Back in December—pitiless and without snow—she had removed the Sears family portrait from where it hovered on the wall above the couch, but its presence still haunts the room in a ghostly negative space on the stained fiber board. It reminds her of some squat, nondescript Western state, but she’ll be damned if she can recall which one. She inhales a final drag off her cigarette and jettisons blue smoke from her nostrils. She approaches, kneeling on a pilled cushion as she reaches behind the sofa. Its fabric reeks of grim decades—Aqua Net, Newport Smooths, and sludgy cast iron skillet grease. She feels along the wall until her fingers touch the portrait’s frame. The photograph has been turned to the wall. She lifts it by its hanging wire. Returning to the kitchen, she sets the portrait down and fishes out another menthol. The photo was taken at the mall two years ago—some holiday promotion that included a charge-free sitting. But everything has a cost. Their matte smiles and vacant eyes do not yet know packages start at $400. Or that her husband—who in the photograph stands to one side of their son but grips her shoulder as if even here she might try to get away—will be dead within months, hauled from a favorite fishing lake wearing the same stupid sweater. In the composition, he is to the child’s right; she sits on the left, hemmed in by borders, acutely aware of how much she resents them both, but as anemic in preventing her rage as she is in predicting her husband’s imminent death. Her son needs a haircut, she thinks, now tracing a finger over the glass above him, noting the water damage bubbling the edges of the photograph. She flips the frame over and uses a butter knife from the draining rack to pry open the black tabs and remove the cardboard backing. She licks her finger, applies tension to the paper, and draws it off welted glass. The photograph tears readily. She crumples the refuse and tosses it in the sink. Working quickly, she centers the remaining two-thirds of the portrait behind the glass and re-assembles everything. She then goes to her bedroom. Spends five minutes packing a suitcase. Returns to the kitchen. Hastily pens her son a note across the unopened flap of the phone bill—he is to call his grandmother immediately. Finally, she picks up the portrait. John and their son gaze up at her. She walks into the living room and stands in front of the couch. A small white nail protrudes from the clean square on the wall. Outside, raw wind rattles loose shingles. What the fuck is she doing? He’ll be home from school soon. How can she possibly just leave him with her parents? Where on earth does she think she’s going? But also—have there ever really been enough miles? She lifts the frame over the nail. Stares at its square banality. And then, her destination manifests. “Wyoming,” she says and steps into a vacant afternoon.
Gina Marie Bernard is a heavily tattooed transgender woman, retired roller derby vixen, and full-time dorky English teacher. She lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, share her heart. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. She has recent work appearing in Anti-Heroin Chic, X-R-A-Y, Gingerbread House, Ghost Road Review, Meow Meow Pow Pow, Monkeybicycle, STORGY, and Whale Road Review. Thirty West Publishing House released her third chapbook, Taxonomies, in March 2020. Her story "Sabbatical" made Wigleaf's 2020 Top 50 Longlist. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas, Monticello.