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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Second House from the Corner

A Novel of Marriage, Secrets, and Lies

Sadeqa Johnson

A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Griffin

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

ONE

The Witching Hour


That four-hour window between after-school pickup and bedtime? It’s like walking a tightrope with groceries in both hands. The slightest hiccup will land any mother in a quagmire with her legs in the air. For me the whole afternoon was a fail. I locked myself out when I went to pick the kids up from school, but didn’t notice the missing house keys until I pulled in to the driveway. The snacks had been demolished at the playground, so the hunger meltdown began on the drive to my husband’s office for the spare key (a drive that usually takes seven minutes, but ended up being twenty round-trip because of traffic). Things got even shoddier once I discovered we were out of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. My children will not eat baked chicken unless I dip the pieces in buttermilk, roll them in corn flakes, and bake until crispy. The oven was preheated, the potatoes were boiling for the mash, and I was thirty-three minutes off schedule without the magic cereal that makes my chicken finger-licking good. No time to change the dinner plan. So I swap in seasoned bread crumbs and cross my toes that they won’t notice.

“Mama, this doesn’t taste right.” My son, Rory, frowns.

“Just eat it. There are children right down the street who are starving.”

“But it’s disgusting,” whines Twyla.

How does a four-year-old know what disgusting is?

“Just eat.”

“I have to go pee pee and poo poo.”

“Stop smiling at me. Mommy, she’s smiling.”

“Can we just have dessert?”

“Maaaaaaaa.”

“Mommmmm.”

“Momeeeeeeee.”

Like a song on repeat. Like it’s the last word in the English dictionary. They call “Mommy” until my lips pucker, eyebrows knit. And it takes all my strength not to respond with that inside voice that nobody hears, that you wish would stay quiet, that tells the truth you don’t want anyone to know. That damn voice is hollering.

Shut the fuck up!

At what point do I get to shout What the fuck do you want from me? I wouldn’t drop an F-bomb in front of the mommy crew at the park, and I hate to see parents on the street cursing out their kids. But here in my kitchen with everything working against me, I would like to liberate myself just once and let the profanity rip.

It’s the nipping at my nerves that gets me. The feasting on my flesh like starved sea urchins. Them, fighting like thieves for their individual piece of me. Me feeling like I have nothing left to give. Any mother who says that she has never felt like her whole life was being sucked out through her nostrils is a damn liar. I feel it every day.

Especially when I don’t get at least five hours of shut-eye, like last night. Twyla (whom I call Two) walked her four-year-old self into my room every hour complaining about being scared. Scared of what? The curtain, the bed, the wall—she had an excuse for each visit. Never mind that she had to walk past her father to get to me. They never bother him. It’s always Mommy. So I upped and downed all night while he slept like a hibernating black bear.

Breathe.

I hate when I feel like this. My chest rising and falling. Momentum of failure piled. Anxiety has swept through my belly and is curled against my organs like a balled fist. Just one happy pill would make it all better. But I’ve been on the happiness-comes-from-within kick for a few months, so no more pills. Instead I’ve started tapping.

Tapping out my emotions so I can get back to feeling right. It’s that new technique where I say what my issue is and use my fingertips and hit my meridian points until I’m back to even. It usually takes about five minutes and several rounds before I feel centered and strong. My husband, Preston, calls it woo-woo, but he’s not at home with three children all day. I am, and I have to use what I’ve got to carry me through. I turn my back to the kids at the kitchen table, take two fingers, and tap the side of my hand while whispering my setup statement.

“Even though I feel stressed out, anxious, and tired of being alone and responsible for my kids I love and accept myself.”

“Mommy, what are you doing?”

“Calming down.” I try whispering the statement again but Tywla is out of her seat.

“My stomach hurts.”

Rory puts his fork down. “I’m full.”

My fingers stop. I haven’t made it through one minute, much less the five I need. I take a deep breath and usher everyone upstairs. Maybe Preston will surprise me and come home early.

The damn voice laughs. When was the last time he did that? He never makes it home before their bedtime and I bet that’s on purpose.

Rory moans. “That’s my boat.”

“Dad gave it to me.”

“No, he didn’t.”

Breathe. “Cut it out and get undressed.”

I run their bath and sneak in a quick tap. Repeating my setup statement, I move from my hand to my forehead, to the side of my eye, under my eye, under my lip, under my chin, full hand on chest, bra strap and top of the head. Fill my lungs with air and exhale.

Twyla and Rory are back. I read my body. Better.

“Can I bring this in the tub, pretty please?” Twyla clutches the mesh bag with their toys.

“Sure.”

They climb into the bathtub and play.

This should give me a few minutes alone with the baby.

“Guys, I’m going to change Liv into her pajamas. No water on the floor.”

“Can we have more bubbles?”

“No.”

“Awwww, man,” Rory replies, imitating Swiper the Fox. “You only gave us a little bit.”


Copyright © 2016 by Sadeqa Johnson