Claire’s mother has just told her that she is leaving Claire’s father and moving to Arizona.
The TV is on, Claire is watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in her pajamas. There is a bowl of cereal and a cup of cold coffee on the small table in front of her. It is two o’clock in the afternoon.
“Why?” Claire asks.
“I’ve always wanted to live in Arizona.” Claire’s mother explains, calmly and succinctly.
Claire’s parents live in a suburb outside of New York City. The two-bedroom red brick house they live in is the same house Claire grew up in.
“So, that’s it? You’re just going to leave dad and leave home because you’ve always wanted to live in Arizona? That sounds crazy, mom.”
Claire is trying not to raise her voice. Her mother can be very sensitive. She struggles to control the tremor in her voice.
“Claire. Your father is moving in with your gran, he needs to take care of her full-time now. The taxes on the house are insane and we’ve been thinking of selling for awhile now. It just seems like the right time. Jill Orion told me it’s a seller’s market!”
Claire’s mother has always been a little…unhinged. She struggles to make simple decisions like which avocado to buy or which Thai restaurant to order-in from (there are three within a five mile radius of their house). She doesn’t know whether or not she likes the color green or earrings that dangle.
Claire did not see this coming. She thought when she moved to London last January that she was leaving things in a stable condition.
“You’re abandoning dad.” Claire says, the anger she feels causes her hands to shake but she tries to make her statement sound more like a fact than an accusation.
“Oh Claire. We’re adults. He’ll be fine. You’ll understand someday.”
Claire has been married for two years. Her husband’s name is Neil. She wonders if she is still considered a newlywed. She never went on a honeymoon; they just kept putting it off. Things would settle down after the move, they told one another but the truth is that neither Claire nor Neil really like to travel nor do they particularly like being away from home. The mental exhaustion of navigating a new place is more than they care to exert themselves for and neither of them really like exotic foods.
They are tea and cookies people, not margaritas on the beach people. Neither of them are good swimmers. Once Claire read a book about a riptide that dragged an entire family out to sea, since then she doesn’t go into water above her knees. Claire thinks of Neil and wonders if there will come a time when she will feel like moving to Arizona, allegorically.
“I can’t say I’m pleased. I see now that I was the glue of this family and I feel somewhat guilty that in my absence your lives are falling apart.” Claire is now shaking all over. She feels a rock hard lump forming in her throat.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Claire. Our lives are just beginning! Honestly, this will be better for everyone.” Claire says goodbye and hangs up the phone, shuffles towards the couch, and curls up in the fetal position. She covers herself with a blanket and takes several deep breaths. She stays there until night falls.
That evening, after Neil gets home from work, they sit on the couch drinking cans of Camden Pale Ale. Neil is playing Super Ghouls and Ghosts on the Super Nintendo they brought with them from America. He makes frustrated sounds and curses aloud when he is killed. Claire is polishing her fingernails red because it is the only colour she has. Classic. She hasn’t told Neil about her mother but she isn’t sure why. She thinks she’s worried that Neil will think her mother’s behavior a poor reflection of herself. She wants to assure Neil that she’ll never leave him without telling him that her family is breaking apart. When her nails are dry she goes into the kitchen and makes a plate of cookies.
Claudia Lundahl is a writer from New York. She is a graduate of the City University of New York at Hunter College where she studied Language and Literature. Her work has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn and So-To-Speak: A Feminist Journal. She lives in the United Kingdom with her husband and two rescued hounds.