Things We Didn't Say - By Kristina Riggle

Chapter 1


My cigarette smoke twists through the predawn November air, until a gust breaks it apart. My hair whips across my face, so I turn into the wind, putting my cigarette behind my back to shelter it. The effect is like leaning off the prow of a ship.

The air is heavy with looming winter. Mornings like this, as a kid, I’d curse and groan, shivering at the bus stop in the cracking cold before the sun even came up. Now? I’d take this cold every day of the year if it always came with such exquisite quiet.

My boots crunch along the sidewalk in the gray stillness as I cast a glance back toward the drafty, narrow house where the children still sleep.

I thought one day they might be my children, or something like that. The day I first met them, Angel was doing up little Jewel’s hair in crazy ponytails with pink glitter hair spray, then they moved on to me and wound ribbons into braids all over my head. I looked like a maypole. Dylan, though, reminded me of my family’s half-wild outdoor cat, Patch. You had to earn his attention, and trying too hard was the worst thing to do. Dylan didn’t say much that first day. He started peeking at me from under his dark, floppy bangs. By the time I left, I had earned a quick half-smile granted when no one else was looking.

A square of weak yellow light flicks to life from the second story. Even from a block away I can tell it’s from Angel’s room. I’ve got time; she’ll be in the bathroom for an age, emerging in a puff of sweet-smelling bathroom steam when she imagines herself perfect.

My phone buzzes in the pocket of my parka, and I resume my daily trudge around the block, feeling my last free moments of the day burning down like my cigarette.

“Hi, Tony.”

“Hey, Edna Leigh.”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that.”

“I’m just joshing with you.”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Fine, Casey.” Though I’ve been short with him, his voice has a smile in it. I can always count on this, whatever else happens. “Does your husband get to say your real name, or do you make him use your last name, too? Shit, linebackers go by their last names.”

“If your mother had named you after a great-grandparent, you wouldn’t like it, either. How’d you like to be an Otis? Anyway, he calls me Casey, and he’s not my husband.”

“Yet?” he prompts.

“Right. Yet.”

Michael must have already left for the gym to work off his worry about his job. Every day he comes home with more news of cutbacks and layoffs and buyouts.

“When do I get to meet him?”

“Not now.”

“I’m beginning to think you’re embarrassed about me. Least if we’re going to sneak around we should screw around, too, make it fun.”

I laugh, because Tony is twice my age and then some. He’s a former neighbor but feels like my uncle, and these days is my only genuine friend. “It’s not you I’m embarrassed about.”

I step over a cracked piece of sidewalk without having to look. If they ever fix it, I’ll probably fall and break my neck.

“How great can this guy be if he expects you never to have made a mistake in your life?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Ain’t it always.”

“Whatever. What’s up with you, Tony?”

“Five hundred days sober today.”

“You get a cake for that?”

“Come to AA with me, and I’ll make you a double chocolate layer cake.”

“Congratulations, anyway.”

“C’mon, come with me. I promise to bake you a cake, or whatever you want. Name your price.”

“I can’t be bought with dessert.”

“How very high-minded.”

“I’m not going to stand there in some dreary church basement confessing to my past drunken sins, which, by the way, are two years old now. I’m doing just fine.”

My voice startles me with its volume. An early-morning dog walker passing on the other side of the street jerks his head in my direction. It’s Tom with his floppy-haired dog, Ted—named for the late senator Kennedy—and he gives me an uncertain wave.

“You sure sound fine.”

I toss my cigarette down and stamp it with my boot heel. “Did you call just to hassle me?”

“Well, not just.” Tony rattles off a cough and spits. “Talking to you is the highlight of my day. I wouldn’t get up this early for anyone else.”

“Then you have some sad days, my friend.”

I’m already rounding the corner back to the house. Claustrophobic city blocks are like that, and I’ve unwittingly sped up my walk. My ego