Hilla wakes up to the clock radio howling romance ‘neath October skies, and it’s October, but she hears Ted close the door, a muted thud, then bumpity-bump when his bike helmet falls down the stairs. She shivers out of bed, closes his bedroom window, and wraps the blanket around herself tortilla-style. Before the teakettle whistles, there are more bumpity-bumps, these angry against the door. A man shouts about lease paperwork–something unfinished. Hilla ignores it, hoping he goes away. He does not. She grabs a t-shirt from the floor and last night’s ruined underpants, then cracks the door. You’re not the girl who’s usually here, the man says. His face tightens when he feels the foot in his mouth. Hilla watches him through the peephole as he hustles down the stairs. She does not drink the tea.
Hilla awakens to a voice bleating, “Laaaaa, la, la, la laaaaa” between blasts of the shadiest-sounding flute she’s heard in her young life. The bathroom steams from Ted’s shower though he’s nowhere in it. Hilla pictures different cheap suits on an ill-coiffed flautist as she soaps, rinses, and towels. The remnants of last night’s eye makeup won’t budge, and as she blacks another tissue, Hilla hears a voice. Creeping from the bathroom, hairbrush brandished high, she sees nobody. Ted, eternal anachronist, has an actual answering machine. Hilla catches a woman claiming to be Ted’s fiancée mid-ramble. My parents want to know if you’ll be coming for Thanksgiving, she asks. My sister wants to know about the redhead she saw you with on the blue line, and, um, so do I. The tea is not in the left-hand kitchen drawer where it belongs.
Hilla wakes from a dream of drowning in a lake; the water in the lake is tea and every fish a dagger-scaled lie singing, “When you come my heart will be waiting to make sure that you’re never alone.” She hears Ted drop a spoon in the sink and feels sudden warmth between her legs. Staggering into the kitchen with a washcloth wadded against her crotch, Hilla tells Ted the monthly visitor is a week early. He hunts down pair of training pants in the spare room, which turns out to be his son’s room. Ted has a son. Tigger prances across the diaper’s ass, but Hilla can wiggle it over her hips so she does. She wears it on the bus ride to her apartment, where an old man from the café downstairs blocks her door. Why the saggy drawers, he asks. You look like you’re wearing a diaper. That’s because I am, Hilla deadpans. Last night I shit the bed.
Betty Scott is a freelance writer and professional book nerd working in Oak Park, IL. She believes that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.