Hailey Stoner, “Coming Home”

Previously published in BOMBFIRE Literary Magazine

Coming home is terrible. It’s terrible, and I’m not quite sure
why. My husband loves me. Every morning, he makes me coffee
and sneaks a note into my lunchbox before work. He always lets me
play my music in the car, even if it’s something he doesn’t like, like
Beyoncé or Backstreet Boys. He leaves every Friday night open on
his calendar for our date night, and he runs me a bubble bath every
Sunday night.
My son loves me. He dedicates every painting he makes in
art class to me, and only me. Each time I go to the grocery store, he
insists on coming to help with the list. I was the subject for his reallife hero project in English class, and named me “real-life Wonder
Woman, but ten times better.”
I’ve been sitting in my car, parked in the driveway for ten
minutes now, staring at the closed garage door. I don’t want to go
inside. Talking to my husband is exhausting. He asks too many
questions. Can you pick up Noah from school tomorrow? Who’d
you talk to at work today? Do you still want to do poker night with
Danny and Vannessa on Saturday?
I don’t want him to see me through the front window. My
legs stick to the leather seats. It feels like I just ran a marathon by
the time I finally psych myself up enough to get out of the car. All
I want is to fall to the ground and stare at the clouds until my eyes
are so dry that it hurts to blink again, but I don’t. I force my legs to
move toward the house.
As soon as I walk through the front door, I start to sink. The
floor pulls me under, slow like quicksand. It sucks the shoes off my
feet, and I use the banister to pull myself up, but it holds onto my
ankles. I think it’s going to pull me all the way under, keeping me
hostage in my own home before it stops at my knees.
Coming home is terrible. My husband is already in the
kitchen making dinner. He asks where I’ve been. I should’ve been
home two hours ago.
I try to tell him I was sitting in the office parking lot because
I didn’t want to drive home. I try to tell him my brain finally gave
me a little break, letting my mind drift in the nothing for a short
time. To tell him coming home is terrible. Work is terrible. The
grocery store is terrible. The park, the gym, the school. It’s all so
awfully terrible.
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. My tongue is like
a brick, cemented to the roof of my mouth. There’s a tickle in the
back of my throat, and I try to clear it, but the tickle grows, and
grows, until I’m overtaken with a coughing fit. I cough, and cough,
and with every cough, I sink a little lower into the sand that has
become the floor.
At the stove, my husband flips a patty, the grease sending a
puff of steam into the air as if nothing here is out of the ordinary.
I don’t know why he can’t see the sand. He says he will pick me up
from work tomorrow, so he’ll know where I am.
The steam makes me cough, and sink, and cough, and sink,
until a fish comes flopping out of my throat. It lands right in front
of me. It flips around, gills opening and closing, gasping to breathe.
Its little black eye stares up at me, begging for me to save him. The
sand has taken me up to my knees.
Coming home is terrible because I have to continue being
the good mother, and the good wife, even when my mind won’t
let me. Even when it feels like I’m living in somebody else’s skin,
in their house with their family, while my body floats in a tank of
water somewhere.
My son runs down the stairs and yells Mommy! when he
rounds the corner. He runs across the sand’s surface as if it were the
usual hardwood and jumps into my arms.
I sink to my hips. The longer I hold him, the further I sink.
His lips move as he speaks, but I can’t hear anything. He waves his
arms, and my ribs sink under. My husband sprinkles seasoning into
the pan, and my son turns to tell him a story after he realizes I’m
not much entertainment at the moment. When he opens his mouth
again, I hear the sound of water. Like I’m in the ocean, swimming
with the fish that came from my throat.
My son jumps from my arms, and runs over to my husband,
watching him set the plates. He loves to help in the kitchen, but my
husband doesn’t trust him with those tasks just yet. I try to move
towards the table to sit, but the sand makes it nearly impossible to
use any of my lower body. It feels like I’m melting into the floor. It’s
going to trap me. My husband says something, but still, I can only
hear the water.
It starts dull and distant– the water –but it grows. The harder
I push against the sand, the louder it becomes. The boys sit at the
table, ready to eat, and my husband waves me over to join. I use
everything I can to move, but the sand is too heavy.
Suddenly, the walls lean and crack. The house creaks, and
groans, and the water is strong. It swooshes so loud in my ears that
for a moment I believe it will crush my skull. I reach for my husband
and son at the table, but the walls come crashing down before I can
get to them. Water pours into the house through every crevasse,
quickly filling up to the ceiling. As I drift underwater, I see them
eating at the table as if nothing is wrong. I want to shake them from
their trance. To wake them, and save them, but I don’t. I just float.

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