“How about now?” Elkie says. “Let’s sleep now.”
“You’re so withholding.” Brianna gets up off the couch and crosses her arms. “Here I thought I was getting through, like maybe this was your come-to-Jesus moment.”
“I promise to come to Jesus in the morning.”
Elkie gets up, too, and creeps with Brianna back to the bedroom. They sleep there, again, head-to-toe, their homework untouched. It doesn’t matter. Brianna skips her homework sometimes without getting in too much trouble, and Elkie can take the day off tomorrow. She’s never been absent before; her teachers will believe her if she says she got sick.
The last thing she sees before she goes down is the ghostly underside of Brianna’s foot, the skin wrinkled as the surface of the ocean, as wrinkled as hotel bedsheets, and then Elkie is dreaming of bed sheets, of Don. She can’t help dreaming of Don one last time, but this time the dream isn’t about something that really happened. They’re naked, holding hands in an endless ocean of bed sheets, and he’s pudgier than she remembers, with skin that is not tan, but mottled. His eyes are still green, but cloudy, his temples not graying, but white, wiry white hair springing from his crotch.
Not Don then, but Joe. It is Joe who makes no move to comfort Elkie, Joe who opens his mouth—but no apology comes out. He just blows black smoke until it fills Elkie’s field of vision, and then the dream is over. Joe has no children. There is nobody to inherit his lie, nobody to be sorry. He will never exist again.