Tracy Brommner excerpt of Picket Fences Feb 20th


The little pink envelope was still at the bottom of the pile.  Just the corner of it was visible, but it caught her eye just the same.  It shouldn’t bother her, at least not like the bills in the pile-how many today?  She traced her fingertips over her forehead and then rubbed her way to the back of her neck, where all of today’s tension had come to rest.
Visa.  She definitely remembered seeing the Visa bill.  And she thought the house payment was in there.  That alone could cause a heart attack.  Two magazine subscriptions about to run out; those long white envelopes screamed “LAST CHANCE TO RENEW!” like Malin and Phil were going to hightail their asses to the post office, checks in hand, to make sure they didn’t miss a minute of…Hell, she didn’t even know what the magazines were.
Who had time to read magazines?
And still, it was the little pink envelope that nagged at her.  Before she realized she’d moved, she saw her hand reach for the mail.  Her long fingers brushed the rest of the mail out of the way.  She stood for a minute, with her fingers-square cut French manicured tips-resting on the envelope.
The pink one.
She’d glanced at it earlier, when she’d first come home and taken the mail from the box at the end of the driveway.  She’d been leafing through the envelopes, and she’d just seen the pink one, and then she’d heard Phil shouting at her and a kid screaming and though she’d been a mom for fifteen years, the scream sent her into overdrive. She’d run toward the sound and thrown the pile of mail on the step in the garage as she passed through.
The envelope-the pink one-had almost fallen behind the step, but Malin hadn’t paid any attention to it then.  She’d dropped her purse and keys there beside the mail and run through the garage to the backyard, where she’d found Cole spilled on the ground, screaming and cradling his arm, and Sammie, high on up on the deck, watching Cole and crying.
Phil knelt beside Cole.  He glanced up at her, and in that brief glance she saw so much.  A flash of relief that she was home, worry over Cole and fear for two year old Sammie up on the deck by herself.
“What happened?” She asked as she dropped to her knees beside Cole and Phil.
“Nosedive from the deck,” Phil answered.  “Hit the ground two seconds before I heard you out front.”
“Nosedive from the-?” Malin shook her head.  There was no point in questioning Cole.  The child was ninety percent dare devil, five percent brilliant, and five percent crazy.  His latest obsession was flying.  Eight-year old Cole was bound and determined to find a way for humans to fly.
“Can you get Sammie?” Phil mumbled.  “I’m afraid she’s gonna figure out how to climb up there and dive off after Cole.”
Malin started to get up.  She glanced over her shoulder to see her baby alone on the deck, crying now ratcheted up to screaming in terror.
“Yeah,” Malin answered Phil.  “Yeah.  I’ll get her.  Cole, are you okay, buddy?”
Cole’s cries had subsided now to whimpers.  He pried his eyes open to look at her.  The big brown eyes reminded her of her older son, Ryan, so much so that she had to remind herself this was Cole.  Dare-devil Cole.  Complete three sixty from Ryan.
“Mommy’s coming, Sammie,” she called.  Sammie cried louder, only this time Malin could hear her saying Mommy.
“We’re going to the ER,” Phil mumbled.  Malin let her eyes travel to the arm Cole still cradled. 
“Mm-hmm.” Phil nodded.  “I’m gonna pick you up, Cole.  Okay?”
Cole gritted his teeth and nodded.
“Want me to go with you?”
“No.” Phil was distracted as he carefully stood with Cole in his arms.  “Just get Sammie settled down.  Please?  I’m sure we broke something here, but we’ll be fine.”
Malin tilted her head when Phil stepped closer to kiss her goodbye.  She watched him go, thinking that she really should go along.  Cole might be a dare devil, but he was still her little boy.  Okay, not that little, but still.  She was used to holding his hand at the dentist’s office and bribing him with Happy Meals or whatever it took to go to the doctor for his immunizations.  It felt wrong to stand by and let Phil handle this.
She snapped out of her thoughts when she heard the Pilot start.  Sammie was still screaming; in fact, she’d shot up a few decibels and probably the neighbors were wondering what the hell Malin was doing frozen in the backyard while Sammie cried bloody murder on the deck.
When she’d come back through the garage, she’d grabbed her purse and her keys and the mail-funny that she’d actually noticed the little pink envelope that had fallen just a bit behind the step-and hurried inside.  Sammie was hot and sticky with tears and snot and sweat when Malin picked her up.  She hadn’t wanted to be consoled, either. 
She’d fought as Malin tried to soothe her by rubbing her back and washing her face and offering her a treat.  Malin held her a few moments longer, after offering Sammie a treat, and then she’d put Sammie in her highchair and given her a sugar-free cherry popsicle.  From the highchair directly to the bathtub, where Malin had washed the snot and tears and popsicle away. 
Sammie had finally settled into small hiccups, but once out of the bathtub, she was clingy.  Malin wondered if Sammie had seen the whole thing: her big brother climbing up on the rail of the deck and jumping, thinking he was going to fly.  If that’s what he’d done.  She figured it was something on that order, although she’d seen no homemade wings or anything in the yard.
She rocked Sammie to sleep, laid her down with that ever so careful slow motion that all moms are familiar with, lest she accidentally jerk and wake her.  She watched her baby for a moment, amazed at Sammie’s sparse blonde hair and big blue eyes.  She and Phil both had dark hair and dark eyes.  Then again, Ryan’s hair had been blonde when he was little; it had darkened as he got older.
After a quick shower-she wasn’t sure if she felt covered in Sammie’s mess or just needed a hot, steamy shower to jolt her awake-Malin had cleaned the kitchen.  It had been a guys’ night, and Phil and Cole had apparently eaten pizza.  She wondered where Ryan was, but figuring he was at Tucker’s house, she wasn’t concerned.
With Sammie down for the night and the guys’ dishes washed and put away, Malin had settled in the recliner, turned the TV on and picked up her book.  There was nothing speedy about the ER, so she figured Phil and Cole would be a while.  Tango, their longhaired dachshund, jumped up into her chair beside her, and they waited.
Ryan had called and asked if he could see a movie with Tucker, if Tucker’s mom brought him home after.  Malin had readily agreed, not just because Tucker was like another son to her, and, therefore, she knew his parents really well, but really because she was too damned tired to argue with him.
She’d read several chapters in her Stephen King book when Phil and Cole finally came home.  It was after ten; Phil looked frazzled; Cole looked pathetic-he was pale, which only accentuated the dark circles under his eyes, and he had a cast from his left hand up to his elbow.  Malin folded the recliner, stood, and almost tripped over Tango as she made her way to the kitchen to get the scoop.
“Sammie settle down?” Phil asked as he pulled his black Nike golf hat off and tossed it on the island counter.  Malin allowed herself a tiny smile.  Phil loved the boys dearly, but Sammie was his girl.  Only two, and she already had him wrapped around her little finger.
“She’s fine.” Malin nodded.  “She’s sleeping.”
She folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the counter.  “What’s the verdict?”
“Human beings don’t fly.” Phil dragged his fingers back through his curly dark hair.  Malin made a mental note to make sure he had a haircut on the horizon.  “That’s what airplanes are for.”
“Obviously.” She rolled her eyes and looked at Cole.  “Remember that.  Please.”
“Broken wrist.”
Malin winced.
“The ulna,” Phil added.  “Apparently when Evil Knievel went down, he caught himself on that hand.  Cast for four to six weeks.  Depends on how it heals.”
“Peachy,” Malin groaned.  School would be starting in just over a week. 
“Evil Knievel rode a motorcycle,” Cole corrected Phil.  “He didn’t fly.”
“No one flies, dude,” Phil answered.  He yanked open the refrigerator and peered inside, apparently hoping something would appeal to him.  Finding nothing that interested him, he closed the door and looked back at Cole.  “That’s kinda the point.”
Cole rolled his eyes and then turned to look at Malin.  “Can I have a motorcycle?”
“Over my dead body,” she answered.  “To bed with you.  March.”
“Cole Michael.” She pointed a finger at him.  “I said to bed.  Now.”
“Aw, Mom,” he groaned, but he turned and ambled slowly out of the kitchen and down the hallway.
“I need a shower,” Phil mumbled.  “Wasn’t sure if I was at Walmart or the ER waiting room.”
Malin snorted.  “That’s not nice.”
“Oh, the people you see.” He raised his eyebrows.  “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“A regular beauty queen, I’m sure,” Malin agreed, tucking a bit of still damp hair behind her ear.
Phil edged closer and put his arms around her.  She leaned her head on his chest.
“You smell good,” he said quietly.  “We got outta there just in time.  I think there was a fight brewing.”
Phil backed up and leaned on the island counter opposite Malin.
“At the hospital?”
He nodded.\
“Like what?  Interns and doctors?  Two chick nurses fighting over a hunky doctor?”
“Mm.” Phil shook his head.  “That mighta been sexy.  No, it was three guys.  All grimy and tattooed and one of them was hyped up on drugs, I’d bet.”
“Tattoos don’t mean anything,” Malin mumbled automatically.  Phil laughed. 
“Maybe not, but I think Sophie’s might mean something.” He flashed Malin a grin.  “Shower.”
She’d watched him walk away and her mind had wandered back over Sophie Gagnon and the tattoo on her lower back.  Who the hell would have a tiara tattooed just above her ass?  Malin shook her head.
And that’s when she’d seen it again. 
The envelope.
The little pink envelope. 
Sophie Gagnon’s tiara still in the back of her mind, she saw her fingers pick up the pink envelope.  No writing on it.  Nothing.  No names or numbers.  No postmark.  No stamp.
Someone put it in their mailbox.  Someone other than their mailman.
It wasn’t sealed. 
Should she open it?  She opened the flap just enough to see that there was a folded pink sheet of paper inside.  Hmm.  She could open it.  No one would know.  And it’s not like it was addressed to anyone in particular.
The front door opened suddenly, and Ryan strode in with his key and cell phone in hand.  Heart in her throat, as if she’d been caught stealing from the cookie jar, Malin had quickly dropped the pink envelope on the counter.
“Hey,” she offered Ryan a smile.
He grunted a hey back at her, tossed his keys and cell on the counter and in a move so like his dad Malin had to do a double take, yanked the refrigerator open.  Only he found something interesting.
Malin watched him take the milk from the fridge, grab the package of break-apart Nestles Tollhouse cookies and elbow the door shut.  He splashed milk on the counter as he poured himself a tall glass.  At least he wasn’t drinking out of the jug.
Ryan turned the oven on.  “What’s going on?”
“Cole broke his wrist,” she answered.  “How was the movie?”
“Cole?  Our Cole broke his wrist?” He ignored her question about the movie.
“Why so surprised?” She cocked her head and studied him.  “It’s been two months since he got his stitches out.  He was due.”
Ryan laughed.  “What was he doing this time?”
Two months ago, he’d wrecked his bike while jumping a homemade wooden ramp in the driveway.  He’d crashed and burned, hit the side of Phil’s truck, and sliced his knee open-good for seven stitches.
“Trying to fly,” Malin answered, but Ryan wasn’t paying attention to her now.  She followed his gaze to see what had him so riveted.
It was that damned pink envelope.
“What’s that?” he asked quietly.
“I dunno.  Nothing written on it.”
Malin saw his fingers flex and then curl into a fist.  He stared at the envelope for a moment and then picked up his glass of milk.  He held it for a moment, as if he might drink from it, and then he set it down, mumbled a goodnight and disappeared down the steps to his basement bedroom.

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