HAPPENS ALL THE TIME • by Melissa Ostrom

Colleen woke to a fog blooming over the snow. The whiteness, wafting and voluptuous, billowed by her bedroom window — or rather Sarah’s window. Her daughter, back at college for the spring semester, wouldn’t be home anytime soon, and Colleen had made her daughter’s room her own. Through the fog, she could not see the Andersons’ renovated monstrosity with its obnoxious cupola. Nor could she make out the bad beige shade (baby diarrhea, she privately called it) of the other neighbor’s place. Even better, the fog neatly shrouded her house from them. Lately, she had felt much too seen.

She trudged downstairs. She made coffee. She prepared toast. She did not hold back on the butter. Her refrigerator was filled with food that she had bought an hour away in a squalid little grocery store in a squalid little town. At one time, not too long ago, she never would have imagined such a place, let alone visited it. But ever since Larry had made the news, she did visit it, once a week, very early on Saturdays. Speeding down its Center Road, past January fields, as smooth and white as enormous beds that no one ever slept in, she relished the town. Morton was its name, not that it mattered. She thought of her haven as Anonymity.

After breakfast, she avoided the television. She avoided the computer. She did not return calls or emails or texts. Instead, she carried a paperback novel and her steaming mug up to Sarah’s old room and crawled back into bed. Eyeing the opalescent gray outside, she sipped her coffee, the book unopened in her lap. She tried not to think about the details surrounding Larry’s indiscretions, facts she’d learned by reading the news online, just as if she were part of the public. A spectator like everyone else.

The desk button. The coercive emails to his employees. The suggestive texts. The whipped out and waggled penis. Oh, God. As if discovering that she’d married a cheater weren’t bad enough! Couldn’t he at least have betrayed her in a dignified manner? His sexual predation was just so… so horrible. And ridiculous. Yes, ridiculous. For her, the ridiculousness was the worst part. The sick comedy of his perversions. He was a silly figure now. And he made her look silly, as well.

The fog rolled by like a glutted river. When it began to thin, the oak tree by the back deck half-appeared with a wooden sway of limbs. Tenacious leaves, like shriveled bats, hung from the branches and pierced the ground-born cloud with color: splotches that stained the shifting white the hue of copper, like bloodstains on cotton.

When Colleen was in sixth grade — heavens, that would have been forty years ago — she’d gotten her period for the very first time in a spectacularly awful fashion. It had happened at school. She recalled the white pants she’d been wearing. White! The sudden sickness in her belly. The explosion and gush of red. But how kind Mrs. Handley had been, abruptly finagling a visit to the library for everyone but Colleen, returning, alone and discreet, to the classroom, her own long coat in hand, and then escorting her, bloody but bundled, to the nurse’s office. Colleen had hidden there until her mother had arrived to pick her up.

Colleen cried, remembering that. She cried for kind Mrs. Handley and the kind nurse. And she cried for her kind mother who had whisked her away, soothing as she drove, “Now calm down, sweetheart. Don’t be upset. This sort of thing happens all the time. It’s just what it is. We’ll go straight home and get you cleaned up. You’ll be okay. Everything is going to be okay.”

Melissa Ostrom teaches English at Genesee Community College in western New York and is the author of the YA historical novel, The Beloved Wild (Feiwel and Friends, 2018). Her short fiction has appeared in New South, Quarter After Eight, Passages North, and Juked, among other journals, and her second novel, tentatively entitled The Unleaving, is forthcoming from Macmillan in March of 2019.

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