The Crystal Ball, fiction by A.M. Amodeo

Joe and Pearl sat on either side of the kitchen table, a crys­tal ball between them.

Can you get that thing to work?” Joe said, point­ing his chin at the crys­tal, which rest­ed on a small pile of black vel­vet cloth in the mid­dle of the chipped enam­el tabletop.

Just like a man, Pearl thought, push­ing a lock of wavy hair out of her eyes. To think the pow­er was locat­ed in an object that worked or didn’t. She thought of the crys­tal as a tool for clear­ing and sharp­en­ing the mind. Then she might see some­thing. It might be in the crys­tal, or in her head, or in her dreams. Once, day­dream­ing, she saw the truth in the dish­wa­ter. It was about her mother’s recov­ery from pneu­mo­nia, and she was able to reas­sure her. Pearl had seen her hum­ming in her gar­den, and by the size of the hedge and the gray in her mother’s hair had known she was see­ing the future, not the past.

But Joe’s ques­tion was not about that kind of truth. Joe was out of work. When he worked, he was a crack­er­jack mechan­ic, but recur­rent back spasms had forced him to quit anoth­er job, and Joe was not even ask­ing the crys­tal any more about the out­come of his workman’s comp claim, which had always been murky, hid­den from Pearl. Pearl knew what he was ask­ing. Back when they had been dat­ing, Pearl had cor­rect­ly pre­dict­ed the dai­ly num­ber, and Joe had won $250, which they had spent on a steak and shrimp din­ner and a long night out danc­ing. That was before the baby came and they had to give up long nights out.

The baby, now sev­en, was a wiry, sun browned reed of a kid, with hon­ey high­lights in her straight dark hair and a mis­chie­vous glint that could yield instant­ly to an inno­cent pok­er face. She was asleep on the pull­out couch near where her par­ents sat.

That couch, like the kitchen table and chairs, was a hand-me-down from Pearl’s cousin. Pearl was glad to have them. Since Vicky had out­grown her crib, there had not been the mon­ey to buy her a lit­tle girl’s suite of fur­ni­ture. Any­way, there was no room in the apart­ment for that kind of thing. The kitchen ran straight into the bed­room, divid­ed into a liv­ing room area only by the pres­ence of the loveseat on which Vicky slept fac­ing the kitchen table, so its back could give her par­ents some pri­va­cy in their bed. Some, not much. Vicky was a light sleeper.

The apart­ment itself was a sort of hand-me-down. An ille­gal fourth apart­ment in a three-fam­i­ly house owned by Pearl’s aunt and uncle, it was one big room in the base­ment, next to the room that held the coal fur­nace and the coal. There was a door that closed to the fur­nace room, thank God because it was dusty, and a door that closed to the tiny bath­room, and that was that. Out­side the bath­room was an old-fash­ioned tin wash­tub, peo­ple-sized. It served as a bath­tub with water Pearl heat­ed in a pot. There had been an invi­ta­tion to use the bath upstairs, but Pearl did not know how long they would have to stay in the base­ment, and although the invi­ta­tion had been sin­cere, she was appre­hen­sive about wear­ing out their wel­come. She and Vicky took baths in the tub. Joe washed up in the bath­room or went to his mother’s for a show­er. She lived clos­er than Pearl’s moth­er, but she nev­er invit­ed Pearl to take a show­er, and Pearl’s moth­er had, as Pearl said, “her own problems.”

Vicky stirred, kick­ing a skin­ny foot, then was still again almost imme­di­ate­ly. Pearl glanced over her shoul­der at the girl, who seemed to be asleep, and couldn’t help smil­ing as she looked back at her husband.

Vicky was the image of the thin man sit­ting across from her. She even tried to dress like him, in a white t‑shirt with a long-sleeve flan­nel shirt over it, open. But her one flan­nel shirt was sev­er­al years old and she had so out­grown it that she could hard­ly move her arms, even when it was open. Pearl let her keep it any­way. She only hoped she wouldn’t grow up to fix cars and smoke cig­a­rettes like her father.

Joe was try­ing to quit. He relit a cig­a­rette he had smoked part way ear­li­er. He was cut­ting down, and good thing, cig­a­rettes were an expen­sive habit. His cough had got­ten bet­ter, the cough that some­times sent his back into spasms. Maybe his back would get bet­ter now. Maybe there would be a hid­den bless­ing in all this. Pearl hoped.

She said, “I don’t know.”

Joe nod­ded. He looked at the counter, not that there was any­thing there, but his achy back made it more com­fort­able to sit with one leg crossed over the oth­er, so he sat turned side­ways, show­ing Pearl his pro­file, and look­ing toward her now and then.

Pearl fol­lowed his eyes to the counter and up to the cur­tains she had put on the small, ground-lev­el win­dows. They weren’t nec­es­sary, the shrubs out­side gave them enough pri­va­cy, but the cur­tains looked cheer­ful, and the win­dows didn’t let in that much light, anyway.

Pearl stood up. “Well, time to go to work.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and his hand brushed her fore­arm as she walked past. Her shift at the store start­ed at ten. She had tak­en the night shift because it paid a dol­lar an hour more, but as long as Joe was there to watch Vicky, it was worth it. When she got home, at six-twen­ty, Joe would wake, fol­lowed short­ly by Vicky, and Pearl would go to sleep until noon. On school days, Joe would feed Vicky a bowl of cere­al and walk her to her school, tak­ing the lunch Pearl had packed the night before. On week­ends, after their bowls of cere­al, Joe would take Vicky out some­where for the morn­ing, usu­al­ly to his mother’s. Some­times, they would watch TV qui­et­ly in the apart­ment and Joe would make a real break­fast of pan­cakes and eggs and cof­fee. Pearl was a sound sleep­er. She tried to work as many nights as pos­si­ble, and the man­ag­er was sym­pa­thet­ic so he usu­al­ly gave her six. Nobody else want­ed them because the store had been robbed a cou­ple of times.

Pearl wasn’t afraid of the store get­ting robbed, and she didn’t mind work­ing alone and not being able to take breaks. She sat read­ing the mag­a­zines, radio on low. If she had to use the bath­room, she put up the sign that said, Back in Ten Min­utes, with the clock hands indi­cat­ing when that would be. This was one of those unevent­ful nights, and tomor­row, they would vis­it her moth­er. She was look­ing for­ward to that.

After her shift, it was a twen­ty-minute walk home, then back down the base­ment steps, through the coal cel­lar and into the apart­ment. Vicky sat at the table with Joe, peer­ing into the crys­tal ball. It caught the light from the stove, where Joe had a flame going under the cof­fee pot.

She’s try­ing to guess the num­bers,” he said. In one hand was a short pen­cil. With the oth­er he held a brown paper bag flat for writ­ing on. Vicky was intent, elbows on the table, but she dis­lodged one hand from her tem­ple to wave to her moth­er. Pearl nod­ded back, although Vicky didn’t look. She had prob­a­bly been pre­tend­ing to be asleep the pre­vi­ous night, Pearl thought, and now she had the crys­tal ball bug. Pearl didn’t mind.

Has she been to bed?”

Sure has. Garbage trucks woke her up early.”

Had any luck?”

She guessed my mother’s birth­day on the nose.”

Might have known that,” Pearl said, putting her purse down and kick­ing off her shoes. She gave Vicky a kiss on the top of the head and went into the bathroom.

Pearl came out ten min­utes lat­er in a night­gown, said, “I don’t want you doing that all morning.”

Ohhhkayyyy,” Vicky said, sit­ting back from the crys­tal ball. She got up, gave her moth­er a hug around the waist, and went to the pull­out couch, now fold­ed up and cov­ered with crayons and a col­or­ing book.

What have you got?” Pearl asked Joe.

Bunch of num­bers to play lat­er on.” He showed her what he had scrawled on the paper bag.

Pearl nod­ded. He stood up to give her a hug. Pearl returned it sleep­i­ly and head­ed for the bed. Vicky was a qui­et child when bid­den, some­thing to feel lucky about. Pearl fell asleep won­der­ing if they would real­ly get lucky.

Joe was think­ing about what they could get if they won some mon­ey. He wasn’t dream­ing big, no house or car or big vaca­tion. Just a few dol­lars to get them some things they need­ed. Pearl’s pay­check didn’t cov­er much, just the neces­si­ties and the few dol­lars they gave the aunt and uncle to cov­er the elec­tric­i­ty they used. She and Vicky both need­ed new shoes. Vicky’s bicy­cle came from the Good­will, but it was in good shape. She’d love to have a new doll, though. Any­thing new made her eyes light up. Joe could use a new bowl­ing ball, but he’d take sec­ond­hand. His was shot. That was all. Just a few things. A lit­tle din­ner out, maybe, noth­ing too expen­sive. They’d go to the din­er, and Vicky would squirm through the meal just wait­ing for the sun­dae that came in the fan­cy tall dish with whipped cream and a cher­ry. For a skin­ny kid, she put food away. Pearl could get her hair done with the high­lights she liked. She wasn’t a friv­o­lous woman, but if Joe insist­ed, she would go. Nor­mal things, that’s all, Joe thought.


Pearl’s mother’s own prob­lems includ­ed a sec­ond hus­band who was nice enough but who’d mar­ried her because he was unable to sup­port him­self. She’d mar­ried him for the com­pa­ny, and that was all she’d got. Now the com­pa­ny was ail­ing with emphy­se­ma and phlebitis and dia­betes and every­thing else that could make you a dif­fi­cult case but not kill you right away. Not soon enough, was Pearl’s pri­vate opin­ion, although she had noth­ing against Burt except his use­less­ness and the expense of keep­ing him. He did some put­ter­ing in the gar­den before he got sick, but now Pearl’s moth­er wait­ed on him hand and foot while he made stu­pid jokes in the hope that Pearl wouldn’t detest him. “Here comes Pearl, her price is above rubies.” Burt hadn’t been her step­fa­ther. He’d only been mar­ried to her moth­er two years after liv­ing with her a few more and he was well aware of Pearl’s feel­ings. He had brought noth­ing to the mar­riage but the clothes on his back, a small social secu­ri­ty check and a big appetite. He wrung her moth­er out tak­ing care of him, and his pre­scrip­tions were eat­ing into her lim­it­ed savings.

Pearl thought Rose should put him in a senior home, but she didn’t want to do that.

As long as I can take care of him, I will. I promised for bet­ter or for worse.”

But you nev­er got the bet­ter, so you don’t owe the worse.”

Baby, I’d be so lone­ly with­out him. He real­ly is a good friend since your father died.” Pearl’s father had been dead twelve years.

Pearl had to admit she nev­er heard a com­plaint or an unkind word from him, and he always took the time to play cards or some­thing with Vicky. She just wor­ried about her moth­er. Rose wasn’t get­ting any younger at six­ty-two. Pearl went to vis­it as often as she could, tak­ing two bus­es with Joe and Vicky, car­ry­ing loaves of sticky cin­na­mon bread she’d baked the day before. She had to bring more than one because Vicky would eat almost a whole one her­self, and no use explain­ing to the child it was for grand­ma, because grand­ma would offer it to her until it was gone. That was Rose. So Pearl baked two.

Joe held Vicky’s hand and Pearl held the cin­na­mon bread. Vicky would have liked to car­ry it, but she would have swung the plas­tic shop­ping bag into every fence for the five-block walk from the bus and knocked the loaves to pieces.

Pearl’s moth­er opened the screen with a far­away look in her eye. She was an old­er, frail­er ver­sion of stur­dy, rud­dy Pearl.

Hi Mom, every­thing all right?”

She and Joe and Vicky filed into the neat lit­tle front yard, shut the gate of the pick­et fence behind them and went up the wood­en stairs. Rose gave them each a hel­lo hug.

I’m all right, hon­ey. It’s Burt I’m wor­ried about.”

They fol­lowed her into the kitchen where the cof­fee was already made in the per­co­la­tor, and sat down at the table. She had set five places for cof­fee, or in Vicky’s case, milk.

Where is he?” Pearl asked know­ing that Burt usu­al­ly wait­ed five or ten min­utes before join­ing them, to let them say their hel­los, he said.

He’s in the garage. Hon­ey, I’m so wor­ried. He’s been so depressed late­ly, because of his health, you know. He said I should think about putting him in Moth­er of Mer­cy, but I just couldn’t. And he’s real­ly not much trouble.”

Pearl held her tongue, although she knew full well how much trou­ble Burt was. His reclin­er and TV were moved to the garage for the warm months, so he could breathe bet­ter. That meant twice as many steps for Rose every time he want­ed something.

Pearl cut a slice of bread for Vicky and spread but­ter on it. Joe took a slice, as well.

Sor­ry to hear that,” Joe said.

Yeah, I want to see Grand­pa Burt. I want to play check­ers,” Vicky said, stuff­ing her mouth with cin­na­mon bread.

Grand­pa Burt will come out lat­er,” Rose said, push­ing a bowl of grapes toward the girl. Vicky wrin­kled her nose at them.

Well, what are you going to do?” Pearl final­ly said.

Just hope he comes out of it. He did last time. As soon as he felt a lit­tle better.”

Pearl thought, but did not say, that soon­er or lat­er, he would stop feel­ing better.

The atmos­phere had grown unac­count­ably strained. Rose, wait­ing to hear Burt’s step. Her emo­tion­al state affect­ed the whole house, always had. Pearl’s father used to say she could wor­ry up a storm. Grand­pa Jer­ry, Pearl thought, except that he had not had the chance to meet Vicky or she him.

I don’t know what’s going to hap­pen to him,” Rose said, pick­ing at her cin­na­mon toast in a for­lorn way.

He’s going to kill him­self,” Vicky said, mat­ter-of-fact­ly, a sticky brown ring of cin­na­mon around her mouth. Her voice, a loud chirp, car­ried a good distance.

Vicky! Don’t say things like that. You’ll hurt Grandma’s feel­ings,” Pearl said, more shocked than angry. “Where does she come up with these things?”

I saw it in the crys­tal ball,” Vic­ki insisted.

She doesn’t know what she’s say­ing,” Joe said, but­ter­ing a sec­ond slice of bread in the hope that it would keep Vicky qui­et. “Come on, munchkin, I know where Grand­pa Burt keeps the check­ers.” Vicky fol­lowed him to the liv­ing room, clutch­ing the sticky slice of bread and still chew­ing the last bite of the pre­vi­ous one.

Rose didn’t seem over­ly upset. She smiled the slow half-smile that meant she was tak­ing her Xanax. In slow motion, her expres­sion relaxed as she heard Burt approach.

They could hear Burt mak­ing his way from the garage to the kitchen. His walk was slow­er than last week, and his breath­ing was labored.

Rose could hear it, too. “Doc­tor wants to give him an oxy­gen tank, but Burt doesn’t want it. Do you think he would use it if I just went ahead and let them bring one? It’s cov­ered,” she added, know­ing what Pearl was thinking.

Pearl had indeed been won­der­ing what that was going to cost. “I don’t know, Mom. You know him bet­ter than I do.” She want­ed to say, ‘They must have oxy­gen tanks at Moth­er of Mer­cy.’ Again, she held her tongue. Pearl had lis­tened when her moth­er advised her to mar­ry a man who earned a decent liv­ing. Lit­tle good it had done her, but nobody could have pre­dict­ed Joe’s back. When Burt moved in, and again when he pro­posed to Rose, Pearl had remind­ed her moth­er of that advice, but Rose had been hap­py to mar­ry again. “You nev­er know what is going to hap­pen, any­way, hon­ey,” Rose had said, mean­ing no one had expect­ed hard­work­ing Joe to be laid up, and at the same time imply­ing there might be a mir­a­cle with Burt.

So, it was Pearl who had unwit­ting­ly pro­vid­ed the ratio­nale for Rose to mar­ry pen­ni­less Burt, Pearl who had want­ed them to get their own place when they got mar­ried, or they would have lived with Rose all along. In some way, it was all Pearl’s fault, but how was it Pearl’s fault that Joe’s back had giv­en out, forc­ing them to move to the base­ment of Rose’s sister’s house? By then, Burt had moved in and Rose had just a tiny spare room that had been Pearl’s bed­room, not near­ly enough space for a fam­i­ly. Pearl had want­ed to stay near her moth­er. She and Joe had had their eye on a house on the same street. That had to be post­poned when Joe was injured, and then post­poned again, when it didn’t seem his back was going to get any bet­ter. And Rose did not have the heart to throw Burt out, even to make room for her daughter’s fam­i­ly. Instead, Rose had mar­ried Burt, and Pearl, Joe and Vicky had moved to the base­ment. Pearl still ques­tioned the tim­ing of Burt’s proposal.

And now my moth­er is like a rag doll, so worn out, Pearl thought. She can hard­ly stand up. There were so many things she want­ed to tell her moth­er, tears to cry that were for Rose’s shoul­der only, wor­ries about Joe, about Vicky, about all three of them in that base­ment, breath­ing coal dust all win­ter, and about the sec­ond child Pearl want­ed that there was no time or mon­ey to have, but how could she bur­den Rose with more prob­lems, when Rose had enough of her own?

Burt final­ly made it to the kitchen. He held onto the door frame while Rose arranged a chair for him. Then, he col­lapsed heav­i­ly into it, wheezing.

Hel­lo Pearl,” he wheezed out.

Hel­lo Burt,” Pearl said. She didn’t mean for him to see the look on her face. It usu­al­ly took him awhile, lean­ing for­ward on his hands and look­ing down, to catch his breath, after he came into a room. This time, though, he looked up at Pearl as soon as he sat down, and what he saw there made him look away.

Beau­ti­ful weath­er,” Pearl said, try­ing to make up for that hor­ri­ble moment.

Burt ral­lied, but his voice shook. “Rose’s gar­den is going to be some­thing this year,” he said, unable to look at Pearl.

Yes it will, thanks to all the work you did in the last few years,” Rose said, gai­ly, turned toward the counter, where she was putting some fruit in a bowl for Burt.

Grand­pa Burt!” Vicky called. She ran in and gave him a hug. “We’re play­ing check­ers. Come and play.”

Grand­pa Burt has to rest,” Pearl said.

Why don’t you bring the check­ers in here?” Burt said. Vicky whirled away to get them.

Watch­ing her, Pearl felt wretched. He might be a poor man, but he could still be a good man. Could she blame him for not want­i­ng to die alone and poor? Could she blame him for mak­ing her moth­er a nurse­maid and her daugh­ter a raga­muf­fin? Stop it, Pearl told her­self. Just stop.

Vicky came back, fol­lowed by Joe, who car­ried a fold­ed-up card­board checker­board with the check­ers inside.

Here you go,” Joe said, putting them on the table in front of Vicky. “How you doing, Burt?”

Well no point in com­plain­ing. I’m still here,” Burt said. “Red or black, Vicky?”

Red. Can I go first?”

Sure can.”

There wasn’t enough room at the table for the five of them and the checker­board. Rose stood watch­ing from in front of the sink, her face flushed.

Show me around the gar­den?” Pearl asked.

Yeah, go ahead,” Burt said.

If you need me,” Rose began, but Burt shook his head.

I’ll be right here,” Joe said, giv­ing Pearl a look. He knew she want­ed to be alone with Rose.

Pearl let out a breath it seemed she had been hold­ing for ten minutes.

Ten min­utes was the approx­i­mate amount of time Rose could stand leav­ing Burt alone in the kitchen, even with Joe.

What do you do when he’s in the garage?” Pearl asked, pic­tur­ing Rose run­ning in and out of there every few minutes.

I usu­al­ly just sit with him, unless I’m doing some­thing else. I don’t like to leave him alone.”

Alone. Cer­tain words become so fraught with mean­ing that it is impos­si­ble to use them in every­day speech any more.

Pearl’s father had died alone in the house while Rose was out shop­ping. He mowed the lawn with the old push mow­er then had a mas­sive heart attack in the show­er. He crawled out into the hall­way try­ing to reach the phone, and was lying there when she returned with the gro­ceries for sup­per. She still thought about it every time she bought chick­en cut­lets, and, because she had told the sto­ry often enough, so did Pearl.

I’m sor­ry, Mom,” Pearl said, mean­ing for every­thing, includ­ing her resent­ment of the bare­ly ten min­utes alone with Rose.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you choose,” Rose said. “I’ll be all right.”

Back in the kitchen, Vicky had won a game of checkers.

She cheats,” Joe said.

I do no-ot,” Vicky wailed, obvi­ous­ly pleased.

She’s one mean check­er play­er, I’ll say,” Burt said.

Pearl man­aged a small, tired smile.

The bus ride home took three-quar­ters of an hour. That night was a work night for Pearl, a long night of remem­ber­ing her mother’s weary face, and regret­ting that she had wished Vicky would be right about Burt, and worse, that she had let Burt see it, although she told her­self over and over that wish­ing some­one would die was not the same as killing him, had no pow­er to harm.

There was a con­tin­u­al stream of peo­ple until two, then a few strag­glers. Pearl was tired of count­ing out change from the reg­is­ter. Her feet hurt, and wor­ry was no doubt killing her, soon she would have an ulcer and high blood pres­sure, not to men­tion heel spurs. Nights like this, she could under­stand why peo­ple might be tempt­ed to steal, even to kill, because some­times it seemed like the only thing between your­self and hap­pi­ness was those few extra dol­lars you nev­er seemed to have.


There would be only one. He would be Lati­no or Asian or white, or a com­bi­na­tion, because that was this area. Young, because most of the cus­tomers were young at night, and Pearl didn’t want to sug­gest any per­son­al char­ac­ter­is­tics that might have been, or not been, eas­i­ly wit­nessed. Wear­ing? That was easy, what they all wore, bag­gy jeans, expen­sive sneak­ers you hard­ly saw. A sweat­shirt with a hood. Gray, no, black. Facial hair? A goatee.

It would be a week­night, or a qui­et week­end. Too many peo­ple oth­er­wise. Not the biggest mon­ey night, that would be too sus­pi­cious. Not the small­est, what would be the point?

Unlike some con­ve­nience stores, at this one Pearl was not required to put the mon­ey in a safe. The man­ag­er did that in the morn­ing. So there might be a thou­sand dol­lars by morn­ing. That would go a long way, but Pearl was too super­sti­tious to count the mon­ey hers in advance. That led to get­ting pre­ma­ture­ly attached to it, and that led to mis­takes. Her father had taught her the rules of mon­ey as a young girl. He stud­ied the rac­ing sheet with Pearl look­ing over his shoul­der. He had a job, but was always on the look­out for ways to bring in a lit­tle extra cash.

Daddy’s Pearl. What a thrill the day a horse with that name ran at Bel­mont. It ran third, and her father made a lit­tle mon­ey from the bet he had placed to please her.

Plan­ning anoth­er “rob­bery,” Pearl sat on the counter doo­dling on a nap­kin, care­ful not to write words or draw any­thing like a knife or a gun. Tonight, or anoth­er night this week. She could almost feel her father’s hand on her shoul­der, approv­ing, but admon­ish­ing her to be careful.

There were no cus­tomers now. When the phone rang, she knew it was Joe.

It’s about Burt.”

What hap­pened?”

Mas­sive stroke.”


On the way to the hospital.”

Pearl grit­ted her teeth. “How is she?”

Cille went over there.” The upstairs aunt. “I said we’d be by as soon as you could.”

Pearl looked at the clock. Two hours. “Make sure Vicky…never mind.” She had been going to say, doesn’t think he killed him­self. Vicky was asleep.

Heart pound­ing. Crum­pling up the doo­dled-on nap­kin, plans for the rob­bery aban­doned. Not now but soon they’d move to Rose’s house. Mean­time, what to do for her in the next few weeks, not to seem in a hur­ry. Not to seem happy.

Head in hands, to pro­vide a blank screen for the mind to think, when the door opens. Two young guys, twen­ty­ish, furtive but not dan­ger­ous. Pearl doesn’t need a crys­tal ball to fore­see a cou­ple of stolen six-packs, and a paid-for pack of cig­a­rettes, ploy to get her to turn her back.

She rings up the cig­a­rettes, gives change, doesn’t even look at the one slip­ping out the door. Don’t get your­self killed for a cou­ple of bucks, the police detec­tive had said to her when she described the sus­pect in the first rob­bery she report­ed. It ain’t even your money.

The two young men meet up out­side. Laugh­ing, rush­ing off to what­ev­er the late hour promis­es, once you fig­ure in the free beer.

Pearl smiles. It’s not hap­pi­ness she feels, or at least not the mean-spir­it­ed kind that would come from gloat­ing over Burt’s death. She feels the joy of two young ani­mal bod­ies rush­ing off into the cool, dark dawn. She goes to the plate glass win­dow to watch them jostling down the avenue like colts, like lambs, two ani­mals she has only ever seen on TV. The stars are already invis­i­ble behind the blue fuzz of morn­ing. She puts her fore­head against the glass. The year in the coal cel­lar falls away, a hun­dred years and a hun­dred coal cel­lars fall away with their beaked weight of wor­ry and sor­row. She is in the back yard, drink­ing a beer, smelling bar­be­cue and rose bush­es. She is thir­ty-four. Joe smiles and spears a steak on the grill.

There is a formi­ca booth over by the ice cream counter. She sits with both hands in her lap, fin­gers inter­twined, like at school.

Her relief comes in ten min­utes ear­ly. It’s Elly. They went to the same high school, although they didn't know each oth­er then.

Go ahead,” Elly says. “I’ll punch you out at six.”

Pearl smiles and does not get up.

What?” Elly asks.

Can I have a sundae?”

Elly makes a vanil­la sun­dae with syrupy straw­ber­ries, crushed pineap­ple and whipped cream. She gives Pearl two cherries.

Pearl eats, licks the spoon. Sun­light hits the plate glass win­dow and her heart shim­mers like a crys­tal. She sees her­self walk­ing home five min­utes from now, giv­ing Vic­ki a kiss, and Joe. Dress­ing to go to her mother’s. Giv­ing Rose a hug. Mak­ing her break­fast. Sit­ting togeth­er over coffee.

Each sweet cold mouth­ful is anoth­er vision rich with promise, anoth­er prob­lem dis­solved like sug­ar on the tongue.

Ann Marie Amod­eo lives in rur­al upstate NY and vot­ed against frack­ing. Her short fic­tion has appeared in var­i­ous jour­nals and she is cur­rent­ly look­ing for a home for her post-apoc­a­lyp­tic novel.

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