First Comes Love

Fall 2018 / Issue 104

Sean Bernard

They could smell it all, the couple: they could smell all the kids, the kids, the kids, could hear the kids, could taste all the sour kidness on the air. So, in her mind, the wife, Kate, reached for the biggest bottle of Febreze ever made and sprayed and sprayed it all away, and then, in additional response to having learned via email from her cheerful doctor that they couldn’t have children of their own—at least not without resources they currently lacked, i.e. and e.g. time, money, emotional strength, and good health insurance—the couple decided to get a kitten.

At least the husband, Kevin, did. Across the street from their bank was a pet shop; whenever they went to use the ATM, Kate would skip across and coo at the kittens in the window. Hello, pussens, she’d say. And hello to you, second pussens, she’d say.

Money gained or money lost, Kevin would join her at the window.

That orange guy, he’d say, grinning, is a little outlaw.

Don’t quote movie lines, Kate would admonish. But look, look how cute he is!

The night they got the news, after an extra round of margaritas, Kate slept and Kevin, restless, walked around the apartment, listening for leaky pipes and worrying about his current novel. As he held his ear beside the bathroom faucet, Kevin thought: Kitten, why not? The next day, as Kate was teaching her final class of summer school, Kevin drove to the pet shop. The countergirl assisted him when he asked what else he needed, besides of course the kitten, and he went home laden with food and litter box and little colored plastic balls with jingle bells inside. He released the kitten from its box and it scurried beneath the sofa, and he tried to lure it out by kicking a pink ball across the room.

He laughed about the name—jingle bells!

All afternoon, Kevin played with the kitten. Your name, he pronounced, holding the tiny warm animal before his face, will be Peeve. The kitten, orange-furred and blue-eyed, squinted and sneezed. She was a tabby so tiny that, when he held her in his hand, she pooled softly. He opened a can of cat food and the kitten sniffed it and walked away. Then he poured the kitten a saucer of milk. You like milk, he said, right, Peeve? The kitten lapped greedily, purring as it fed.

After she finished, she began licking her chops with startling urgency.

You okay, Peeve? Kevin asked, worried.

She looked at him, made a sound more yowl than meow, and puked out the milk.

Shit, Kevin said, cleaning up the vomit. He opened a can of tuna and spooned the fish into a bowl. How about this, Peeve? Chicken of the sea!

The kitten ate happily. This time, she didn’t throw up. Kevin stood over her, arms crossed, pleased. You and me, Peeve? he said. We’re going to be some sort of team. All three of us. We’re going to fight crime and have superhero names and we’ll dress you up on Halloween. He considered it. I think we’ll dress you as a black cat, Peeve. We can dye your fur!

The kitten bounded away, chasing a fly.

When Kate came home, Kevin wanted to surprise her. He asked her to shut her eyes and hold out her hands. The kitten galloped up to her, nosing her shin.

A kitten, a kitten! Kate said, lifting the kitten to her face. I get to name you! Don’t I?

Of course! the husband said.

So the kitten’s name became Polly.

In no way had Kevin considered the cross-country trip they were taking in two days; this is what Kate reminded him of as she cuddled the kitten to her neck.

Shit, Kevin said. I wasn’t thinking!

Kate nuzzed Polly. No he wasn’t thinking, was he, Polly?

So they needed a cat sitter. Kevin stapled signs on the four television poles at the nearest intersection, and three teenage girls called and made interview appointments for the next day. That night, as Polly stepped across the bed pillows, licking the couple’s hair, Kate and Kevin devised interview questions. They would, they decided, ask the same questions of each girl: best to observe protocols. Questions: experience with cat sitting; experience with cat owning; preference of dog vs. cat; willingness to clean up vomit (Why should we ask that, Kate wondered; Kevin shrugged: Just in case?). The next morning, the girls appeared in turn, each ponytailed, each serious—offering handshakes, wearing slacks and suit jackets, armed with their own questions: was there Wi-Fi on the premises? Hulu? Would the couple travel often? Could they bring guests? How many? What about AC? Kate and Kevin were impressed. They were not at all so composed at that age (they weren’t sure they were so composed at their current age). They asked their questions, they observed the girls with Polly, and, after the last girl left, they asked each other who they’d like best. They couldn’t decide. Who could tell? They asked Polly. She demurred. They wrote the girls’ names on index cards and put a spoonful of tuna on each card. Polly ate all the tuna.

They shrugged and called the first girl.

She spoke slowly, enunciating clearly. After further consideration, she informed them, I have decided to decline your offer.

The second girl, too: A thing, she said, has come up.

The couple began to panic, but the third girl was excited: Yay! she said. I loved Pilly!

Polly, Kate and Kevin said.

Polly! she said. I loved Polly!

Then, funnily enough, they flew to Philly, which was the name they’d been using for the city since they’d made their travel plans months earlier. We get to go to Philly! they’d been saying to each other. They told their friends: First we’re going to Philly—and then we’re going to the Poconos! Most of their friends were confused by this: Why the Poconos? Were they taking foxtrot lessons from Patrick Swayze? No, no. They were visiting Kevin’s stepbrother and the stepbrother’s wife and daughter. The three had a weekend cabin in the Poconos, and it’d been a long time since Kate and Kevin had seen them. The last time, the niece had been just a baby and now she was eleven, and they were excited to see family, especially young family.

Goodbye, Polly! they said to Polly. Behave! See you next week! Thanks, Margo! The cat sitter was looking at her phone, but she gave them a thumbs up, and off they went.

On the flight, Kate was sleeping, and Kevin reached over and tweaked her nose.

Her eyes blinked and she cried out. Then she quieted, assessed, and glared at him.

Poke a nose, Kevin said. Get it ha ha?

Kate mumbled a curse and turned back into sleep.

It was a redeye, so exhaustion upon arrival, but at least they had the whole day ahead of them. We have the whole day ahead of us! Kevin said. They were jostling on a downtown train from the airport. At one stop, a family of three, a father and two preteen daughters, boarded, the father clad in tourist gear, Phillies hat, backpack, baby blue Ben Franklin T-shirt. As the train rolled, the girls took pictures of one another with their phones, vamping, then sat together and compared the images. Kate observed their pubescent vanity, mildly annoyed. Kevin nudged her. Let’s go see the Liberty Bell first, he said. Kate shrugged. The Liberty Bell: Sure, why not? The train made their stop. They walked toward the Liberty Bell. That market there, Kevin said, possesses wondrous scrapple, ever had wondrous scrapple? Kate yawned. They passed a Chinatown, passed noodle shops, enormous old cemeteries. The city was tighter than Los Angeles: small streets, honking cars, old buildings and buildings new, and its air was heavy, warm and damp, stank of hot trash. A woman stepped from a doorway and tossed an arc of creamy water right onto the street.

Kevin and Kate laughed. They both, in their travel weariness, felt loose and easy.

What a place! they said. Pollydelphia! they said.

The Liberty Bell was the Liberty Bell. They considered the cracked bell’s shape. Kevin said, I’m not sure if it’s grand or if it’s meaningless.

Maybe, Kate whispered, that’s precisely the trick of the thing.

The bell? Kevin said. Or liberty?

Kate nodded sagely.

All day they were tourists. They waited in line for tickets to Independence Hall. They listened to the story about all the flies, the story about George Washington, the story about the heroic delegate who wore a veil; why was he heroic? They didn’t know, they didn’t listen. They saw, across the river, the factories of New Jersey. Cheesesteaks? Yes: Pat’s! They rode a tour bus to a prison famous for something Kevin didn’t quite grasp. What’s the big deal? he asked.

It’s a penitentiary, Kate explained. For the penitent.

They walked the prison’s low halls into cells with trees growing right through the concrete floors, pressing up through the concrete ceilings. Can’t stop nature, Kevin thought. He stood in a cell, alone, thinking about the word ‘cell.’ It came from monks first, he recalled, and then it came to also mean the littlest parts of the body. The little homes in the body with all the little bits. Sometimes, he thought, those bits that failed a person.

He pressed his hand to the chalky wall. He breathed in the must.

He tried to imagine it. Being stuck here. In this sad cell. For years. In silence.

It sounds awful, he said to Kate.

He’d left his cell and had come upon her touching the tree in her own cell, next to his cell—not with her hand. She was touching her forehead to it, in communion.

That’s because, she said, eyes shut, voice sorrowful, it is awful.

Was, Kevin said.

Kate tiredly opened her eyes. Was, she said. Is, she said.

Same same, Kevin said.

They left the sad prison and rode a bus to the museum. Kate held her fists high beside the boxer statue. Yo Adrian, Kevin said, I am leaving, I am leaving. Kate grinned. They walked up the grand steps, too travel-tired to jog. At the top, they touched fists. Inside the museum, they wandered the rooms, and in each room, each gallery, they debated which picture they’d take home. I prefer the lady with the glowing eyes, Kate said. I’ll hang her on the front door.

I believe, Kevin said, his wife jumped out a window. While, he added, she was pregnant!

Kate frowned. Who wife? she asked. The Russian poetess?

Kevin shrugged. He wasn’t very sure what he knew or didn’t know.

They peered through the peephole at the reclining naked lady.

Where the men can see it all, Kevin said. Get it?

Kate rolled her eyes and they kept walking, through the museum, out of the museum, through the narrow city streets, beneath the city hall, past the new skyscrapers, past parks and donut shops and pizzerias, walking all the way through the friendly if stinky city. And everywhere: children. Babes bandoliered to moms’ chests. Toddlers straining against monkey-tail leashes. Can we see the fanatic later, Daddy? pleaded one boy, this at the prison. Can we, can we please see the fanatic? Of course! the father said. Fanatics! Kevin thought. WTF? And sulking teens, shoulders scraping the sidewalk, sulking parents looking in generational frustration at the teens.

But happiness, too: cheerful families in matching T-shirts, jogging, taking pictures, pointing, posing, laughing. Babies in strollers, squawking. A baby puked on a father’s shoulder; the father laughed widely. Whoa, nice job, Theo! he said, patting the kid on the head.

You have to be positive, he explained to Kevin. Then it’s a good time, all the time.

That, Kevin agreed, is a good rule of thumb. Hear that, Kate?

But she wasn’t listening. They were in line at the famous donut shop, and she was frowning at the donuts in the display case. Kevin thought about nudging her and repeating the question, but he let it go. He let it all go. All along that day, Kevin wondered if she were thinking about it too: no kids. He wondered if she felt sensitive. Sorrowful. Probably not; Kate wasn’t the sorrowful type. Kevin felt a little pang; he didn’t mind kids. He might, he thought, even have been a good father. Though he’d have to change, take life more seriously.

But I could change, he thought. I’d do a good job.

It’d been well over a year of trying, and the effort had worn them to nubs. Every month they’d driven an hour in LA traffic to the clinic where the nurse would take the plastic cup of Kevin’s sperm off to a lab where the sperm was enriched in a bath of orange vitamins, spun into energized motion, and gathered into a tube that, later, in the exam room, the fertility doctor slid hurtcrampily into Kate’s uterus and there discharged, setting the dumb little fuckers on their delicate mission. Each time, the little assholes failed. And, too, over a year, every single week, Kevin shot Kate in the belly with a drug that made her tired and angry, bruised and trembly. All year-plus-long, Kate felt emotionally thin; all year, Kevin felt emotionally thin. Instead of sex, Kevin jerked off into plastic cups. This, he’d think, tugging, sucks. This, Kate would think, looking at the bathroom wall as he pushed the needle into her stomach, fucking sucks.

And for what. For kids! And in the end, all that effort for naught.

That night, Kevin asked her. Hey, he said. You thinking about it, too?

They were in their tiny old hotel, with the elevator that didn’t work and the thin coffee and the stale pastries laid out each morning, swarmed by the guests; they sat in their tiny room, eating takeout Indian food and drinking too-warm cans of local beer and watching the Phillies game (Kevin understood: Phanatic). They were exhausted, their feet swollen with tourism. The air conditioning unit pumped icy air, though at meager distance; they sat close, facing it, wearing only their underwear, dipping spoons in dal, bringing rich spoonfuls to their mouths.

Kate set her spoon down and looked at him quizzically. Huh? Thinking about what?

Kids, Kevin said, exasperated.

Kate snorted. She took a bite of dal; mouth full, she said, I was thinking about Polly.

And Kevin felt so much love. This, he thought, is my wife!

What do you think she’s doing? Kate said. Right now? Polly?

Sleeping or eating or purring, probably.

Sleeping, Kate decided. Another beer?

Yes, please, Kevin said, gratefully.

And that was it: that was their day in Philadelphia.


Next, the Poconos. They were excited as they drove through the greengreen Pennsylvania landscape: they’d slept well, they were in a strange land, they felt free of constraint, hungry to live, and they were happy to see Kevin’s family. Kevin’s stepbrother Eric greeted them outside his cabin in the woods. He held to his shoulder, absurdly, an axe.

You made it! he said. Yumiko! Leyna! he called to the cabin. They’re here! He directed Kevin to a parking spot and they parked and he gathered their bags from the trunk. While this is paradise, he explained, it’s also dangerous. Every night, he admonished, striding to the cabin’s front door, remember to check for ticks. Check your scalp, your crotch. Check your buttcrack. Check your hoo-hah, Kate.

His daughter Leyna laughed. Hoo-hah, she said.

I’m serious, Eric said, tightening his eyes. No one wants fucking Lyme disease.

Eric and his wife Yumiko were immigration lawyers in New York. Leyna was eleven. Eric was from Arizona, like Kevin, but Yumiko was from Queens, and she wasn’t quite five feet tall. She and Eric had bought the cabin as a future retirement home, and Eric had insisted for several years that Kevin and Kate visit. Kevin felt guilty it’d taken so long, and guilty that he didn’t know Leyna, his only niece (if step-niece), as well as he should. Sometimes Yumiko sent links to pictures of Leyna: Leyna skiing, Leyna swimming, Leyna doing karate. Leyna was an impressive young woman; that she seemed, in most of the photos, to either be laughing hysterically or scowling at the photographer (Eric) made Kevin and Kate like her all the more.

So, Kate asked Yumiko, who stood in the kitchen peeling asparagus, you like it here?

I fucking hate it, Yumiko said. If Eric died today? I’d leave and never come back.

Kate grinned. At least you’re safe against zombies here.

Yumiko swiped the peeler along the asparagus. Zombies can all fucking die for all I care.

Oh, god, Mom, Leyna said. Drama queen much?

I know, I know, Yumiko said. She patted her daughter’s head and looked at Kate. I’m supposed to try to be nicer. I’m supposed to be working on that. Being nicer. She set the peeler down and leaned to Leyna. Because everything we do is for other people, isn’t it? she said, her voice sarcastically sweet. Because all that matters is other people, isn’t that so?

Kate laughed. She adored Yumiko.

Outside, Eric was giving Kevin a tour of the property. Eric had spent the spring clearing a trail that would be, he explained, exactly one mile, wending along steep slopes, beneath a maple and birch and hemlock forest, crossing twice over a low creek and through a boulder-strewn clearing where, he said, he liked to camp out overnight.

You camp alone? Kevin asked.

Eric nodded. The ladies won’t go with me, he said. Do you like fireflies?

Do I like fireflies! Kevin cried. That’s like asking if I like chimichangas!

In summer, Eric said, you step out of the tent to piss in the middle of the night and the sky is glowing with them, and the stars, and it’s just so fucking silent and enormous. He looked at Kevin thoughtfully. Want to camp out tonight?

Kevin shrugged; he was worried about ticks. So instead they all went to the store and bought fireworks and that night set them off in the darkness and drank. Whenever Eric poured shots, he gave Leyna a little bottle of yogurt drink, and she toasted and tipped it back.

Cheers, you drunks! she said. Cheers!

Cheers! they all said back, laughing.

After the fireworks, everyone was quiet and tired. Eric had started a fire in the fire pit, and everyone watched the flames pensively.

We just found out, Kate admitted. We can’t have kids.

Eric shook his head. That’s life for you, he said. Being a motherfucker.

I never wanted to be a mother, Yumiko said. Leyna was walking past, arms laden with firewood. Yumiko pushed her leg out, halfheartedly trying to trip Leyna. I still don’t, she said.
Leyna hopped over her mother’s leg with ease. She dropped the firewood and wiped her hands.

Why not? she said to Kate. Why can’t you?

We tried, Kevin said. It’s not like we just gave up right away.

Leyna frowned. What does that mean?

He leaned forward. Say there’s like four doors that lead to having kids. One is the normal door, the first door that everyone sees. They go up to it, turn the handle, it opens, they go in. That’s where you just screw and have kids. You know all this, right?

Leyna rolled her eyes.

For some people, though, Kevin said, that first door is locked.

It’s locked?
And the next door, Kate said, is this magical fucking place where the woman gets shots that make her weird and depressed and the doctor shoves things into her that should make babies come.

That’s the second door.

But it’s locked, too? Leyna said.

Locked, Kate agreed.

The third door, Kevin said, is even harder than level two. That door is called in vitro, and it costs twenty-five grand, and there’s no guarantee that if you pay, the door even opens.

That’s bullshit! Leyna shouted. What about door four?

Door four, Kate said, is adopting.

Leyna considered this. Adoption, she said, is sort of weird.

Leyna! Eric scolded.

It is, though, Kevin agreed. Probably most people get over it. But you sort of have to know in advance you’re the type of person to get over it.

Kate said, He thinks I’m not that sort of person.

Are you? Yumiko asked.

Kate shrugged. Not really.

Leyna was looking at the dirt, thinking. She raised her head. That sucks, guys.

Kate reached out and gave her a hug, and Leyna squirmed in happily feigned resistance.

Anyway, Kevin said, to make a long story short, we gave up at level two. We’re quitters, he said, and that’s why you get to take care of us, Leyna, when we’re old and frail and crazy. This whole trip is a scouting mission to see if you’re capable. We’ve decided you are.

Leyna looked at Eric. Do I have to?

Of course not, Eric said. So, he said to Kevin and Kate, no kids. That does suck. But it’s just another thing to accept, right? How life is going to be.

I accepted it when I was ten, Kate said. I didn’t even like kids when I was a kid.

Yumiko laughed; Eric laughed; they all laughed, even Leyna. Plus, Eric said, if you think about the pros and cons, it’s basically a tie. He ruffled Leyna’s hair. We’ve lost a lot of time to this one, a lot of attention we could have given to each other.

He’s right, Yumiko agreed. It’s Leyna time all the time.

Leyna beamed.

Maybe, Eric continued, it’s a good thing, having kids. For democracy, I mean.

Everyone looked at him.

What? he said. So what if I’m stoned?

Kevin said, It’s like books. It’s like a person is a standalone novel. You know? You get to the last page and that’s it: the end. But a family is like a whole series of books. Like Harry Potter: you finish the one, and that’s nice, but it’s even better because you know it’s going to keep going. Even if your own book is ending, it’s nice to know the story isn’t totally over.

You’re a confusing person, Leyna said.

Yumiko said, It’s just a tradeoff: happy solitude now for sad loneliness later.

Kevin nodded in agreement, and they all felt pleased with their handle on the situation. Then it was bedtime for Leyna. She didn’t want to go. She screamed, she writhed. She yelled at them all because they got to stay up; she yelled at the forest, because the forest got to stay up.

Yumiko winked at Kate. See what you’re missing?

Eric bent down to Leyna. Leyna, he said, I need you to go to bed because tomorrow we want to tour the coal mine and hike to the waterfall and come home and make stuffed pizza, remember? And when you’re tired in the morning you can’t do all those things, but you really like doing those things, remember? The four of us can all stay up and get drunk and feel shitty in the morning and still do all those things. When you’re old enough to do that, you can stay up, too, okay? We’re all in this together. I do this for you, you do that, and your mother does—

Leyna yawned. Then she wished everyone goodnight and went to bed.

The real trick to parenting, Yumiko explained, is talking your kids to death.

The next day they were in the deepest darkness that Kevin and Kate had ever known, hundreds of feet below the earth. The tour guide had said, Ready? and before anyone could answer, he killed the lights. Listen, he said. They listened. All there was to hear was existence. A trickle within the slow vast seethe of the earth. They could smell more than they could hear—the sweetness of dirt, the tang of rust. In the pitch black, Kevin waved a hand before his face. He thought he could see it, but he knew it was only a picture in his mind; he asked Kate to wave her hand before his face, and he saw nothing, nothing. Blackness. He wondered if everyone on the tour also thought of Descartes, of what it meant to be. Ten people on a coal mine tour in Pennsylvania, thinking of French philosophy.

This, Kevin thought, is a totality. The place for the grandest thoughts. It’s not so different from sleep.

A hand grabbed his own in the darkness. A small hand. Leyna. He grasped her little hand and felt her smiling in the darkness beside him, and he felt so grateful, so comforted.

Beside him, Kate was thinking, too. Too much life in the world. Kids, sure; she really didn’t care about not having kids. But also all the green they’d seen in Pennsylvania. All the trees. All the grass. People. Breathing. Right now they were in a hole in the earth that thousands of men had died in, and because why? Because life needed death to live.

How about, she thought, no life? And skip it all?

No kids. The years ahead of her now were a vast emptiness. So much to live out, she thought. Maybe Kevin and I can go on a cruise that will never end. I would like, she thought, to see foxes. Or a sloth. No matter what, she thought, we’ll be happy. Happy enough. Happyish.

In the last email, her doctor had also mentioned a cyst that Kate would have to get removed. There was no rush, but it annoyed Kate. More unwanted life. I’ll frame it, Kate thought. Have the little thing cut from me and framed. I will make a scrapbook of my body.

And Kate suddenly felt so lonely, there in the deep dark mine, caught in immense silence within the crust of a planet floating through the universe.

Who would be reassured by that? Who wouldn’t feel terribly alone?

After, as Eric drove home, Leyna and Kate played cards in the back seat.

Hey, Kate said. What’s that?

What’s what? Leyna said.

Kate pointed at Leyna’s neck, at a tiny dark spot. That, she said.

Yumiko leaned forward.

Fuck! Yumiko cried.

What? Eric said.

Did you check her last night? Yumiko grabbed Leyna’s chin. Did you check yourself?

Leyna shook her head.

Fuck! Yumiko shouted. She took a breath. Eric, she said, pull over.

It was a tick. Blooddark and bloated on Leyna’s neck, nestled within her soft black hair.

I got this, it’s fine, Eric said. He produced a pair of tweezers from the glove box. Kevin, you want to do it? Remove the tick? It’s good to know how to do these things.

Yumiko smacked his shoulder. This isn’t a survivalist lesson.

Eric nodded and went to work. Leyna squirmed. Her face was pale.

Well? Yumiko said.

Eric scratched his head. I didn’t get it all.

On the drive to the ER, Eric moped. They’re all survivalist lessons, he muttered. Kevin and Kate were quiet. On her phone, Yumiko frantically read all she could about Lyme disease. Everyone was silent, everyone was scared for Leyna, scared of the bug attached to her neck.

Leyna knew she was fine. They were all so nervous; it was annoying. Of course she was fine. She saw Kevin watching from the front seat. He winked at her, and she scowled at him, warmly.

Kevin grinned. He knew she was fine, too.

Oh, darn it, said the PA at the urgent care center. I missed it, too!

Yumiko nearly punched him out, but a moment later, he whistled. There we go, got it. He dropped bits of brown bug into his gloved palm. These little guys, he said, and all the trouble they cause. He pulled his glove off. We’ll have the labs back tomorrow, and we’ll call, but you did a good job, I’m sure it’s fine, okay?

Okay, sure, fine, but still Yumiko worried, still Eric worried. That night they made dinner quietly; they didn’t drink; they went to bed early. It was a little disappointing: Kevin and Kate wanted fun, more fun. And once again, life got in the way. The next morning the email came, and it was indeed fine, no Lyme disease, no problem. The worry lifted away, everyone was in high spirits, all that worry blown and gone forever. What worry?

Worry: such a strange thing, Kevin thought. How easily it vanished.

Sort of, he thought, like hope.

And then they had to say goodbye to Eric, Yumiko, and Leyna, and they felt sad again.

Halfway back to Philadelphia, Kevin said, So. I have a story idea.

Do tell, Kate said.

I will tell, Kevin said. So you follow these characters and they do these things, whatever the story is, who cares. Maybe it’s a novel. And then at the end, they die or whatever.

You already said this, Kate said. At the fire.

The thing is, Kevin said, the novel doesn’t end. It switches to someone else.

Weird, Kate said.

But it’s not weird, Kevin said. It’s like life. Writing is about life. Life isn’t about people; life is about life. If there’s a book where the world blows up? The next chapter should be about the world next door. Or, even better: the photons of the blown-up world shooting off into space, what happens to them? What grand adventures do they go on? Don’t you want to keep reading?
Kate yawned. I’m so ready, she said, to go home.

To see Polly?

Yes, she agreed. To see Polly.

But that night their flight was canceled. A storm surge, that afternoon, flared up and tore through Philadelphia. They were at the airport, exiting their rental car, just as the rains came. They had to wait damply in the terminal with thousands of other strandeds, awaiting the fate of their flight. Waiting. Waiting. Canceled. For two days, canceled. Stuck two more days in Philadelphia.

They tried to make the best of it. The weather turned. There was no Lyme disease. No kids, either, but that evening the city heat was gone, the trash stink was gone, and the city was dry and quiet. The clerk at the hotel’s front desk frowned as the couple approached.

Forget something?

Kevin tugged at his rain-soaked shirt. Not so much us as nature. Can we get a room?

Sure, the clerk said, skimming the computer screen. All we have is the accessible room. No AC. It costs less, though? Is that all right?

Kate laughed. All right? No, I don’t think it is, she said. But we’ll take it.