No One is Behind Her by Sage Tyrtle

At two in the morning Ivy is sprinting, flat out, breath roaring in her ears. Her Coach handbag bounces against her hip with every step. She relishes her ragged gasps, ripping in and out of her throat, evidence of how fast she is flying down this sidewalk, plastic in its uniformity, her ballet flats falling, rising, falling again. She passes the same Toyota Highlander in the driveway of the same beige two story house, front yard filled with grass exactly three inches high. Toyota, house, Toyota, house, a treadmill made of sidewalk and mortgage and herringbone tile and top tier school district. She half expects to look down at her watch and see that it is still 2:11 AM, always 2:11 AM, the sun trapped on the other side of the world.

Ivy runs through the sanitized air away from her seven-year-old twins, her husband. She races away from dual stainless-steel dishwashers that, like the cars in the driveway, are loaded / unloaded / loaded / unloaded, footfall after footfall. Soccer-karate-swim classes, the Frozen soundtrack playing even in her dreams. The sweat under her arms soaks her linen dress and she will never have to soak it in Woolite. Never.

She races away from whining for more screen time and gleaming kitchen counters and the man in the bed next to her no longer that kind guy in her Sociology class. No longer the one she marched next to in protests or giggled with or who held her hand when they rode the subway together. The intensity of silence shared replaced. No longer Ryan, but instead Husband. Just as Grace and Hannah are The Girls and to them he is Daddy and she is Mommy, all of them drifting like paper dolls in their own too-big beige house. One morning she stopped talking to anyone unless they spoke to her first. She wanted to convince herself that she wasn’t replaceable. To convince herself they would miss her if she was gone. That they would miss Ivy, not Wife. Not Mommy. And when she listened to their words they could have been talking to the computer. Alexa, when is dinnertime? Alexa, will it rain today? Alexa, have you seen my shoes?

But if, when she went to read The Rainbow Fish that night, two other girls had been snuggled into Grace and Hannah’s bunk beds, Ivy is not sure she would have noticed. Cared.

Her shadow jigs and jags behind her as she crosses empty streets. She feels a rubber band stretching against her chest, the farther she runs, and she is looking up at a flickering streetlight when she stumbles on a piece of raised sidewalk. She stops, hands on knees, her breath beginning to slow. She’s reached the edge of Oak Pines (which could be Canyon Lakes which could be Fox Run which could be which could be) and when she glances down her watch says 2:49 AM. The house to her right is painted ocean blue. The yard is a joyful riot of hawthorn bushes.

Five feet ahead of her is the bus stop for 39E. She turns and sees the headlights far down the road. The last bus of the night. She reaches into her handbag and unzips the small change purse. Takes out the lone bus token. She sits on the bench and watches the headlights grow brighter. It won’t be like when The Girls were four, or five, or six. She won’t think about Hannah’s grin, or Grace’s shaky first attempts at making other friends. Of how they hug her in tandem. This time she will step onto the bus when it comes. This time.

SAGE TYRTLE — Sage’s work is available or upcoming in X-R-A-Y, The Offing, and Apex among others. She’s told stories on stages all over the world and her words have been featured on NPR, CBC, and PBS. She runs a free online writing group open to everyone. Twitter: @sagetyrtle.

Art by MARIEJULIE LAFRANCE — Bilingual, Multidisciplinary artist, MarieJulie won two art scholarships while studying for her DEC in Arts in letters. She obtained her DEC in 2012. Since 2014, as an illustrator-freelancer MarieJulie uses pencils, brushes, digital software, and fabrics as tools to express her creativity. Diagnosed as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), MJ is highly attuned to details, giving her the ability to bring a textured but flowy elegance to her work. Find out more on her website: