When Libby was twelve and Mia eleven, they found their mother lying on the floor. Thank goodness her eyelids twitched.
Retreating, Libby whispered, “Drunk or faking.”
She tiptoed across the floor, dropping her backpack hard near their mother’s head. Startled, their mother rolled up, hugging her knees. “I was imaging out a problem. So it would disappear.”
Libby almost asked, Did it?
But Mia pinched the inside of her older sister’s wrist—code for: don’t be mean.
Driving the girls to ballet class the next day, the mother pulled off the road and began to weep.
For this, pinching wasn’t enough. They squeezed each other’s fingers blue.
Starting the car after a few minutes, their mother said, “Okay, I’m fine now.”
“Isabelle’s parents never fall apart,” Libby said.
“Amy’s don’t either.”
“Yes, they do,” their mother said, “when no one’s watching.”
Libby couldn’t resist, no matter how hard Mia pinched. “So why can’t you wait, too?”
“There are worse things,” their mother said. “Much worse.”
At least she didn’t smash the car. But her crying jags continued until she started walking off, sometimes before dinner, and returning past midnight.
The girls waited up, intending to question her. They listened to Rihanna sing and deciphered their horoscopes, which promised them boyfriends.
Upset, they sat their father down for tuna fish sandwiches. Libby said, “You probably know all about Mamma’s affair.”
“Your mother? Ridiculous.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
He popped a tiny pickle in his mouth. “She’s suffering a crisis of faith.”
“Faith? Like, religion?”
“What?” Mia frowned.
“She’s lost the confidence to do her job.”
“Like how to be our mother?”
“Nothing that serious, Libby. Faith in investments. Her clients lost huge sums of money because her conservative projections nose-dived. It’s not entirely her fault,” their father continued. “But she advised them and they trusted her.”
“So are we bankrupt?” Libby squealed.
“Hardly. And none of her clients are bankrupt. They lost surplus money.”
“But does this mean our lives depend only on you, Dad?”
A corporate art curator, he disliked this question. “As a family, we’re well off. But you girls need to realize: Nothing’s guaranteed.” Carrying the plates to the sink, he added, “Your mother needs to realize that, too.”
“What if she feels so disgusted with herself,” Libby wondered, “that she’s doing drugs with junkies under the bridge?”
“Stop the nonsense, Libby. Your mother blames and maybe even hates herself, but she’ll get over it.”
He was right. Soon their mother was driving them wherever they wanted to go without a sniffle. Still, she kept saying what a failure she was. Only after she started teaching English to immigrants at the library, did she stop.