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Nucleus

Laurence Klavan

The next night, at dinner, there was little talk between Amos, Sheila, and Yolanda. Plates were passed and food ingested virtually without interruption. Sheila hadn’t made any effort to cook, had ordered in from the town’s only Indian restaurant, the food of which had once given her diarrhea. Yolanda now wore a cunning little cap that hid her hair, so that she looked like a boy, like someone else.

He surreptitiously studied the women’s faces and saw no acknowledgement of one from the other, not even the shift of an eyeball or the hint of a smile. He imagined that one had been rebuffed but he didn’t know which or, in fact, if the rejection had been mutual. Had each merely known the other in the way she wanted and now had no desire for any additional involvement, as neither was taking seconds of the (dry and lukewarm) chicken tikka masala? At any rate, it seemed as if all three now ate on separate islands in outer space, an image that mixed the sea and sky but Amos didn’t mind, since both were vast areas of loneliness, one wet and one dry.

At bedtime, Amos said nothing, not because he was still angry at Sheila (how angry he had been, he didn’t know) but because he now had a whole new set of secrets to think about, which he stored in an apartment that had opened inside his brain and in which he lived alone. As for Sheila, usually so voluble, even when about to sleep, she would once in awhile open her mouth but then think better of it—or else, unsure what she meant to express (and she generally proceeded unheedful, finding out what she wanted to say as she spoke), stop and be still. Soon both were diverted by and bent forward to hear Yolanda mumbling animatedly in her sleep down the hall in Randa’s room. Her actual words indecipherable.

*  *  *
When Randa came home at week’s end, Amos and Sheila introduced Yolanda as their old friend, since they had never revealed their participation in the program, feeling it was unnecessary or feeling they had to wait for the right time, which never came, or not wanting to discomfort the girl, or some other reason. As was the wont of those her age, Randa seemed more interested in talking about herself, recounting her “amazing” trip and casually mentioning that during it she and her girlfriend, Amy, had become “kaput” and that she was now seeing a boy, Jamie, who wanted to work in home security after he graduated.

Sheila complained of a “horrible headache” and went to take a nap, shutting loudly and locking the bedroom door. Amos sat by himself, staring out the window at two pigeons mating near the backyard bird feeder, wondering what two dirty city birds were doing out in the respectable suburbs. Then he was drawn from the strange sight by a sound.

It was the faint strains of a piano, coming from the den, where the instrument was kept and played only by Randa. He approached the door, closed to a crack, and through it saw a slice of his daughter and the donor seated side by side on the stool. Yolanda was playing, and both were singing “The Rainbow Connection,” a song written for puppets long ago.

Amos had always known that Randa had a beautiful voice, but he'd not known of Yolanda’s talent, which was just as great if not more impressive. Tears entered his eyes like criminals. Amos heard the two hit the same note, who was singing became indecipherable. It was as if this was what the elder had handed down to the younger, this and nothing else, this alone.


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