Denise is at least eight months pregnant, but you and David have only been divorced for two. She waddles across the cinema lobby toward your ex-husband. “My bladder is as small as a pea,” she says with a martyred sigh, a Cleopatra in denim. David met Denise at a Tutankhamen exhibit hosted by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Shuffle your fifteen-year-old son, Max, back through the movie theater’s glass doors, despite your pre-ordered online tickets and his disappointment. Return to your Southfield bungalow where the August heat irons your grief flat and sinewy.

When David moved out, you focused on the diminished piles of laundry you’d enjoy as if fewer chores are an adequate exchange for husband and father.


In September, study your ambitious younger face, grinning from a framed black and white in the center of your living room wall. David, so carefree and optimistic. You were happy then in duplicate: you beside David holding an infant Max; your dog, Emma, in David’s lap as a chocolate puppy. And so many versions of Max, from infancy to present. Only you see the ultrasound printouts preceding him, the scraps of skull and toe, trashed with each miscarriage.

When Max spends a weekend with his father, you yank the gallery down and drop the frames to the carpet with a satisfying ‘poof.’ Nails too, leaving pockmarks in the gray paint, vulnerable and exposed acne like the bumps spackling Max’s teenage jaw. Study one photo of David leading seven sweaty college students, geared in the khaki they thought fitting of archeologists, down a sandstone path in the Valley of the Gods. Your ex-husband stands with foot atop a thousands-year-old brick, expression aloof and focused on something beyond where you waited, shooting the scene.

Turn facedown an image of early morning David, blinking at you through the camera lens. The day you took that, he made love to you in the shower and you both called in sick.

Pile these mementos into a black garbage bag, its plastic hybridized to stretch and accommodate the sharp squares and rectangles.

Keep on the wall those photos of Max, baby cheeks soft, princely eyes, wise. At two, Max in overalls, lounges across Emma; at five, he waits for the bus, pack bulky and cumbersome on his small frame.


Start dating a man named Bo, a fitness guru and senior account executive at the ad agency where you’re a photographer. Meet him at a bar in nearby Royal Oak, all cob-webbed and orange-tinted for Halloween. Order a vodka tonic as soon as the waitress arrives, before you even off your jacket. Bo’s eyes lack the spark burning so brightly in David’s gaze, especially when lecturing on ancient Egypt. Yet after the third date, Bo teaches you stretches, ways to interact with your body and relieve the anxiety that sweats through you at night. When especially tense, he coaches, extend those arms above your head and arch your back, inhaling and exhaling, expanding your rib cage to accept more air. Let Bo massage your shoulders with large hands calloused from weekend golf and a side business of remodeling bungalows like yours throughout metro-Detroit, all those houses built with GI Bill money and hope after WWII. Listen as he grows animated discussing luxury vinyl tile and the price of lumber. Shape your lips into what could pass as a smile, but don’t let Bo fully seduce you. End each date with a sidewalk kiss, nothing overnight, nothing requiring your sutured heart.


Receive a call from your ex-mother-in-law, Naomi, on a chilly November night when Max sleeps at a friend’s and you’d planned to pour a glass of merlot and binge Grace and Frankie.

Naomi growls, “When’s the last time Max has seen that son of a bitch?”

Frown and pretend shock. “You mean your son?”

“And I’m the bitch who didn’t raise him right,” she adds.

Imagine the telephone lines connecting her cordless in Arizona to your Michigan kitchen. You’ve always appreciated Naomi.

Two years before David divorced you, when Naomi still lived in Ferndale year-round, she slipped on driveway ice and smashed her hip. David moved his mother into the spare room, added her care to the schedule, though really to your workload, saying, “You wanted a big family. My mom’s just another kid.”

On the phone, Naomi clears her throat. “What can I do?”

Picture her as she was then at seventy-five, with the vocabulary of a retired lieutenant, her favorite Detriot Tigers baseball cap pulled to her ears. 

Breathe. David’s absence is a tangible void.


Pay for gas after work. Christmas break pauses on the horizon, and then you and Max will have two weeks at home.

“That it?” the cashier asks. She’s a year or two older than Max with a scarab stud in her nose, rings gemmy on each fleshy finger.

“And some Reese’s.” You grab the candy from the display. David plies Max’s favor with chocolate on his weekends, though you try to limit your son’s sugar and salt intake. Pay with exact change.

In your living room, give Max the peanut butter candy as he sits on the couch playing Call of Duty. He considers the orange sleeve. “I like these,” he says. “But I prefer caramel M&Ms.”

Max shifts the package, tucks it under his left leg.

Don’t nudge him to safeguard the candy elsewhere. Don’t remind him it will melt, eroded by the warmth of his body as he continues to play.

“I can get those next time.”

A wink of collarbone escapes the neck of his shirt, his frame grown even skinnier since David left, as fragile as ancient pottery.

“Or I can get you something else.”

You stock cashews, oatmeal, tortellini, but he still picks at meals, circling the food around the plate with his fork.

Over dinner, you’ll ask, “What time will Dad be here tomorrow?” And wait. When Max doesn’t respond, you’ll know David has again canceled the plans he’d made with his firstborn. Max will abandon his bowl of pesto pasta only three spoonfuls in and seal himself in his room, German techno-metal vibrating the door.


Gather your courage and leave the suburbs, merging onto southbound I-75 the week before Christmas when the city is dressed in lights. Throughout your marriage, David worked at Wayne State and within minutes of the Fox Theater, the Motown Museum, and The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, yet he rarely took you and Max downtown. ‘The freeway’s a mess at five’ was his most used excuse. ‘I drive two hours every day so you can live near the zoo,’ his second.

Take Max to the top of the Renaissance Center and enjoy your thirty-dollar steak and his grin as he palms the window wall and gazes over the Detroit River into Canada. Somehow, you’ll unearth the money for this meal. Lean your forehead on the cool glass and squint until Windsor sparkles.


You have feared since the minute the doctor placed Max in your arms, all spongy and red, alive and smelling of your shit. You stared at his wrinkled fingers and their translucent nails, this preemie, lucky to have been born at all.


You order a copy of your keys from the Toyota dealership and wrap them in snowflake paper, excavating bravery from the time before you and David began trying for children, those mid-twenties years when the world made sense and your experience with death was limited to your grandparents’ funerals. Before you were both aged by disappointment.

Breathe. Watch the glowing LED strands on the Christmas tree until your focus blurs and the blues and reds and yellows soften and expand into galaxies.


In January, ice-skate with Bo at Campus Martius park, pretending you’ve escaped to New York City. There is Max with David, Denise, and their three-month-old daughter. Don’t ask her name, the color of her eyes, how much she weighed at birth. Just hope she isn’t sleeping through the night. Will her to cry and scream and become so frustrated she quakes and turns red as blood. Feel guilty. Place your hand in Bo’s and glide round the rink. Enjoy the city that so intimidates you yet appeals to your photographer’s eye.

When Bo asks you to stay the night at his Clawson condo, smile and nod. Follow into his kitchen, accept the glass of pinot, and tilt your head just enough so he can see your neck, still slim and wrinkle-free though you will soon be forty-five. As Bo kisses the skin beneath your chin and ear, lean into the warmth of his lips, the gentle tug of his hands at your jeans. Don’t think of David when you lower your hips and take Bo inside to the source of so many of your problems.


The morning of your birthday, the February sky looms gray and ominous. Acknowledge that perhaps this is your mood instead of nature’s actual disposition. Stand naked in the bathroom after your shower. An entire continent maps the creases of your eyes. Trace the marks on your stomach, like veins in limestone, those scars from every baby you carried but didn’t deliver. Peek over your shoulder at your ass and thighs in the mirror. Pinch the cellulite below your tush and remember David ogling the gaunt images of Egyptian women, their angles. Sigh and squirt toothpaste onto your toothbrush. As you clean your teeth, your breasts jiggle like dates ripe for plucking. Shift to your molars and watch the nipples tighten, their tips aimed at the ceiling, still curious. Bo’s tongue outlined your most sensitive parts, stimulating your areolas, your clit. His large hands gripped your ass and squeezed, full with your flesh, satisfied. He may not be your next true love, but he has reignited your body. Smile, and this time, mean it.


On the late March day that would’ve been your wedding anniversary, instead of recalling the afternoon David moved his things from your house, the turtlenecks he folded carefully and positioned in his suitcase, drive Max to Belle Isle. Visit the aquarium and conservatory. Capture Max beside the cacti and tropical blooms, something new for your living room wall. Play with perspective among the memorial sculptures, the Detroit skyline beyond Max’s shoulder, his face an unreadable canvas. Finally, coax a laugh from your son with food truck hot dogs as you perch on picnic tables. 


Lift your face to the spring sun, so warm after another Michigan winter, and don’t you dare comment on Max’s closed eyes, his chin matching yours, the sky blue and vast.


Instead of returning home, drive Max to the old Kmart headquarters on your way through Troy and park. Exit your Toyota and round the back, meeting Max near the trunk. He grins as he buckles behind the steering wheel. Secure your own seatbelt and feel the pleather against the skin of your upper arms as you wait for Max to shift into drive. He aims for the parking lot’s edge, just before Cunningham and guides the Corolla in a large arc while you comment on his speed, the placement of his hands on the wheel. Watch Max adjust.

While Max practices, stare at the auburn building, copper windows reflecting clouds, elevator shafts like abandoned smokestacks. Max holds his breath and exhales when he positions the car right where it needs to be, just as he learned with his driver’s training instructor. Neither of you mention David or Denise or their daughter though Max has surely held his little sister, her head soft and small in his palms.

Reach across the car and tuck a slip of brown behind Max’s right ear. You like his longish hair, and by this point, you’ve moved past the panic you experienced when he was a child, anxiety over scissors slipping and slicing an artery. Irrational, of course, but these dark fantasies bloomed at Max’s birth and bloated beyond David’s reminders they were more about you than reality.

Outside the Toyota, grass cracks the cement, nature slowly reclaiming now that corporate Kmart has left metro-Detroit. This makes you happy, this determination to grow, this new life.


On a Wednesday evening in April, accompany Max to the theater for a movie titled, Brains from Egypt. Look forward to his graduated license when he will drive himself and his friends to flicks about mummies instead of coercing you in the middle of the workweek. Buy Max caramel M&Ms, and a tub of popcorn with extra butter for yourself.

“So what’s this movie about, anyway?”

Blinking, Max turns from the screen’s soda ad and says, “I guess there’s a mummy? That wasn’t really dead when they mummified him? You know—ramming a hot poker up his nose, scrambling his brains, yanking them back out—and other stuff.”

“Disgusting.” Chomp your popcorn.

Max smiles, showing uneven teeth. Just like yours.

“Because he was still half alive, he’s pissed. Thousands of years later, he’s taking revenge on some Egyptologists.”

“But who’s the girl on the poster?” 

“One of the Egyptologist’s daughter?” Max pauses. He reaches into the tub on your lap and palms a handful of popcorn, cramming it all into his mouth.

You’re glad to see him eating.

Still chewing, Max says, “I’m sure it won’t be scary. Dad showed me Bubba Ho-tep last weekend. I bet it’ll be a lot like that. Totally campy.”

Survive the movie and sit through the end credits, your son’s favorite. When you finally make it to the lobby, discover David by a row of arcade-style games, reading glasses atop his head.

“Should we say hello?” Max asks, shifting the unopened M&Ms between his hands.

Your heartbeat pulses. Expect the wound to open and bleed, steal your breath and your words. But it stays stitched. Swallow. “Okay, sure,” you say.

“Max,” David exclaims as you near him. “What’d you think of the movie? Those special effects weren’t too bad, eh?” David’s smile extends across his face, lighting his eyes and erasing any wrinkles. “Denise is in the bathroom,” he says as he hugs Max. “We’re having a date night.” He leans forward to embrace you. Step out of reach.

“Just wanted to say, ‘hey’ but we should go now.” Max’s eyes dart from you to David.

Nod and lift your hand as if to wave, but David holds up a finger. “Just a minute.” He pulls a phone from his breast pocket. “Let me show you some pictures of little Cleo.” He lowers his glasses from forehead to nose and frowns at the screen, swiping left.

The air grows thick with popcorn and people and warmth. Inhale and retreat from David and Max.

“We gotta go,” Max says. “Wait, what?” David looks up. By now, stand with your shoulder against the door, the metal handle digging into your hip. Wait for Max as he jogs to you and presses the door wide. Slide past him, into the fresh spring air, chilled and tangy in your nostrils.

On the sidewalk, Max watches you exercise another calming technique: four seconds in, hold for four, out for four. Repeat. Nothing to do with Bo or David or even, Max, just something you learned long ago to steady your hands before clicking the shutter closed.

Max shifts and reenters the theater.

Stare after him as his shoulders broaden before David. Your son is growing into his body, lanky yet strong, almost a man who will also leave you. With each exhale, you accept this and nourish it, bittersweetly.

You can’t hear their conversation but Max hands his father something, and you follow his strides once more across the carpet to where you stand beyond the glass doors.

David frowns. The lobby lights flicker, black then vivid, illuminating streaks of gray in his hair, deep bags beneath his eyes, time’s heavy weight at his waist. He drops his phone. Denise appears, fanning him with a paper napkin. 

“What was that about?”

“I gave him the M&Ms. Cleo can’t eat them yet, but,” Max shrugs.

Look at your son again. Place your arm around his waist. Taller than you now, he drapes an arm over your shoulder.

Cross the parking lot together. At the car, stop. “Why don’t you drive?”

Max beams and removes his set of keys from his front jeans pocket.

Trade sides with your son, for once your breath cool and steady.

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