About the Author

Krista Foss

Books by this Author
Half Life
Excerpt

Bets has chosen a café-diner in Cudahy just beyond a row of puddlers’ cottages with an easy atmosphere and comfort food. It is intimate and appealing, the kind of place you’d go to break up with a lover or fire an employee, because a scene would be so conspicuous here, and if he or she left in a huff, it would feel okay staying, finishing their meal and yours.

Sitting across from each other, Elin and Bets are over-polite. They comment on the heaping plates of food being delivered to a couple at the bar. Elin pretends to be interested in the quirky art on the walls, the decent wine and beer list, the strangely uncomfortable chairs, and a display case of homemade pies.

But what she thinks about, with a rash-like itch of fear and curious hurt, is the large brown envelope sticking out of Bets’s purse.

Elin can’t see how she missed it, with her new obsessive mailbox checking.

They are relieved when a server who is a few years older than Bets arrives and takes their drinks order. Elin reminds herself that the kinds of good things she’s wanted for her daughter also come in envelopes.

While Bets studies the menu, Elin takes another peek. The face of it—with return address, postal marks, logos— is turned away from her. All she can see is the envelope’s perfectly intact tongue, neither dimpled nor torn, folded over the top end. This is so like Bets, this meticulousness, opening an envelope without destroying any part of it. How can it not be something precious to her, some fulfilment of a secret wish?

Over and over, Bets has said, I’m travelling. I’m starting in London and then I’m wandering Europe for a while. If my money lasts, a whole year. The ticket’s bought and paid for.

Elin has not believed her. Ideas change. Money never lasts as long as you want. Those European capitals, so enthralling at first, gradually weary travellers, ultimately disappoint. (Though she’s never been, Elin has overheard another teacher say as much.) Moving around can be lonely and fail to elevate. Now, at least she has a fallback; the envelope’s shaped for something serious and grounded: adulthood.

The server is back with their drinks and asks if they’d like to order. Elin has her eyes on the menu, but nothing is registering. Where? she wonders. Which school? She’s hoping for science. All those hours coaching Bets through binomial theorem and differentiation. And physics: the subject for which she had the most help, and which caused the most tears.

Mom? Are you ready?

Elin senses the server shift impatiently from one foot to the other, and eye the door where new customers enter.

I’ll give you a few more minutes.

Pasta special.

Elin blurts it. Bets will wait until the ordering is done before she starts a conversation about the envelope.

Anything to start?

She wants a salad, but its delivery will be another interruption. But then Bets orders a starter, something with hot cheese and rosemary bread cubes, that will postpone the substance of their conversation until later.

There’s a palpable hollow in the server’s cheeriness. Her eye twitches with impatience. Restless, Elin thinks. This is not where she imagined being at this stage in her life.

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