The Riders
Michelle Reale

She crept downstairs into the kitchen before she could tell whether it was night or day. Her mother would sleep for hours more, maybe into the early afternoon. The quiet was loud. She clamped her hands on her ears not wanting to hear what wasn't there. She trembled in her nightgown. She owned the morning. She picked the phone up at the first hint of a ring. Just making sure, the voice said on the other end.

No problem, Miss Marie, she soothed. She repeated the same words everyday.

She flicked on the fluorescent light over the sink as her father came into the dark-paneled kitchen. Her father's shirt was ready, unevenly starched, hanging on the cellar door. She held the coffee pot with two hands, tipped up his cup, black, two sugars. He leaned down, lighting his cigarette from the blue gas ring of the stove. He twitched when the phone rang again. His eyes trailed her as she twisted off the cold vinyl of the kitchen chair, answering quickly.

Yes, yes, yes, she consoled.

Just checking, the voice on the other end said, without trust.

He'll be there, Miss Alice, she said.

He set his coffee cup down, crushed his cigarette in the sink resigned to the day. Let it begin.

She watched as her father yawned, and gave his eyes a long two fisted rub that could mean so many things. She contorted her mouth to conceal her own yawn, but her eyes betrayed her, tearing like a baby with something to cry about.

They stared at each other. Last night would be forgotten. He tilted his head, his face like a mask. He held one hand to the knot of the tie at his throat, and threw back the dregs of his cold coffee with the other. His upper lip glistened. Her finger twitched. She willed herself not to move.

Outside, the soft rev of the engine fractured the brittle atmosphere. She leaned out the back door, wrapping her nightgown around her cold, thin legs and called softly down the driveway, don't forget your riders!

Inside, the phone trilled. She could hear the cracked heels of her mother's feet as they pressed themselves on the floorboards above her in rapid, circular movements. She felt tired again.

The ladies would be waiting for their ride to work, on the last day of normal. As if the man of the house could ever forget. As if she, the one he loved more than any other, would ever let him.

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been published in a variety of venues including Eyeshot, Smokelong Quarterly, Word Riot, elimae, Monkeybicyle, and others. Her fiction chapbook, Natural Habitat, will be published by Burning River in April 2010.