Lingering Smoke (A Work-In-Progress Excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from my current work in progress, a disaster novel set in Europe.  This portion won’t actually make it into the novel, as it is set about two and a half years after the story ends.  By this point, the main characters are attempting to return to a normal life, and struggling to move on.

Sienna came back to haunt us one Sunday when we returned from church to the stench of burning beef roast. I rushed to the stove and yanked open the creaky oven door and pulled out the smoldering rump roast.

“Aww…” I flipped through the Rolodex of my mind for a word that would express my disappointment but was also appropriate for my two little kids, who were standing in their boots and winter parkas, watching me with big eyes. I settled for saying nothing. Tears welled up in my eyes. My roast! My one and only roast, which had cost me a good chunk of my weekly grocery budget.

I swiped at my eyes with one hand and tossed the oven mitts down with the other. Damn!

“Mommy.” Mo tugged at me. His mittens, dangling from their strings, waved some of the smoke toward the open door. “Mommy.”

“Shut the door, Mo,” I said.

“Mommy, Daddy is sick.”

I turned. Liam was gone. Sean’s bundled little figure was silhouetted in the doorway. I crossed to the door with three strides. Outside, Liam was kneeling in the snow, heaving up the last of his breakfast.

Oh God. I suddenly smelled, in what had just been smoking beef roast, what Liam must have smelled: burning flesh.

“Mo, go get Daddy a glass of water.” I jumped off the step into the snow. Sean waddled out behind me and stood on the edge of the step, whimpering. I touched Liam’s back. He stiffened.

I pulled him to his feet, away from the foul mess on the ground, and wrapped my arms around his waist the best I could with my pregnant belly. I ignored the odor of vomit on his breath and held him and listened to his breath hissing between his teeth as he fought to get himself together.

Mo tugged on my hand and held up a blue plastic cup, half full of water. “Daddy?”

I let Liam go, and Liam took the water. “Thanks Mo,” he said softly. He swished water in his mouth, spat it onto the snow, and repeated the process. Sean, still on the step, whined.

Liam touched my hand and gave the cup back to Mo. He picked Sean up and nuzzled his chubby cheek. Sean wiggled, oblivious to his daddy’s pain.

I sighed deeply and walked back into the house, where the open door and fresh air had not yet dissipated the smoke. Mo followed me, clutching the cup. He set it on the counter beside the roasting pan.

“Mommy?” he said in a small voice.

I turned back and looked down into his big brown eyes.

“Mommy.” His brow wrinkled. “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

I lowered myself down, awkwardly, and dropped to me knees so I’d be on eye level. How would I explain this? “Mo, we’ve told you about the bad things that happened before we lived in Emilio, right?”

Mo nodded solemnly.

“Well, sometimes things remind us of those bad things and sometimes when we remember, our bodies do funny things—like get sick.”

He seemed to understand. God knew that Mo, at four, already understood way too much about human suffering.

I hugged Mo. “Well, Mo, I think we’re going to have to eat somewhere else. Can you open the window by the table?”

“It’ll get cold.”

“But it will let out the smoke.” I opened the kitchen window. Mo fumbled with the crank and opened the window by the dining table. Then we put our boots back on and went back outside. Liam had kicked snow over his mess, and was carrying the giggling Sean around on his shoulders.

He smiled weakly at me. “McDonalds?”

I laughed.

Mo nodded eagerly. “Yeah! ‘Donalds!”

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