The woman’s face appears on the south side of the winter cabin. I watch her put her hand above her eyes to see inside, then I pull the sweaty sheet over my head. She looks down, knocks her fist on the window.
I wait until the woman knocks on the door.
“Ok,” I say, getting up, giving in. I am still with my mother inside me, polite although the time is mine.
Other women. One thing we did not think of when coming up here. Women who do not want this ride, up in the hills with no husbands, untied. This was misguided and selfish of us. Now mothers are coming from all sides.
“You paid my son,” this one says.
I look at her, a sad train of a woman. Why a train? I can see all the stops she’s made, all the things she’s carried. These ideas have been coming to me about other women since I’ve released myself, since we have created our new Community.
“Yes,” I say. For his services.
I look into her eyes and try to remember her son. Is there something that hints at him, or will it only be if I saw the father? Men are not allowed here unless we open the gate, so unless we hire his father, I will probably never know.
“He says you didn’t hurt him,” the woman says, and at first I think she is joking.
I smile, try to turn away. So far she has told me that I have given her son money and was nice to him. What else could I do? Love him?
“What do you want?” I ask.
“Where are your children?” she asks. The fact that she thinks I should think of my kids as I think of my kids in a life I made trying not to think of my kids is a nightmare or a coincidence.
“It’s not my night,” I say. Questions and questions on my turn in the winter cabin.
Two nights later we are outside. My night in the Community as server. We are all sitting at the outside tables, built by boys’ hands. I serve potatoes to the children first. Then, the woman appears, and I suddenly recognize him in her.
He had been my night this week in the winter cabin.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“Can I stay?” she asks.
Linda – her name – gave into me quickly. We shared my night in the winter cabin. Then we smoked cigarettes and talked about men until I stopped us and reminded us why we came here in the first place.
The land Tessa inherited, kids in the back, arriving one by one, was made for women and children. There was already the big house built when we got here, and then the winter cabin.
The truth? I liked my scent. I didn’t want to clean. Cooking made me anxious and nauseous: I couldn’t eat a thing I made. The husbands took up too much of the bed, made it impossible. But if there were more of us, we could get things done. These boys were here for weekends, for needs, and then they were supposed to be gone.
Linda kept visiting, and I no longer minded. We served on the same nights. Then – one night – her son returned and asked for money.
“Where are all your kids?” the boy asks, now, just like his mother. We are in the winter cabin, Linda’s night on duty.
“Who watches them?” the boy asks.
This boy seems suddenly born, and I have to admit, it is the way I like them.
So I tell him: some of us eat organic but most of us don’t give a shit. One of us has a little garden but the dog stomps it and the kids follow.
Only a few of us love each other. Janie, for instance, says she loves Stacey, and there are the two new gals, but the rest of us have stuck with the plan, the cabin, the imported boys. There are some of us who want no one; Yellow is the name of the dog.
The truth? If one of the kids gets nits, we all pick them. We have the winter cabin, and that stays open all year.
This seems to satisfy him, but he still does not move to get dressed. Instead he lights a cigarette and hands it to me.
I look at the boy’s dimples. The truth? I wish I was someone he loved. I was always a starer (both husbands told me that), and I knew which girls were the pretty girls at the bar when I made my offer to him. I’ve always had boys’ eyes inside me.
Pretty girls never remember things. Have you noticed that? They always make silly faces – cross eyes, tongues out, – in photos because they can.
“My times up,” I say, catching myself.
“The time,” the boy says, looking at the clock. His time is all day.
Pretty boys can be like pretty girls. This time, I will remember him.
Rachel Sherman holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Her short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Fence, The Offing, Catapult, Conjunctions, and n+1, among other publications. Her first book, The First Hurt, was short-listed for the Story Prize and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and was named one of the 25 Books to Remember in 2006 by the New York Public Library. Her first novel, Living Room (2009) was commended for its “perfect pacing” by The New York Times Book Review. She teaches writing at Rutgers, Columbia and Fairleigh Dickinson Universities, and leads the Ditmas Writing Workshops. www.rachelsherman.net