by Lydia Copeland Gwyn

We flipped through the section on extinct forms. My sister Louise wanted to see the Saber-Toothed Tiger and the American Mastodon. She wanted to draw their tusks in the black sketch book that came in her Easter basket. Every time we came here, she went straight away to the National Geographics. Our mother said no one would miss the one copy if we took it home.

Girls who worked here walked in and out of the waiting room. They weren’t dressed like typical front desk girls, with scrubs and dangly watches and gold post earrings. These girls wore dark shift dresses and opaque black tights, the hair swept off the napes of their necks and pinned in twists or coils. I considered the phrase “femme fatale” but thought maybe that had something to do with red lipstick.

“That one is a Brit,” our mother said. She could tell by the thin mouth and the big eyes.

Our father was in a tiny room in the back. This was the fourth doctor he’d seen. And this one was an hour away from our home. The first couple of times we all went into the exam room with him and sat around the paper-covered table listening to him explain about his forgetting words, the headaches, the constant craving for sweets. We’d stare at the posters on the walls, and Louise would go home and open her book and draw the bumpy tunnels of the intestines or the sections of the brain.

We had stopped asking questions when it became apparent that our asking made our mother nervous. She’d over-explain, go back and forth on what it could be and what it couldn’t be and whether or not what was wrong with our father was normal or was the onset or what his brothers and sisters called their family curse. Both his older brother and his father had stopped talking in their thirties and now lived in a building on a hill that our parents called a home, where they stared out a picture window at a sprawling green lawn all day and never acted happy to see us when we visited.

We listened a lot, waiting for our father’s sentences to trickle down to only a few words. After his appointments we all went to the theater and shared a giant popcorn. This time, I was hoping to convince them to take us to the mall after the movie. Our mother was always open to suggestions on doctor days.

Louise was getting frustrated when she’d reached the end of the magazine and found nothing with tusks, not even a walrus. I fiddled with the pages as if I could make such creatures appear there. Our mother was falling asleep in her hand.

My father came out shaking his head. “Nothing,” he said. “They think I’m making it all up.” Our mother mentioned something about smelling gasoline in her office the day before and how the engineers came by and told her it was probably someone just microwaving their lunch and how people were inconsiderate in her office. She shook her head. “No one ever believes us,” she said.

In the car I un-wrapped a cough drop, bit it in half and gave one part to Louise. We stared at the neighborhoods of this city that wasn’t ours. The brick houses with their metal garbage cans in a row by the mailboxes, the trees there weren’t accidents, the same daffodils over and over. Nothing about this place appealed to me. I watched our mother driving, turning to look over her shoulder. She’d removed her earrings and her hair was tucked under a baseball cap. I knew she hadn’t showered since the day before. She’d brushed her teeth, put on deodorant and red lipstick, and tied back her hair in one of my ribbons. The sun shone through the windshield and made her face a wash of white light. Her lips were a perfect slice of apple.

Lydia Copeland Gwyn‘s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the Florida Review, Elm Leaves Journal, NANO Fiction, Glimmer Train, and others. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband, son, and daughter.