The Skype image of Lisa and the boys kept freezing, muting Lisa’s chatter mid-syllable. Her face, her hair a little greasy and pulled back in a ponytail, no bra so that her full breasts and nipples pressed in relief against one of his cammi T-shirts—all pixelated. She got up off the bed and angled the laptop so that Jeff could see a six-inch crack in the drywall above their dresser.
“Jesus, Lisa,” Jeff said. “That? It’s no big deal. The house is settling is all.”
“It makes me nervous.”
“Forget about it.”
The image on the screen disappeared and a few seconds later Jeff saw his baby boys scuttling across the pale blue carpet like two diapered crabs. He remembered that rush of happiness when the doc gave him and Lisa the news. Double trouble, they’d joked. So many years of disappointment, then twins. They’d been so tired those first months, but damn, were they ever happy.
Then he got called up and Lisa freaked. When she wasn’t crying she was snapping at him. Fucking lousy timing but nothing he could do.
“Okay, it’s nothing,” Lisa said.
Her tone was flat, dead calm but underneath crackling with dangerous current, the way the treeless highway felt at the start of every convoy out of Jalalabad.
“And the icemaker’s not working again,” she said.
Jeff sucked in his breath and tried not to grimace. “Lisa,” he said, but she’d turned away from the screen.
A couple seconds of silence and then a long thin wail shrieked across the time zones, exacting and swift like tracer fire in the night. Jeff felt the familiar ache of guilt-and-anger-anger-and-guilt. The screen showed nothing but pale blue carpet.
“Oh, sweetie,” Lisa cooed then. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.”
Jeff felt his heart pumping like right after the blast. He heard Lisa shushing one of their sons. Cooing and shushing.
“What the fuck’s going on, Lisa? Who’s hurt? What the fuck?”
No crying then. Nothing. Radio silence.
Lisa came back on. She cradled the laptop and both his boys. Ethan’s round cheeks splotchy from crying, Tyler reaching with one pudgy hand for Lisa’s earring. Jeff felt his breath return, his lungs aching with relief.
“I gotta go,” she said. “They’re hungry.”
“Yeah,” he said, and then a hair’s width of a second after Lisa logged off, “love you, too.”
Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Winter 2015