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After eight weeks at home, my daughter alternated between lethargy and irritability. Between sleeping and meltdowns, explosions of preadolescent rage that leveled the living room, kitchen, and shared bedroom of our cramped apartment. That ended in tears, from a bottomless well of grief I didn’t know a ten-year-old could even feel. Face-down on the rug, the whimpering dog army-crawling up to lay next to her and rest his chin on her back, tail thumping when her arm snaked around to pull him close.
I found her more exhausting than my own boredom with hour after hour of faculty Zoom meetings. I sat muted, watching her moaning on the floor next to me, forgetting how to divide, how to look up words in a dictionary, how to read a sentence in her science textbook without my help. I tuned out my department chair as my daughter now curled up in a ball and began to whimper.
This drama, I thought, is fucking endless.
My boss droned on as my daughter began to vibrate in her misery, winding herself up, the dog scurrying out from under my desk and racing from the room as she slammed her fist into the floor, grabbed my right ankle and dug in her nails.
“I hate this,” she whispered, looking up at me. “Do you hear me?”
“I hear you. Please let go.”
“No. You don’t. You don’t — OH MY GOD, MOM!” Her eyes grew wide as she pointed at my screen.
I turned back to my boss right as his wife, Joanna, an elegant woman I’d sat next to at several campus events, slammed down on his keyboard what appeared to be an enormous salmon — or was it a trout? I didn’t know fish. It was huge and pink, heavy enough that she had to lug it, that it took both arms, her muscles bulging below her short blouse sleeves. And she smashed it right in front of him, the fish flopping, almost alive, with a wet splat I could practically smell in my bedroom.
“What?” my boss began, but the question died in his mouth as Joanna leaned forward to his computer screen and shrieked, her skin distorted and blurry, her mouth wide and full of tongue and teeth. I grabbed my daughter in a panic, covering her ears as if she was in danger. From the living room, our dog began to howl.
I pulled my daughter’s face into my chest.
“What’s happening?” she cried, muffled against my sweater.
Joanna stopped screaming and began to laugh, whispering and pointing at us. She turned back to her husband and pushed the enormous fish into his lap, taking the keyboard with it and the meeting abruptly ended.
Hannah Grieco is a writer and advocate in Arlington, VA. She is the cnf editor at JMWW, the fiction editor at Porcupine Literary, and the founder and organizer of the monthly reading series "Readings on the Pike." Find her online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter at @writesloud.