The sun is starting to set through the trees on the other side of the screen.  The bees somehow figure out a way to get in, even with the screens.  The ceiling fan’s rhythmic breeze keeps the spring sweat away.  The iron table and chairs will provide dog-teeth-proof seating for five for fish tacos later tonight.  The hand-me-down bench will hold the platters and serving dishes for them; a night off from holding the usual random tools, shoes, hats, gardening paraphernalia, and dog leash.

This porch needs a serious cleaning from winter harshness.  The once-white trim is now speckled with red clay and black dirt; the chipped black paint on the floor is spotted with dust and white dog hair.  If you squint your eyes, though, you don’t see it and can still eat fish tacos here.

Through the screen, she can see green everywhere.  Birds are singing the same tune, over and over, like pop radio.  Lawn mowers are chugging and backfiring.  Somewhere, someone is burning a pile of something, which irritates the living hell out of her.  Even so, the beginning of spring is here, and she is grateful for it.  Early springs, mild winters, pretty countryside, good barbecue, and this screened porch…it could be a lot worse, for God’s sake.

She takes in the view and sighs.  There are starving people in Africa.  There was a mother on the news today whose child had been shot. There are hurricanes and tsunamis across the world. I really am so very blessed, she thinks. She sighs again.

The phone rings; the caller ID says it’s John. She lets the voice mail answer. She listens to his recorded voice that says he’ll be going to dinner with his golf buddies and not to wait up. That’s the third night this week. She kicks the boy’s tennis ball, a bit too hard for the small porch.  No harm done; the screen holds tight.  He had repaired it last summer and is always very thorough with his home improvements.

She picks up a seashell that had ended up in the corner of the porch. It was from last summer’s beach trip. They had found so many shells scattered on the beach, mostly empty and broken. This one had been white but was pockmarked by the sea floor, or maybe from their porch floor. Hard to tell. She remembered the one that Tripp had found with the hermit crab still in it. He was so excited and not the least bit scared.

She slowly stands up to go make the Sunday night phone call to Mom. She had put in a long run, 8 miles, early this morning, and would be somewhat relaxed for the call. She had gotten into running last year and was training for her fifth half-marathon this year. Her friends kept telling her that five is too many for one year; they were wimps. She didn’t have an ounce of fat on her. But she realized that this one was looking pretty doubtful now.

“Hey, Mom. How’re things?”

“Well, hey yourself, Maggie. How are you, honey?”

“Oh, we’re doing great. Just waitin’ for John to get home from golf and then we’re having some fish tacos…I’ve got a great recipe from Sandra Lee, you know, on Food Network.  The kids are running around outside, so glad for the pretty weather. Are y’all outside enjoying it, too?”

“Oh we are, we’re just getting our drinks ready for happy hour on the porch. God wants us to rest on Sunday, so that’s what we’re gonna do. How was your week? How are the grandbabies?”

“We had a great week. No complaints. Tripp had baseball, and Gracie is loving ballet. Me, I’m just running and working out, carpooling, PTA meetings, Bible studies, you know, the usual. Got my hair done, so that was fun.”

“Oh good, you need to keep yourself up for that sweet husband of yours. You keep up that running; you’re looking great. That John is so good for this family, Maggie. A hard worker, a good provider, and a wonderful father. We love him so much, and you too, sweetie. You two provided us with our 3 precious grandbabies. Oh, Mary Margaret, we are blessed!”

Maggie’s stomach lurched. “Oh yeah, thanks, Mom, look, the kids are calling me, great to talk to you.”

“Of course, bye, now.”

Maggie ran to the toilet and threw up. She sat there, heaving. She cried a little, but stopped when she remembered how ugly she was when she cried. She had already thrown up twice earlier. She picked up her toothbrush, and threw it into the mirror. It bounced back and hit her in the forehead. Now she had a red mark. She got her concealer from the makeup drawer and carefully applied it over the stinging. She had suspected for several days what her nausea meant, in addition to her sore breasts. John and her mother would be thrilled; maybe he would stay home more often now.

She brushed her teeth, rinsed her mouth and put the toothbrush back in the cup. She eyed John’s toothbrush…she bought it for him a few weeks ago. The thought occurred to her that he had probably never bought his own toothbrush in his entire life. Probably didn’t even know where they would be in the store. She picked it up and carried it with her to the toilet. She held it in her shaking hand and stared at it while she urinated in the toilet. It was a blue and white Oral B, medium bristles. She leaned down and scrubbed the floor by the toilet with it, then dunked it in the pale yellow toilet water. After flushing, she rinsed it with fresh toilet water. Then she put it back in its regular spot in his cup.

She averted her eyes from looking in the mirror. She took out a mini bottle of Wild Turkey she kept hidden in the back of a bathroom drawer. After gulping it down without a wince , Maggie decided that would have to count for her happy hour.