A Perfect Family (A Short Story)


She sits next to the three-month-old magazines and watches people scurry amidst the sound of keyboards and cash machines, the scritch-scratch of pen against deposit slip and the impertinence of the child clinging to his mother’s leg. Thank you. Good morning. Have a good day. How’re the kids.

The banker approaches her, dutiful solemnity in his step. He rests his hand on her shoulder and helps her up from the chair. He looks at her with that now all-too-familiar look that says I’m terribly sorry for your loss, but you should have stuck with me in high school.

• • •

The train passes. The crossing gates rise and beckon him through. He puts the truck into gear and drives across. He laments the old girl’s fading shocks.

He pulls into the school parking lot. Empty, like every morning at this godforsaken hour. He pulls the phone out of his pocket and rests it on the passenger seat.

Between bites of sausage biscuit and coffee, he stares at the brick temple of triumphs past. He is the embodiment of the great small town epic, the star athlete who married the head cheerleader and gave back to the community via Jesus and real estate.

He smiles at their photo taped to the dashboard, his perfect family: his beautiful wife, their radiant bliss more than making up for the children absent from their life, the one thing they couldn’t have.

She let him have her in the parking lot after their last game. Aerosmith played low. The tape clicks drowned Steve out. She said it didn’t count without a ring. He put his class ring on her finger, four sizes too big. She gave him hers. It cut off circulation to his pinky. Their rings scratched the inside windows of his Cavalier.

They opted for necklaces later.

He takes another bite. The phone buzzes. He puts the truck into gear.

• • •

The banker leads the way.

–– Watch your step. Had two people fall down yesterday. Feet slipped right out from under ‘em. I think we’ve got a cracked stair under there.

She clutches the railing.

–– I just can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. Tom was ––is––a good friend.

She nods.

• • •

He adjusts the sign in front of the house. High winds last night. It’s their third viewing. They’re going to put in an offer. He can feel it.

–– It’s got everything you could ever want. Perfect for entertaining. Fenced in yard. Privacy.

He brought her here a few times. The other her.

He guides them through the signing. They sit at the tiny breakfast table. Sign here. Initial there. The wife inspects the hinges on the kitchen cabinets. He adds “replace cabinet hinges” to the conditions.

He shakes their hands. He tells them he’ll let them know as soon as he hears anything.

• • •

The banker turns the wheel to the vault. The door opens with a lurch. Boxes line the far wall. A table in the center.

–– Pretty rough game the other night, huh? Can’t believe we lost. Not even fair. They can recruit. Makes us the best public school in the state, doesn’t it? Tom would have––

She hands him the key.

• • •

He drives past the school. He pulls out his phone.

–– Great news: they accepted. Have a good night’s rest and we’ll get everything moving forward tomorrow. That’s right. Yep. Hinges too.

He smiles and hangs up. He adjusts his tie ––his favorite Indians tie–– and puts in the CD. Steven at full blast.

He drives the truck onto the train tracks. He puts it in park and takes his foot off the pedals. The train whistle screams. The crossing gates scrape the hood and bed. He clutches the necklace.


• • •

The key fits. The banker places the box on the table.

–– I’m terribly sorry it all came out this way, Alison.

–– Thank you.

She opens the box.

Her class ring.

A five thousand dollar bill. A ten thousand dollar bill. Brother and sister. A perfect family.

A note: