American Dream

By Richard Jennis

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Mornings, Penelope awakes to an inexplicable pain in her thighs, as if her legs have been stretched in opposite directions. Nights, she is convinced the loneliness will swallow her, but, like the morning aches, the feeling fades when she rouses herself from bed.

On her mantle is a picture of one of her two children, a daughter, smiling reluctantly, face blotched with pimply youth. She keeps Jeanine encapsulated in her picture frame, frozen in time, seven years prior. Mitchell has earned nothing more than one small photo from high school graduation, tucked into her wallet.

Nighttime, her children are very real to her. She wonders if Mitchell, that rambunctious child always running, the winds stirring in his passage and blowing her taxes off the kitchen table, has finally settled down. She hopes that Jeanine’s amorphous boyfriend musters more enthusiasm and tenderness when the two are in private than when they are visiting.

By morning, they are memories to accompany other faded memories. Her children two stretch marks, pulled tight across her body, from the times she ripped herself open so that they could live. Her children two sets of blinking eyes on an ultrasound screen, full of roundness and hope. Her former husband a salary that temporarily supported them, until the first layoff. And all the faulty orgasms he gave her, so disappointing after all the squirming and tossing and build-up. She remembers the rush of anticipation, the climax, but most of all how suddenly it was over. Intense moments of ecstasy, and then, in the blink of an eye, gone.

Richard Jennis