• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 08

They Started as a Set of Three

They started as a set of three. Born of different years with similar genes. All were clothed in hand-me-downs — Buster Brown, Keds, and acid-washed jeans. Each was required to add an apron and accept the kitchen paddle if and when they dropped an egg. The baker’s dozen and single loaf of Wonder left no room to waste. They started as a set of three. Hair slicked into place with homemade gel and rosy cheeks. They’d wear hand-knit cardigan sweaters (oversized) to hide any swelling. Smile. Say cheese. School photos (grades one, two, three -- times four) would line the rowhome’s hallways. They started as a set of three. Pristine even when pimpled. Serene even when smacked. Yearly barbecues (of the backyard grill and front stoop variety) were primed for annual photogenic updates. Hot dog or burger? Ketchup or mustard? Smile. Say cheese. Until the oldest turned loose and found the police academy (first) and then a marriage (that wouldn’t last) across state lines. The trio’s mother would scan news alerts for updates of life and lore. The academy also good at keeping secrets. Her frown lines were deceiving. She longed for news, but never wanted to see his name in print. Newspaper clippings replaced yearly barbecue snapshots. All photos touched up with Chapstick gloss and Crayola hues. The two that remained wore the extra chores as their mother adopted (though never co-opted) new routines. Early signs of distress. SOS pads scrubbed all clues clean. They started as a set of three. Until the youngest left for schooling where he earned high marks, but somehow also learned he had multiple failings. He took to the seas. Said the water calmed his concerns. He’d send Kodak-quality photos and updates – he was always smiling. Seagulls were often in the background. He consumed salt air and jugs of lemonade by the gallon. The color of the liquid and the darkroom was deceiving. One night he went to sleep on his boat and never rowed back to shore. The two remaining led the mother to believe it was his heart that had given up. She never questioned why he never wrote back, though


They Started as a Set of Three

her back pain worsened all while her reliance on cliches, like the one that says cats have nine lives, slowly evaporated as mold grew on the uneaten blocks of cheese in the fridge. The middle child, the one that remained, tried her best to smile for the annual photo shoot (still ongoing), as shadows smiled back, and clean the kitchen. She (every hair in place) remained by the side of the mother who was increasingly frail and regularly ailing. Also, beside herself. She tried. It’s hard, though, when you’re a set of three. To be the last one standing.