Sarah walks in while I am sitting on the kitchen floor smelling burnt cookies and tasting salt water tears. “Lina? What’s the matter sweetie?”
“I burned them. I tried so hard but I just couldn’t do it.”
She sits down next to me and I bury myself in her arms. “What did I do wrong, Sarah?”
“Hush. Lina, it’s okay.” But it’s not okay. We both know it’s not okay. “Come on, get up. Put the burnt cookies outside for the birds. Birds eat burnt cookies right?”
I try to laugh through my sniffles. “I don’t think any birds are going to eat these.”
But Sarah just smiles and stands up and her straw-colored hair swings like a million clocks. She takes the cookie sheet with her and disappears from the kitchen. It’s effortless. I swipe my hand across my face, coating it in snot and tears and smeared mascara.
When she returns I have managed to drag myself up onto a barstool. My eyes trace the cracks in the linoleum and my voice cracks. “Have you heard any news about Teddy?”
I’m not watching but I can feel her smile melt. I take pleasure in it. I don’t want to be in this suffering alone. I hold back a cruel smile. “No,” she says. “It’s been six months since I’ve heard anything.”
I know she has been keeping track of it to the day. We all do. Our perverse little reading group of men and women—mostly women—with next of kin shivering in foxholes in a war we know nothing about. Sarah flips on the television, a reassuring fable of peace. CNN is reporting on a shooting in an office building in Atlanta. The perpetrator, they claim, is a combat veteran with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kiva was deployed two hundred thirty-eight days ago. I thought she looked so attractive in her uniform. I watched her throw her duffel over her shoulder and felt proud that those hands had undressed me the night before. They had erased the Maginot lines of my flesh while my insides screamed at the agony of her departure.
I never knew Teddy. Sarah contacted me after he left. She had watched him climb into a black helicopter and thrum away southward.
“Where did they go, Lina?” There is an edge of anger in her voice. There always is when we ask that question. The edge of betrayal, of selfishness. Don’t we deserve to know?
I try to remember the curves of Kiva’s face. On the hutch, there is a photo of the two of us laughing in the rain in front of Arethusa Falls. But photos are only outlines. I have so many outlines of Kiva, like empty spaces in a sticker book. I’m tired of outlines. I want to have Kiva in three dimensions.
On the desk in the corner of the living room—I can see it from here—I have a globe. I got it from my grandmother on my eleventh birthday. It is filled with names of countries that no longer exist: United Soviet Socialist Republic, South Viet Nam, Israel, Afghanistan. I think of all of the wars that rewrote names on that map.
I wonder what Kiva is trying to rename.
“Kiva wouldn’t have burnt the cookies,” I whisper.
I imagine Sarah’s eyes looking at the top of my head. I want to believe that she is looking at me, but I hear her sniffle and I know she is looking to somewhere far away.
“What a waste of chocolate chips.”
Sarah is staring out the kitchen window, over the trees, past the scattered, fluffy clouds, and into the Robin’s-egg blue of the sky. She is imagining a black helicopter and a man with black cherry skin and a goodbye she never heard over the whir of savage rotor blades.