Lost Between the Suburbs and the Starry, Starry Night

By Carly Berg

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My cat yowled on the roof. I dragged the ladder from the garage.
Mimi,” he said. “Mimi.” He meows my name. Nobody can believe it.
I crawled after him, afraid to stand. He sauntered over to the edge, stepped
gingerly onto the limb of the tree he’d climbed up, and slipped down to the ground
with ease.
Below, square houses on square lawns spread out in square blocks. I was boxed in,
in a
box full of boxes.
The woods and river were visible beyond the subdivision, though, and birds chirped
in the
dryer-sheet scented afternoon. I decided to stay.
Two of my four teenagers came out. The boy said, “Are you gonna jump?”
Hush, smarty. Bring your mother a pillow and blanket, my cigarettes and lighter,
and an
ashtray, please.” About time they did something for me.
He forgot the pillow and the ashtray. Clouds sailed by, a rhinoceros, a Buddha,
and possibly
the Hawaiian Islands.
What the hell you doing, girl?” It was my best friend, Nosy Nancy.
From the top, my perspective is vast.”
Mmm-hmm, you’re cray cray.” She wobbled up the ladder and yanked my blanket,
over,” she said.
I read that the Indians who used to live around here sent their teenagers into the
wilderness alone.”
She said. “Oh yeah?”
Uh-huh. With the daily distractions gone, the gods would reveal what the kid was
meant to
do in life, a vision.”
Huh. That’s weird.”
Do you think I’m too old to go back to school?”
In your forties is kind of late.” She began pulling off her clothes. “I want a tan with
Nancy’s ass was not the vision I sought.
Honey?” she said into her cell phone, “Can you bring the six pack in the fridge to
We’re on her roof. Yeah. Her roof.”
Her husband, Ted, soon appeared with beer. “Well, hello-o-o,” he said to naked nosy
He stripped off his shorts and boxers, right in front of me. His thing boinged
like a rubber dog
What happens on the roof, stays on the roof,” he said, popping open a beer.
Mike, my husband came home from work. We had moved to the back side of the house
my kids and any passing cops wouldn’t see my weirdo naked neighbors. The
kids must have told
Mike we were up here.
Have a beer, Mikester,” Ted said.
Er, thanks.”
Mike, can you think of anything I’d be good at, now that the kids are older?”
Like what?” He narrowed his eyes at Ted, as if naked Ted was what I’d be good at.
I made a face, and he seemed to relax. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “I thought
you went out, so I ordered pizza.”
Nancy and Ted bickered. She wanted to spend the Fourth of July at her sister’s lake
He wanted to go to somebody else’s barbecue instead.
Mike returned with pizza and complained about his boss. The sun sunk. The neighbors
My pizza had a crisp garlicky crust and plenty of oregano. Maybe I’d open a simple
restaurant, take-out only.
When we finished eating, Mike said to Ted, “Beer run. Ride along?” Ted nodded,
and they
Nancy’s kids were in college. She didn’t have a job, either.
Do you ever think about trying something different?” I said.
Hell no! I ain’t gonna do shit.” She sat up as if I slapped her.
I laughed, choking on my smoke.
What are you doing?” my son said. His sisters followed him up the ladder.
Thank God
Nasty Nancy had put her clothes back on.
I said, “Well, we’re sitting on the roof, boy.”
Nancy chatted with them about part-time jobs and their plans for after high
school. Her
questions could just as easily apply to me.
The guys came back with the beer and another neighbor couple. “Look
who we found
picking up loose change in the parking lot,” my husband
Ted said, “What happens on the roof, stays on the roof.”
Nancy and the woman discussed tattooed-on makeup. My oldest girl talked on
her phone,
inviting her boyfriend over. Music came on, I didn’t know the song.
My life swirled around me and I was somehow always on the side of it, swept
along like
broken glass. Below was darkness now except for a few scattered
lights, and the stars above
were far, far away. I decided to jump.
Closing my eyes stopped some of the grating social whirlwind. I held my arms
straight out,
mummy style, and stepped to the roof’s edge, one, two, three —
I stepped on air and shrieked, ridiculously, like “Wa-lah-woo!”
I plopped wetly on the lawn, then bounced a little. It didn’t really hurt.
Everyone clattered down the ladder. They gathered around, staring and
bothering me
some more:
Oh my God, are you okay?”
Call 9-1-1!”
Don’t move her. Don’t move her!”
What the hell did you do that for, you big mooncalf?” Nancy held out a fresh beer.
I howled with laughter.
You numpty,” she said. “Cray cray. Bladder head.”
It felt like someone kicked my stomach from the inside with each guffaw. But now
I knew
I could take my own steps forward.

Carly Berg