Janine breathed in air that burned. Robbie’s head bobbed to some heavy metal tune playing in his earbuds. She could not persuade them to go; she could not persuade them to let her and Cordelia leave; she could not persuade them that no drugs would be delivered to her house. She could not persuade them of anything. And now she needed to keep her fear within boundaries. She concentrated on the standing lamp beside the couch, tried to focus on it, take steady breaths. Concentrate. The lamp was a wedding gift from her in-laws; it was old; it was beautiful; it was useful. Graceful silk lampshade, slim brass shaft, round marble base.
Janine accepted that she and Cordelia would be killed if she could not figure out how to escape. The three teenagers who had pushed their way in said they would release them, but Janine knew something would happen: Lily would get angry or Jeff would freak out or Robbie would play with the gun and it would go off. It was better to assume a bad outcome here and try to find a way out, than to be optimistic and trust what they said.
Beside her, eyes closed, Cordelia tapped on her knee. This was her trick to calm herself. Her eyelids fluttered. Janine put her hand on Cordelia’s. She started. “Mom!”
Cordelia opened her eyes wide, and Janine could see the white around her irises. “Honey, it’s okay. We’ll be fine.” Outside the window, dark had fallen. She could smell summer. Crickets chirped; a car drove up their street, and the headlights shone in their window for a second before the car turned away. Her heart pounded. She did not have a plan. She was a mouse skittering inside a bag.
In the kitchen, Jeff clattered around the dishes and cans. “Where did you say the taco chips were?”
“The cupboard over the sink.”
“Found them. My favorite brand.” He walked into the living room, the bag crinkling. He ripped the top, and chips spilled out. He grunted and walked on them, crushing them beneath his shoes.
She pointed to the broom inside the kitchen doorway. “I can sweep that up.”
She wished she had a helmet, so she could ram into him; she wished she had matches and gasoline to throw on him; she wished she had a hatchet or a gun. She wished . . . .
Lily fluttered her fingers. “I’m going to get a bowl for the chips.”
Janine said, “There’s some salsa in the refrigerator.”
“Good.” Lily caressed Robbie’s shoulder and got up.
Robbie watched Lily as she sashayed to the fridge. Jeff watched her as well, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He frowned at Robbie and turned away. Lily’s sandals crunched the chips.
Nobody was looking at Janine. She pushed the lamp over, into Robbie, grabbed Cordelia’s hand and ran for the door.
published 18 September 2013