• Family Physics

    Catherine Lacey

    Spring 2018

    You’ve been going through a lot, Sarah said on the phone.

    Everyone kept saying this to me, that I had been going through a lot. I did not agree, yet I knew the “lot” to which she was making an inaccurate reference was how, in the last three months, I’d gotten married, filed for divorce, moved several times, quit my job, and driven to Montana, where I began working in a grocery store, stocking beans. Karen had called it The Blitz, though it’s not like anyone died. But Karen is, by most accounts, my mother, so she has a certain perverted perspective on what I do, this thing that was once in her body, now walking around the world, messing things up.

    How are you doing? Sarah asked. Are you feeling all right?

    I feel all right.

    Do you?


    Okay . . . But do you really?

    Tell me about you. How’s law school?

    It’s med school and I’m fine. I’m just concerned about you. Dad said I should call.

    Ethan had called me daily for the past week, and before him it had been Linda, and before her, Karen, as if they’d organized shifts. It was hard not to feel as if I were a maybe-expired food that they were each smelling. I had always been the fermented vegetable of the family, but now it seemed to them (or it seemed to me that it seemed to them) that this rot had gotten the best of me. This time Sarah was calling to say she was going to come check in on me, for real, physically, despite my telling her I was fine, there was no need for a visit. She arrived the next day.

    It’s just a lot, she said on the drive from the airport. It’s a lot to go through.

    You all keep saying that, I said, missing a stoplight, horns blaring and tires squealing around us, but what do you even mean?

    Holy fucking fuck, Sarah shouted, even though we’d made it through just fine. No one got hurt. She’d always been nervous in cars.

    We’re fine. Then, after a long silence I suppose she meant as punishment, I said, again, everyone’s fine.

    I’d always tried to keep my distance from my parents and sisters, but they outnumbered me, were always closing in, always calling, always telling me that family is important, always talking among themselves about what to do about me, and though I thought of cutting them out entirely, I had already learned the hard way, years ago, that such an extreme approach was more trouble than it was worth, like shaving your head—like any short haircut—some kinds of obliteration required constant upkeep—so I let my relationship with them get overgrown and ragged.

    Catherine Lacey is the author of four works of fiction: Nobody Is Ever Missing, The Answers, Certain American States, and the forthcoming novel, Pew.

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