“Tally.” Mom reached into her monogrammed tote bag. “You mind telling me where this came from?”
“A match?” I asked when her hand was finally revealed from her bag. I was expecting a paint can or a pack of cigarettes. Something slightly more incriminating than a single match between her manicured fingers.
“Well,” she said as she reached back in and pulled out a handful, letting them scatter like pickup sticks all over the kitchen table. “The box spilled, but yes. Why do you have matches in your room?”
“They’re not mine.” I returned to making Grandpa’s turkey and provolone on wheat while she continued to clean out her bag digging around everything to make sure she got every last match. I cut Grandpa’s sandwich into small squares, still all he could hold on to without it falling apart in his lap.
“You expect me to believe that.” She began picking up each matchstick and placing them back in the box perfectly aligned, little red heads all bumping up against each other. For some reason it reminded me of the Ten Little Monkeys song. I’d have thrown them in a Ziploc.
“Yes,” I answered her even though she hadn’t asked me a question, exactly, it was more like a statement of disbelief. I sliced and salted a few garden fresh cucumbers, Grandpa’s favorite, and fanned them around the sandwich.
“I’m sorry if I’m paranoid,” she said. “But the barn burned down four days ago, Tally.” She pressed her palms into the table. “It’s still smoldering. You think I’m just going to let this go?”
I looked at her face for the first time. Her coppery hair, usually in a fastidious pony tail, hung in strands around her pale skin. The circles under her eyes were darker, I knew, from her long hours at the hospital and Grandpa’s accident. There wasn’t a hint of light in her normally bright face. I couldn’t look at her for very long.
“I have to take this to Grandpa,” I said, picking up the plate and leaving my mother with her suspicion. I couldn’t tell her the matches belonged to Seth, that he’d spent the night only two days after the barn, smelling like campfire and fresh grass, but that I knew he didn’t do it despite all of the evidence that pointed otherwise. Despite all of the matches that now lay like perfect little children in their perfect bed.
J.M. Cooper is currently working on an AFA in New Jersey and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults with Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she is not reading or writing about fictional young adults, she’s raising three young adults of her own.