Coming Home by Hailey Stoner

Coming home is terrible. It’s terrible, and I’m not quite sure why. My husband loves me. Every morning, he makes me coffee and sneaks a note into my lunchbox before work. He always lets me play my music in the car, even if it’s something he doesn’t like, like Beyoncé or Backstreet Boys. He leaves every Friday night open on his calendar for our date night, and he runs me a bubble bath every Sunday night. 

​My son loves me. He dedicates every painting he makes in art class to me, and only me. Each time I go to the grocery store, he insists on coming to help with the list. I was the subject for his real-life hero project in English class, and named me “real-life Wonder Woman, but ten times better.” 

I’ve been sitting in my car, parked in the driveway for ten minutes now, staring at the closed garage door. I don’t want to go inside. Talking to my husband is exhausting. He asks too many questions. Can you pick up Noah from school tomorrow? Who’d you talk to at work today? Do you still want to do poker night with Danny and Vannessa on Saturday? I don’t want him to see me through the window.

My legs stick to the leather seats. It feels like I ran a marathon by the time I finally manage to get out. I want to fall to the ground and stare at the clouds until my eyes are so dry that it hurts to blink again, but I don’t. I force my legs to move toward the house. 

As soon as I walk through the front door, I start to sink. The floor pulls me under, slow like quicksand. It sucks the shoes off my feet, and I use the banister to pull myself up, but it won’t release its hold. I think it’s going to pull me all the way under, keeping me hostage in my own home, before it finally stops right above my ankles. 

Coming home is terrible. My husband is already in the kitchen making dinner. He asks where I’ve been. I should’ve been home two hours ago. 

I try to tell him I was sitting in the office parking lot because I didn’t want to drive home. Try to tell him my brain finally gave me a little break, letting my mind drift in the nothing for a short time. To tell him coming home is terrible. Work is terrible. The grocery store is terrible. The park, the gym, the school. It’s all so awfully terrible. 

I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. My tongue is a brick, cemented to the roof of my mouth. There’s a tickle in my throat, and I try to clear it, but the tickle grows and grows, until I’m overtaken with a coughing fit. I cough, and cough, and with every cough I sink lower into the sand that has become the floor. 

At the stove, my husband flips a patty, as if nothing here is out of the ordinary. The grease sends a puff of steam into the air. I don’t know why he can’t see the sand. He ignores the coughing fit to say he’ll pick me up from work tomorrow, so he’ll know where I am. 

I cough, and sink, and cough, and sink, until a fish comes flopping out of my throat, landing right in front of me. It flips around, gills opening and closing, gasping to breathe. Its little black eye stares up at me, begging for me to save him. The sand has taken me up to my knees. 

Coming home is terrible because I have to be the good mother and the good wife, even when my mind won’t let me. Even when it feels like I’m living in somebody else’s skin, in their house with their family, while my real body floats in a tank of water somewhere. 

My son runs down the stairs and across the sand’s surface as if it were the hardwood. He jumps into my arms, and I sink to my hips. The longer I hold him, the further I sink. His lips move, but I can’t hear anything. He waves his arms, and my ribs sink under. My husband sprinkles seasoning into the pan, and my son turns to him once he realizes I’m not much entertainment at the moment. When he opens his mouth again, I hear the sound of water. Like I’m in the ocean, swimming with the fish that came from my throat. 

My son jumps from my arms, and runs over to my husband, watching him set the plates. He loves to help in the kitchen, but my husband doesn’t trust him with those tasks. I try to move to sit at the table, but the sand makes it nearly impossible to use any of my lower body. It feels like I’m melting into the floor. It’s going to trap me. My husband speaks, but still, I can only hear the water. 

It starts dull and distant– the water– but it grows. The harder I push against the sand, the louder it becomes. The boys sit at the table, ready to eat, and my husband waves me over to join. I use everything I can to move, but the sand is too heavy. 

Suddenly, the walls lean and crack. The house creaks, and groans, and the water is strong. It swooshes so loud in my ears that for a moment I believe the pressure will crush my skull. I reach for them at the table, but the walls come crashing down before I can get them. Water pours into the house through every crevasse, quickly filling to the ceiling. As I drift underwater, I see them eating at the table as if coming isn’t terrible. I want to shake them from their trance. To wake them, and save them, but I don’t. I just float.

Hailey Stoner was born and raised in Western Maryland. She graduated from the creative writing program at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and is a current student at Hagerstown Community College. She writes short fiction, essays, and poetry.