The line is an unruly squiggle. I watch them wait for portraits with the mall Santa — their faces dulled by 2 a.m fevers and preschool reports, these husbands and wives who loved a boy or a girl before the wedding. No bedding is 24 karat. No home stays safe from the ghosts of being loved.

I am humming. A piece by an unknown fiddler whose record my mother kept in the cherry oak cabinet behind the Galle vases and wedding crystal. Prized possessions. The gloss of muntinless panes of glass. A trophy seems unremarkable once retrieved from the shelf.

My ex-husband in the white snow-trimmed throne. The resident ruby-nosed mall Santa. A regular Pinocchio in the presence of gin. The state of Alabama grants any dong joint custody. The gavel descends, the drunks take refuge behind their manhood.

It’s a man’s world, my lawyer whispers.

It’s cheaper than alimony since the mother buys the kiddie clothes and school supplies regardless.

I will never tell you about this day when I lurk behind a white plaster column near the holiday train, unsure whether to get in line or break. Because your daddy won’t answer the phone. And I have your orange asthma inhaler. You cannot go to school or playgrounds without your inhaler.

The mall Santa’s lap is covered by kiddies. You are his child and nowhere to be seen. The voicemail insists you are with the man in red velour trousers. The difference between being and saying is a matter of physics.

I will never describe the heart tearing across a room like wild horses. The thunder of hooves driven by natural need.

I might hint at my once-upon-a-wilderness. Before the bridle and the terror. Prized yet unpossessed. What happens to a woman after a man swears to love her forever. What death lies behind the promise keepsaked. Once the cold milk of platinum is poured round her finger. Once she takes her place on the shelf. Once she smiles for the portrait. A love song describes another person — a girl she knew before knowing devalued the treasure.

I will never tell you how I sit in Santa’s lap and make a wish. Smile at the photographer’s bequest and ask your daddy to return you. Ask that he give back the little boy missing an inhaler. Ask that he give back the girl and the field and the forest she knows by heart. Drink the whiskey from Santa’s breath and swear on my life I have nothing left to pawn.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. She won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award. She is the author of Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, March 2016), Letters to Arthur (Beard of Bees, August 2016), and Ipokimen (Anchor and Plume). More online at This piece is from a series titled STORIES TO READ ALOUD TO YOUR FETUS.

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Every Day Fiction