Miranda scanned the carpeted floor of her kindergarten classroom. Someone, or several someones, had been playing with the Barrel of Monkeys and had made an impressive chain that connected the backs of two unused classroom chairs together. She smiled despite herself. It took a lot of time and patience to carefully connect each plastic monkey’s arms together to form a chain of that length. 

She’d been working with the kids on putting the toys away where they’d found them. At the beginning of the school year, she’d painstakingly labeled all the plastic bins, even taped out and labeled sections on the shelves for some of the larger toys like the wooden abacus, activity cube, and toy cars. For the most part it had been going really well, but sometimes playthings that had been shared between a group would get forgotten. 

“Alright class, you’re all doing a very good job sitting at your desks. But does anyone see anything out of place?”

Samantha, a compulsively outspoken girl, raised her hand like a shot.

“Yes, Samantha?”

“The barrel of monkeys and chairs didn’t get put away.”

“Great awareness Samantha. Raise your hand if you were playing with the barrel of monkeys.”

Suspiciously, only one boy raised his hand.

“Alright Jayden, could you go clean up the barrel of monkeys?”

“But I didn’t play with them today.”

Miranda sighed inwardly. Specificity... she was working on it. Kids were experts at finding the loophole in your statements. 

“Okay then, who was playing with the barrel of monkeys today?”

No hands raised.


Miranda walked over to the monkeys and brushed a finger along the tops of the chain. A burst of color and chorus filled her mind as she touched each link. The familiar blending of orchid purple and deep ocean blue splashed across the canvas of her mind. As always, with the colors came the sounds. An irregular harmony of windchimes confirmed Miranda’s suspicion. She knew from experience that Trinity, who sat primly at her desk, avoiding eye contact, had the same swirling hues in her aura. 

Then suddenly Miranda’s vision morphed into a cacophony of magenta, orange, yellow, and steel drums. Ah… Palmer. Palmer was a bubbly ball of energy that bounced between playmates each day.

Miranda let her gaze linger on Trinity. She was definitely the ringleader.

“Trinity, I think I saw you over near those chairs during free play, would you mind cleaning up the Barrel of Monkeys? And Palmer, why don’t you give her a hand.”

Trinity protested, “But Mrs. L, I bet whoever created that chain worked really hard on it.”

Ah, they didn’t abandon the chain due to an oversight. They didn’t want to take it down.

“Of course, Trinity. It’s a lovely chain but we have to put our toys away at the end of every day.”

“But why? You left the paper chain decorations up on the wall.”

“Good question, Trinity. Let me explain. Every night, cleaners come into the classroom to vacuum the floors and wash the desks but if we leave toys all over the floor or on our desks then the cleaners can’t do their job.”

“Oh… can we hang the monkeys on the wall too?”

“I wish we could, but then no one would be able to play with the Barrel of Monkeys tomorrow. Does that make sense?”

“I guess…” Trinity nodded solemnly and started walking towards the chain. 

Miranda knelt down in front of Trinity. 

“Sometimes we make things that aren’t meant to last. For example, your mom or dad might make you dinner but they don’t make it for decoration. They know that you’re going to eat it and then it will be gone. In the same way, sometimes we play with toys and make beautiful structures but we don’t make them for decoration. We know that after we play with them, we need to put them away so we can have fun playing with them again tomorrow. If somebody makes a beautiful chain or tower out of the toys here everyday and doesn’t put them away at the end of the day, soon there would be no toys left to play with. And would you like that?”

“No. That’d be boring if there were no toys.”

“Exactly! But what we can do is take a picture and I’ll send it to your parents. How does that sound?”

“You will? Thank you!” 

“Palmer, come and help Trinity put away the Barrel of Monkeys after I take this picture.”

Soon after, the bell rang.

Miranda collapsed onto the couch when she got home. Kids are exhausting. She wouldn’t be surprised if one day they found out that kids are actually little energy vampires that suck the life out of their adult caretakers. She was beat but she loved her kids. She didn’t think she’d ever stop teaching kindergarten.

She’d lost herself in Planet Earth by the time she heard the garage door opening. She paused the episode and waved to greet Liam coming home from work. 

“How was your day, handsome?”

He smiled wryly and ditched his bag by the stairs. 

“Not bad. We actually closed the deal with Upwork Construction today.”

He sank into the cushions beside Miranda and snaked an arm around her.

“That’s amazing, congratulations! We should celebrate. How does leftover chinese food sound?”

Liam chuckled, “sounds perfect,” and unpaused the Planet Earth episode. Baby iguanas were hatching on a beach covered in snakes that were waiting to attack. 

Miranda rested her head against his shoulder and let his aura wash over her. She’d always loved his aura. He evoked the sound of crashing waves at sunset with brilliant reds and oranges staining the water. Today the crashing waves felt stormy… tumultuous. 

She looked up into his face but couldn’t read any discomfort on his features. 

He’s probably just coming down from a stressful day. Closing a deal that big is not all roses and unicorns.

She rubbed his arm soothingly. Liam tore his attention away from the iguanas racing towards the safety of the ocean and gave her a half smile.

“I should go shower. Do you mind heating up the food?”

“You bet,” Miranda beamed up at him, “and then we can watch snakes catch their dinner too.” 

Liam shook his head and grinned. “I think something might be wrong with you, Mandy.” He kissed her on the head and then headed up the stairs. 

Miranda threw the chinese food into a pan on the stove, added a bit of water, turned it on low, and covered it. She opened the pantry and found a bottle of wine they’d been given as a housewarming gift. She was about to open it, but then hesitated. Maybe she should ask him if he was in enough of a celebratory mood that he’d want to open a whole bottle.

She skipped up the stairs and into their bedroom.

The shower was running, so she entered the bathroom and called through the curtain.

“How does wine with dinner sound?”

Liam’s head poked out around the shower curtain, “wine and chinese food?” He looked dubious.

Miranda shrugged and smiled, “It’s a celebration!”

Liam laughed, “alright. Wine and chinese food it is.”

Miranda bent down to gather up his discarded clothes on the way out, and Liam protested, “I got those! You don’t need to...”

An unexpected writhing of reds and greens clouded her vision as she picked up his boxer briefs. The tolling of bells sent a chill through her spine. She knew this aura. 

The face of one of Liam’s female colleagues shot through her brain. They’d met at the holiday party. She’d seemed nice.

Miranda looked at Liam from beneath her lashes and asked the only question that mattered at this point. She swallowed hard and blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay.

“Why, Liam?”

The pained expression on his face did nothing to curb the tidal wave of tears that came pouring down her face.

His voice was barely audible over the pounding of the shower. “I don’t know…”

“How…” how could you? How did this happen? Her mind was stuttering and stopping like an old car singing its death song. She knew she wasn’t dying, but the pain in her chest felt irreparable, like a buckshot had torn it’s way through her. Her breaths were coming short and shallow. She wasn’t sure what to ask… what she wanted to ask. “...how?”

Liam turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around his waist and sat down on the rim of the bathtub facing her but wouldn’t look at her. He held his head in his hands. 

“It was such a stupid mistake, Mandy.”

The bathroom felt like it was lengthening, creating a physical distance between them that matched how far away she felt from him emotionally.

“How long?”

“Just today.”

He still wouldn’t meet her eyes. Her blood was pounding through her veins. She could hear her heartbeat in her head. The pain in her chest started to change. The vast emptiness began to fill with sparks.  

“Did you think I wouldn’t find out? I can feel her in your clothes, Liam.” She swallowed and wrinkled her nose. “It’s nauseating.” 

Looking at the clothes in her arms, the twisting colors began to take on the form of a writhing nest of snakes. Viciously, she threw the clothes and her gaze at Liam. She fanned the flame in her chest. The heat seemed to keep the tears at bay.

“Look at me, dammit!”

Liam lifted his head. Tears threatened to spill from his eyes.

“Explain this to me right now, Liam, or I am out that door,” she pointed downstairs for emphasis. 

“What do you want me to say? I fucked up. God…” he shook his head and his body swayed slightly with it, “I’m so sorry. It won’t ever happen again.”

“No.” She held onto the counter behind her for solidarity. “Sorry isn’t good enough. You didn’t just accidentally break a glass or something. You chose to sleep with another woman and then you tried to shower off the evidence so I wouldn’t notice. So not only did you cheat, Liam, you tried to deceive me too!”

“I didn’t want you to know!”

“Obviously! But you can’t brush this under the rug. So. What. Happened?!” 

“I fucked Becca!” 

Becca. That was her name. She remembered now.

“But why?”

“Because I was freaking out! Alright?! Jeff’s been threatening to can me all month if this deal fell through. I’ve been working my ass off on it but it still could have blown up in my face! So when Becca started flirting with me today, I caved. I needed it. I needed one person, in that moment, to appreciate me.”

Miranda pursed her lips together and nodded, “and you didn’t reach out to me…nice, Liam.” She laughed but there was no real mirth in it. 

“Oh, like you would have answered? Your phone is off all day while you’re at school!”

“Are you blaming this on me?!”

“Of course not! ...but would it kill you to text me once in a while? Just reach out and pretend that you still love me like you did in high school?”

“Is that what Becca does? Does she text you and flirt with you all day and it reminds you of your golden years?”

He sat up straight like she’d just slapped him. Good, maybe he was starting to feel a fraction of her pain. 

“You can be a real bitch, Miranda. And yeah, she does flirt with me. And it’s nice! It makes me happy!”

A shrill alarm cut through the tension of the moment. 

“Shit!” Miranda raced downstairs. The kitchen was hazy but she could still see the pan on the stove emitting a thin stream of dark smoke. She hurried over to the stove and turned off the burner. Pushing the pan to the back of the stove, she opened all the windows on that floor and eventually the fire alarm stopped screeching. 

Liam had put on a T-shirt and shorts, and stood at the base of the stairs. She took in a deep breath and the lingering smell of smoke felt like a portend of things to come.

She couldn’t keep the venom from her voice. “I’m glad she makes you happy. I hope it was worth it.”

She grabbed her keys and slowly walked out the door. He didn’t chase after her. He didn’t say a word.

As she drove to her sister’s house, she remembered her lesson from earlier. The truth of it washed over her like a bucket of ice water. The fire in her chest went out. She just felt empty, cold. The tears came. She didn’t stop them. 

Some things aren’t meant to last.

March 13, 2020 17:24

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