Jessica Claire Haney


You go outside, to walk the dog, you say, but really so your hair can breathe. You imagine it exhaling all the morning’s vapors into the streets of your neighborhood: the bacon, the coffee, the cloying batter and especially the bananas burnt in smoking butter.
Your teenager watched a cooking show and now wants to caramelize everything.
You imagine she might like you better if you were caramelized, if your insides turned softer and sweeter with just the right amount of singeing around the edges.
But if the temperature is wrong, if the timing is wrong, what’s left is an inedible mess.
Your daughter finished eating the bananas, if not to enjoy them then to prove to you that she believed in herself.
In her best mimicking voice, she spat your own words back at you: “Could you maybe not complain, for once?”
She turned the fan on high, its noise and vibration echoing the pressure in your chest.
Outside, you hear only the scuttle of leaves on the sidewalk, not even any birds.
If you had worn a hat, the smell would not have had a chance to escape, but you would shiver less. If you had layered wind pants on top of your jeans, maybe you could have walked through the woods and along the creek until your hair smelled only of winter, crisp and dry. You might have made it all the way to the dog park where you could have conversations with people who didn’t even know you, much less hate you.
If you had worn gloves, you could wander the streets, pretending your daughter was still little, home taking a nap, even though you didn’t have a dog then and never left her alone in the house. You pull out a plastic bag and crouch down to gather the dog’s waste, which is steaming. When your daughter still wore a diaper, you would beg her to stay in her room each afternoon, even for just an hour. But by age three, she would toddle out, asking if it was time for gymnastics class yet and if you’d braid her hair this week.
Standing up, you tie the bag in a knot and think that if you were warm enough, you could stay out with the dog, throwing tennis balls until your arm grew tired, maybe even trying to throw with your left, not coming back to clean the kitchen until after your daughter—the real teen version—has left for practice. If you are there to hover while she is getting ready, you will ask if she has her water bottle even though you know she will snap, “Yes. God.” Better to be gone.
But the morning is cold, scalding your lungs, which were already tight from the smoldering experiment on the stove. And you are too tired to keep going anyway, especially when the sky is this gray.
So you reverse direction at the end of the street, where frost coats scruffy tufts at the base of the stop sign, turning the straw-colored weeds a dull silver. If the sun were out, the blades might glint.
You consider going straight upstairs when you get home, to try taking a nap. That might at least invite a question, at some point. Probably not. And you don’t know if you could sleep after so much coffee. But the bed would be warm.
After prying open the trash can lid with your frozen fingers, you drop in the bag and walk around to the front of the house, where the wind pushes open your collar and rustles brown leaves you should sweep off the steps. Someone could slip on them as easily as on ice.
You climb the porch stairs knowing your hair smells slightly less of the residue of the morning and that when you walk inside, the air that greets you will be thick and rich.

Jessica Claire Haney is a Northern Virginia-based writer, editor, and writing tutor. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Delmarva Review, Washington Writers’ Publishing House, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Mason Jar Press’ Jarnal III, Written in ArlingtonGargoyle Magazine, Porcupine Literary, Earth’s Daughters, and DC Women Writers anthologies. She’s had essays and articles in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, Mothering, Washington FAMILY, Healthy Woman, and in parenting anthologies. In previous lives, Jessica was a high school English teacher, a community wellness advocate, and a parenting blogger. Instagram @jessicaclairehaney & Twitter @crunchychewy.