My sister-in-law Amy decided to take our offer and stay with us for a few nights. She told Jenna, my wife, that she’d been hearing noises coming from beneath her house. Strange noises, odd shuffling at all hours of the night. So she hired some experts to crawl under the foundation and lay traps to capture the pest. I imagined a raccoon. Maybe a stray cat. But Amy thinks it’s something you can’t control. She thinks it’s something unknowable, something from her past, something not held by borders. Amy’s always been that way. She lets her mind take control.
Jenna’s not her sister’s polar opposite, but almost. That’s the thing about families. Think of a tree. Each branch blossoms in spite of the other. Still, at a certain point, we grow more to escape ourselves than to escape one another.
Jenna holds my hand as we wait in my car for Amy’s flight to land. It’s getting dark. There’s a fine mist covering the windshield in tiny water droplets by the time Amy calls us to let us know she’s got her bags and ready to leave.
On the drive back from the airport, Amy updates us on their grandfather, a World War II veteran. They still laugh about how, one day when they were girls, he misspoke and said, “At the end of the world, all we found was scrap metal and people who kept their heads down.”
They think he meant to say “At the end of the war.” The more they talk about it though, the more I’m certain he knew what he was saying and meant it.
At a red light Amy leans forward in the backseat. She turns to me. I see the similarities between sisters. The light turns green and for some reason this color highlights how different they are. Amy asks, “Have you and Jenna talked more about kids? I think you’d be a great dad, Cam. I know she can’t wait to be a mommy.”
I look at my wife. She smiles politely at her sister then turns her head to look out the window. I can’t help but wonder if she’s told Amy about how hard we’ve tried to have kids.
The fog really sets in. Amy’s flight must’ve been the last one allowed to land. I don’t hear the familiar sounds of jet engines rolling overhead. Sometimes, especially after Jenna makes a remark about children, I can’t help but think of the end of the world. It’d be silent, like tonight. I think of the end of the world not because we’ve tried to get pregnant but can’t. Not because I don’t want to be a father. It’s not that, entirely. It’s more because I need to find the end of my world before I can start building a new one with her.
We keep driving. Eventually Amy gives up the questions.
When we get home, Jenna and Amy go inside and start a pot of coffee. I sit alone in the car for a little while. There’s a talk show playing softly in the dark. The mist covers the windshield in droplets again. I watch how eventually one orb gets so big it can’t contain itself and slips away, creating a clear boundary.
It’s happening more often now.
Jenna comes outside with my cup of coffee. I roll the window down. She says, “What are you doing out here?” I don’t know how to answer her. She nods and leans into me and tells me to come to bed soon. She makes me feel like the Earth will never end, and I don’t understand exactly why I feel like that’s a bad thing.
Sitting here, quiet and still, I can feel the Earth’s plates shift beneath us. Try it yourself. There’s this tiny shutter, almost imperceptible.
I listen to the neighborhood dogs bark. I know from the drone in the back of my mind that I won’t be sleeping for a while longer.
-Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.