Sarah recently graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota with cum laude degrees in Creative Writing and International Studies. Her fiction and poetry are published in Chanter Literary Magazine and in Thistle Literary Magazine. Sarah is currently based in Washington, D.C., where she is working on her first novel.
Sometimes the world gets smaller before it gets bigger. Don’t is a short story about Eddie, a child whose family has changed in ways that he doesn’t understand yet.
It was the last day of summer, and in the morning it rained. Eddie pressed his nose against the living room window. He watched the raindrops drip down the glass and into the yard, which had already turned to mud. The house was quiet. Eddie listened to the rain plinking off the roof and in the gutters. It sounded like maybe it would rain forever and would wash away everything, the cars and the yards and the sidewalks, and he would never get to go to second grade because the school would wash away and everything would be mud.
Eddie removed his nose from the window, leaving a smudge. The situation was serious. He decided to prepare. When the world washed away, he would not. He would be ready. Eddie slid down from his perch on the couch, sending his mother’s red throw pillows tumbling to the floor. He left them there. Her bosses let her do her lawyer work from home, so she was busy in her office downstairs with the blinds always shut. She probably didn’t know it was raining. Eddie would warn her later.
He rubbed at his nose and thought about what he would need to do first. The rain began to blow against the windows, tiny taps against the glass. Waterproof. He had to be waterproof. Eddie went to the boot tray by the front door and put on his green galoshes, and then opened the coat closet and pulled his raincoat from the hanger. Eddie zipped it up as far as it would go. The zipper tickled his chin. “Phase one: complete,” he whispered.
The coat closet was, like everything else in the house, carefully organized. Eddie looked up at the sweaters and raincoats and jackets, lined up by who was supposed to wear them. His father had gone on another trip. His hangers were all empty. He must have known it would rain. His hangers looked like knobby wooden shoulders, bunched up next to the ink-stained black coats that Eddie’s mother wore and the rows of Eddie’s brother’s things that always looked nice and new. His father had wanted to donate them, but his mother said no. Eddie was glad. He liked Neil’s coats, with the gum wrappers and pennies and his bus pass still in the pockets.
Eddie reached up and pulled Neil’s raincoat down too. He would be doubly waterproof, just to be sure. The shiny red fabric still had its familiar plastic-and-brother smell. It hung past his knees. Eddie puffed up his chest and pulled both hoods over his head, pulling the elastic so that he could still see. “Phase one: super complete,” he said to the hush of the hall, “Complete for real.”
The wet taps on the window grew louder as the wind picked up. Eddie could hear it whooshing around in the living room fireplace. He tugged at Neil’s sleeves. It would rain forever, he thought, and the wind would blow everything into the mud and the puddles, all the houses and all the people, and there would be no second grade for him or for anybody. Downstairs, the fax machine whirred. Downstairs. Down. Up. Eddie would go up. He would be a pilot. He would fly away from the rain and the wind and he would only land, he decided, when it was sunny again.
Eddie had read enough picture books to know that if somebody wanted to be a pilot, they had to wear a cap and goggles and a leather jacket. It was a law. He would ask his mother about it later, but he was pretty sure. Eddie rocked from his heels to his toes and back again, thinking. He stopped. There was a leather jacket in Neil’s room.
Eddie went upstairs and crept down the hall, holding his breath, making sure that his galoshes only made small squeaks. It was important to be quiet, like a ghost. One night at the beginning of the summer, not too long after his mother started doing her lawyer work downstairs and closing all the blinds and curtains, Eddie heard his father go into Neil’s room. Eddie heard him saying something. He got out of bed and pressed his ear to the wall, but his father’s voice was too quiet for him to hear the words. When he came in to kiss Eddie goodnight, his cheeks were wet. He started taking his trips after that.
Eddie reached the door. There was a small crack near the hinges, and two stickers that looked like they were stuck there without a lot of thought. One was from a Granny Smith apple. The other was from a band Neil used to like, a shiny red mouth sticker with a shiny red tongue and round white teeth. Eddie turned the doorknob and walked into the room. He wanted to say, “Phase two, part one: complete,” but he didn’t.
Neil’s room smelled just like his raincoat, only there was more of it. The air was full of Neil. The bed was unmade, as it always was, next to the nightstand with the cards and the little orange candy jars on it, and the guitar leaning against it on the ground. Clothes were piled around the bed and by the bookshelf: pants, shirts, unpaired socks. Eddie didn’t see a leather jacket. It was in the closet, maybe.
The closet door was closed. Eddie made his way over to it, turned the doorknob, and pulled. It didn’t open. Eddie frowned and puffed out his cheeks, but pilots needed to be brave and not quit, so he tried the door a second time. It didn’t open. Eddie stood in front of the door, thinking. Outside Neil’s window, rain came down on the roof like it didn’t know how to be quiet, just how to fall down and down and down.
Thunder began to rumble. Eddie’s stomach rumbled too. He remembered that it had been a long time since breakfast. He took one of Neil’s candy jars of the nightstand and tried to open it, but the white top wouldn’t come off. Neil loved his candy. He ate his candy in the morning and at night, even in the afternoons sometimes. He said it made his stomachaches feel better. Neil never let Eddie have even one piece, which wasn’t fair at all. There were more than enough to share.
Eddie put the candy jar back and jammed his fingers into the pockets of Neil’s raincoat. His hoods fell forward and he pushed them out of his eyes. His hands curled into fists. This was important. He was a pilot. He needed his lunch and he needed his leather jacket. Eddie wrapped both hands around the closet doorknob and yanked, hard.
It opened, sprinkling bits of dust from the top of the door. They hung in the air for a long moment, not ready to fall, but then Eddie stopped looking because there it was, the jacket, dangling in front of him. It was wedged in between the button-up shirts and the dress pants. Eddie pulled it down.
He slipped his left arm into the black leather, then his right. It was heavier than he thought it would be, heavy and warm, tugging a little at his shoulders as if it was tired and wanted to lie down. Eddie thought about saying “Phase, two: complete.” He rolled the words around in his mouth and then swallowed them. He had to be quiet.
Lightning flashed through the window over Neil’s bed. The light caught the lip of the old fishbowl on the desk where Neil kept his guitar picks. Eddie went over to the fishbowl and poked it. It was the size of his head. An idea gripped him, suddenly. It was the size of his head. He lifted the fishbowl off the desk and tilted it over. The picks made a nice clinking sound as they hit the desk. One rolled under the bed. Eddie flipped the fishbowl upside down and lowered it onto his head. He was better than a pilot. He was an astronaut.
Eddie took a few steps back and turned to face the wall mirror next to Neil’s desk. He peered out at himself from under the fishbowl and the jacket and the raincoats. His preparations, he saw, were perfect. Eddie was waterproof, windproof, and gravity-proof. He waved at his reflection and his reflection waved back.
Astronauts were better than pilots. He could see that now. They were like regular pilots, except they were space pilots. They didn’t have to worry about hitting birds or the Eiffel Tower. Eddie nodded in agreement with himself. This was the right way to go. There was no rain in space, and no mud, probably. He would have to go there to be sure. It would all be okay. He would build a spaceship and fly to a better place, like Neil did. He would go to second grade after all, except it would be on Mars.
The fishbowl was fogging up from Eddie’s breath, and it was becoming harder to see. A malfunction, Eddie thought, his first astronaut malfunction. He would have to fix his equipment before takeoff. He took the fishbowl off of his head and was thinking about how best to fix it when the elastic on Neil’s hood gave way. As the hood fell over Eddie’s eyes, he dropped the fishbowl.
It fell with a crash and shattered. Shards flew everywhere, spattering the floor and the bedspread. Eddie screamed. He leapt backwards, tripped over a pile of laundry, and found himself on the floor. His ears rang with the impact and his back stung. The bed loomed over him. The ceiling was miles away. Eddie was too stunned to move. Mayday, he thought. Mayday.
Eddie heard footsteps on the stairs, and then in the hall, and then the door opened. His mother appeared in the doorway. Her hair was pulled into a loose bun out of her face. He saw her cheeks go white and then pink all at once.
“Eddie! What are you doing in here!?”
He forgot how to breathe. “I was just…I was just trying to…”
His mother’s eyes swept over the room, catching on the raincoat, the leather jacket, the orange candy jars, and the fishbowl scattered into glistening pieces all around.
“Why did you touch his…oh god, Eddie, you–”
“It was an accident, Mama, I didn’t mean to,” Eddie burst out, his voice getting higher and thinner, “I really wasn’t trying to do anything bad, I was just playing, I’ll fix it for when Neil comes home–”
She seemed to pinch inward. “Eddie, you know he’s not…” Her knees buckled and her fingers went white on the doorframe. Her nose twitched. She inhaled sharply, smelling the air that was full of Neil and now with Eddie. Her face hardened. “You can’t play in here.”
Sweat dripped down Eddie’s ribcage. “I’m sorry, I–I was just–I wasn’t trying to break anything…”
She took a few steps into the room, not looking at him. She straightened a book on the bookshelf, then put it back. Her eyes seemed far away. “Get out.”
“I’m sorry, Mama, I’m really sorry–”
She looked down at him, and her eyes were stones. “Get out of here, Eddie.”
He clambered to his feet. “I’m sorry, I–”
“Don’t,” she said, cutting him off. “Just don’t.”
“Get out,” she said, quiet and low, “of your brother’s room.”
She closed the door behind him. Eddie stood in the dark hall, alone. The house was quiet. The rain poured down outside. Eddie could hear it crashing down on the roof and slamming against the windows, and he could feel it burning out from his eyes even though he shut them as tight as he could. Under his eyelids, everything was mud.
Eddie slid the jacket off his shoulders. He unzipped the raincoats and let them fall to the floor. It was the last day of summer. It sounded like maybe it would rain forever, on the houses and the people in them and on everything, and there would never be anything but mud. On the other side of Neil’s bedroom door, his mother began to cry.
You can read more of Sarah’s work at https://www.sarahrichmanwriter.com.