn’t looking for this. It was his screen name, Laocoon. She’d rolled her eyes hard at that one when he told her that was his name on AOL. She didn’t recognize the other name. 

Achampagneglass: We have Friday afternoon meetings down there… I don’t usually go

Laocoon: It looked like it is a long meeting

Achampagneglass: I’m headed out. Were you still interested in hanging out? 

Laocoon: Yeah. Whatareyagonnado now?

Achampagneglass: I don’t know! I’m free as a bird! Ps, I drink way too much when I’m around you. What is that about do ya think…

Laocoon: Well I enjoy our time. I always think “we should do this more often.”

Achampagneglass: Lowered inhibitions helps some part of it. We like each other — sometimes you can’t get around that. Honestly even if she was ok with you being with other people, I would only see you as a very temporary thing before finding someone I wanted to be with long-term. 

But I already know she wouldn’t be ok with it. And I wouldn’t either, if I were her. 

Coffin is nailed shut.

Laocoon: I still would like to see you. 

Achampagneglass: So I can berate you about your moral compass? 🙂 ’cause I could do that all night long. 

Laocoon: I like what has happened between us. And I don’t want things to be weird. My intention is to ask you out next week with the expectation that you might say ‘no’

Achampagneglass: The only way I’d go out with you again is if you weren’t married or if she was ok with it. Neither of those things are going to happen. No dice. And I still can’t believe that other people you’ve been with haven’t been in my same moral position. It’s sad to me, especially knowing her and that she was hurt by you being with others. Terrible. 

Her heart was beating fast. Now she knew who this was on the other end of these messages. Everything else seemed to disappear. She kept reading those words:
“It’s sad to me, especially knowing her and that she was hurt by you being with others. Terrible.”

How the fuck did she let this happen? How could she have been so stupid to not see this unfolding right in front of her?

The little girl was on the floor, staring at her as she sat staring at the screen. She stared back. That lasted awhile. 

She stood up from the chair and walked past the little girl to the kitchen and opened a drawer. She pulled out the biggest knife she could find. She opened the cabinets full of dishes. She stood there for awhile looking at them, breathing hard. 

She reached up and grabbed a bowl. She looked at the window. She could hear the bowl hitting the glass. She could feel it shattering below. 

She looked at her little girl. Then she looked at the bowl. Then their eyes met again. She set the bowl down and went to the phone. 

“Hey,” she said after dialing and a voice said hello. “I need a favor. A big favor. Would you be able to baby sit for a few hours?” 

The voice responded. 

“Yes,” she said. “God. Thank you. In fifteen. Thank you! Bye.” 

She called in a favor. No explanation needed. She started packing some things for the baby sitter. 

The little girl was quietly setting up some blocks. 

“Mommy?” she said. “Am I going now?”

“Yes, honey,” she said. “Nanny is coming to get you for a bit.” 

She kneeled down and then picked her up. She looked at her face as she held her. 

“Some things are going to change, baby,” she said. “We’ll talk later. Right now you’ll be a good girl right, and go?’”

“I guess,” she said. 

“I need you,” she paused. “To work with me on this. We’re a team. Me and you. Okay?” 

She didn’t wait for an answer. The baby sitter arrived and the girl was bundled off. She looked back as she walked out the door. She had an childish look of admonition. 

“Don’t look at me like that!” she said. 

When the car was gone she went to the windows facing a yard down below. The yard was just off the first floor near their parking spot. She pulled the curtains open. 

She went to the boom box near by and put in a CD and dialed the volume to 10. 

I go crazy when I’m without you
What have I done today
Just sat and watched the jets fly over
A car goes by
And the sun goes down
We talk about the town

She unplugged the computer, monitor, and modem and walked them over to the window and pushed them out. They crashed into the grass below. 

Sue-Ellen looks so upset
This isn’t the first time
And it won’t be the last
Things going on behind her back
Oh they give you a heart attack

Next, she went to the closet and grabbed his clothes on hangers and sent them out the window. Next she emptied drawers. Then she started working on his books and papers. Then she sent toiletries and pictures out. 

Two old guys were sitting on the porch of the neighboring house. Each had a can of beer in hand.

“Looks like we’re getting a show with dinner tonight,” one said.

“Goddam I miss those days,” the other one said.

“I know, I know,” the other answered back.

He pulled up and parked as papers were fluttering down. 

“Oh fuck,” he said. “Jesus Christ.”

He jumped out of the car, as she came to the window with his Affe mit Schädel. 

“What the fuck are you doing?” he yelled up at her. 

“Cleaning house!” she yelled down. “Here’s your fucking monkey!”

The figurine barely missed his head and crashed through the driver’s side window of his car. 

“Have you lost your fucking mind?” he shouted. 

“No,” she said before closing the windows. “I just fucking found it!”

Weeks later, she said: “The guy was about middle-aged. All his things right there in his yard. No lie. We got real pissed and danced. In the driveway. Oh, my God. Don’t laugh. He played us these records. Look at this record-player. The old guy give it to us and all these crappy records. Will you look at this shit?”

Why Don’t You Dance?,” from Raymond Carver‘s, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love