“Glass Houses” by Meagan Lucas

Em peeled her right eye open. Her left was crusted shut and pressed into the sweaty pillowcase. Clothes and dirty towels covered every horizontal surface and the stationary bike that she told Toya would never get used. She just couldn’t bring herself to open the half-filled drawers or look at the empty side of the closet in order to put them away. What did it matter? There was no one to tell her to clean it up. Sunlight, burning through the blinds she forgot to close before she fell into bed this morning told her it was late afternoon, much too early to be awake. But she was.


She had at least a couple more hours, and she could use days. Was it because of last night? Was it anxiety? Or relief? Was she awake because what had been building had finally come to a head? Because she had, as they’d all expected, finally fucked everything beyond fixable? She closed her eyes. Then she heard it, a knocking. Again, a pounding. It echoed through the empty house, vibrated in her belly. Then again.

“Goddamn girl scouts.”

She pulled the pillow over her head.


“Fuck me.” She rolled out of bed, stumbled down the hall, and threw open the front door.

“They’ve gone,” said Travis, too loudly. Travis, the boy who lived next door, who Em had only spoken to a handful of times because his parents thought she was everything that was wrong with the world. His face was pale, but his nose was red and his eyes were wide and full of water.

“What?” she said, pushing greasy, damp hair out of her face.

“Gone!” he shouted, near hysteria. “Without me!”

“Come in, come in.” She sighed, rubbed her eyes, and beckoned to him. Resigned to the fact now that she would not be getting back to bed anytime soon. “Just come in and sit, okay?”


“What do you mean, no? You need to calm down. You need to explain what the fuck you’re talking about so I can help you.”

“That’s a bad word.”

“What?!? Oh…” Em rested her forehead against the door jamb. “What do you want?”

He chewed on his fingernail and looked up at the sky. “Is everyone gone?”

“Obviously not,” she said. “I’m here.”

“Right, but you’re…” his cheeks took color and he looked at the ground.

“About out of patience.” She looked at her watch. “I have to get back on my rig soon. I have to save people’s lives.” That was kind of a stretch. She was likely to spend her shift grounded behind a desk or in her supervisor’s office after last night.“I need to be alert. So, I need some sleep. So, you need to tell me how I can help you, or you to go home to your mother and bother her.”

“I told you, she’s not home.”

“Dad, then.”

“Not him either. You’re not listening.”

Things were getting clearer. “They are probably just running late. It’s okay. Don’t you have a key? You’re old enough to be home alone for a bit.”

“The car is in the driveway.”

Em leaned out and peered into their driveway, he was right.

“Maybe they went for a walk, you have a baby sister, right? They probably took her for a walk.”

He shook his head.

Em’s eyes hurt. Her teeth felt rough and her mouth tasted sour. “Have you gone inside?”

He nodded.

“They aren’t there?”

He sighed and banged his fist against the side of the house.

“No note?”

He slapped his hand against his forehead. “Don’t you listen, like, at all? They are gone. Forever. Without me.” He sniffed and tears welled in his eyes. “I don’t know why,” he whispered.

“We don’t know that. They wouldn’t do that. Don’t think like that. We don’t even know where they are. They probably ran out for an errand. People get caught in traffic, get held up all the time. They are probably panicking too, trying to get back to ya.”

“They’re gone,” he said. “I knew this would happen. I knew I’d be left behind.”

Em thought back to the first time she’d met his parents. She’d been in her uniform, arriving home after a long shift. They’d been carrying boxes from a moving truck across the overgrown lawn and into the neighboring house. Travis’ mother was cute. She looked exactly like what a mom should look like, a collection of soft circles with a huge smile, and when she saw Em she waved and ran across the yard, hand extended.

“We’re new!” she said, laughing. “I’m so glad we’re neighbors!” she nodded at Em’s uniform. “Our last place was basically the ghetto, and now we live next to a doctor!”

“I’m not—”

“Oh, I know. I. Just. Well… I’m clumsy and bad with medical stuff. I’m always running into things, and the kid got that from me. Last time my little guy got a bonk on his noggin, I just about passed out. So, I’m so glad to have someone who knows what they are doing next door!”

“I’m happy to help,” Em’d said. Pleased to have new people about her age next door. The previous owner had been elderly, and the house was in poor repair. Em felt like a jerk that she’d cared more about her property values than Old Mr. Booker’s ability to live in his home, but she did.

“This is my boy,” the woman said, “and my husband” as a little boy with his mom’s dark curls and an average-looking man came over.

“Hi there,” the man said, and took off his sunglasses and held out his hand. “I’m Tim. Nice to meet you.” Em thought that together they looked like a catalog advertisement. Bland. Safe. He shook her hers and nodded toward the ring on her left hand. “Is your husband around? I’d love to meet him? Maybe get his help, the missus here isn’t all that good with heavy stuff.”

“Wife,” Em said. “She’s at work, and also not all that helpful with heavy stuff.”

“Oh,” the man and the woman said. Eyebrows raised. Mouths turned down. The wife put her hands on the boy’s shoulders and pulled him against her abdomen. “I see,” said the man, putting his glasses back on.

They just about ran away. Em shook her head. She’d had hope there for a moment, hope that the new people might be a little more open-minded than Mr. Booker. Wasn’t the world supposed to be changing? All the folks like her new neighbors kept complaining about how liberal everyone was getting, how we’d all moved away from their traditional family values. Em thought that was horseshit. If the world was getting more progressive, certainly there would be fewer of these idiots. She’d smiled thinking about swinging by the bakery the next day picking up a little welcome treat, and then stopping by their place with LaToya. She’d wondered what they’d think about that.

Travis clapped his hands to get her attention. She wondered what adult in his life did that.

“I know where they are,” he said.

She wanted to lay down and close her eyes. She could be sleeping. She could be working on forgetting her disastrous last shift, the warning, and all the texts on her phone from LaToya.

“What do you need then, a ride?”

“You can’t drive me to heaven.”

Em’s mouth went dry.   

“Why would you think that?” Dear God, dear God, dear God. She screamed in her head. What did he see? What did he do?

“Mom said, if I ever woke up in the night and they weren’t there, or if I came home from school and they were missing, that I shouldn’t worry because they were with Jesus and everything was going to be okay.”

What a monster this woman was. Em knew that they had some opposing political views, but this… she sat heavily on the top step of the porch. Travis sat beside her.

“So, are they always home when you come home from school? They are never gone to the grocery store, or been even just a minute or two late?”

He shook his head.

She thought about her own mother. She usually tried not to. Sometimes she couldn’t get past the petty feeling that her mother cared about what the other biddies in her book club thought more than anything else. That she honestly didn’t care who Em was fucking, but her Sunday School class did. Em let the anger and resentment that all those women were allowed to love and support their daughters no matter how many marriages fell apart, no matter how many babies were born out of wedlock. That the alcoholic, cheating, gambling, gluttonous, shopaholic daughters were allowed to have relationships with their families, but the lesbians raised in the church had to leave.

Other times, she felt more gracious, and she realized it wasn’t easy to have your child be the embodiment of everything you fear. Em couldn’t help but think about the mothers of serial killers, of rapists and murderers, though. How many of them she’d seen on TV or in interviews over the years? How many of them still deeply loved their children? How many of them could see past the sin and still love the sinner, and that sin was violence and assault. Surely a girl kissing a girl wasn’t as bad. Wasn’t there a hierarchy of sins? Wouldn’t that leather-bound fairytale her mother kept by her bedside say that abandoning one’s child was at least just as bad as a little girl on girl? And probably worse? Why was it that the sins that they weren’t interested in committing were always worse than the ones they were? How did longing to rest her head on LaToya’s soft breast make her a bad person? Em realized that the nonsense that had come from Travis’ mother’s mouth could have easily come from her own mother and her stomach tightened and rolled.

“How often do you worry about coming home to an empty house?” she said.


“Shit.” She rubbed her sore face. “What are you supposed to do? What the plan?”

He shrugged. She sighed. The sun was falling. She needed to figure this out before she was late to work. She was already on thin ice, if not an iceberg heading for a waterfall. “Why don’t we go over there and look around? Do your grandparents live nearby?”

“My aunt lives in Atlanta.”

“Well,” she said, and stood. Her body ached, her muscles tired and sore. “What did you see when you went in before?”

“Nothing. I ran around downstairs, shouted. I didn’t have to see anything. I knew. I could feel it.”

Em, too, could feel it when she walked in. She could smell it too, blood and feces. “Stay down here, Travis. Look for a phonebook, or something with your Aunt’s number on it.”

The main floor of the house was empty. Em prayed that she wasn’t about to find what she thought she was going to find. She’d been an EMT for fifteen years. She knew what death smelled like. The scent got stronger as she climbed the stairs. A bedroom with pale blue walls, a desk, and a baseball glove on the floor, empty. Next was pink walls, crib. Empty. Thank you, Jesus. The door at the end of the hall was only open a crack. She put her hand inside her t-shirt and used it to push open the door.

Sometimes, she really hated being right.

Three bodies. Two on the bed naked. Gunshot wounds to chests and abdomens. Travis’ mom, and a man Em had seen coming and going over the last few months carrying hammers, 2×4’s. They’d been working on Mr. Booker’s decades of neglect. They were settling in, making a life.

Another man, facedown, in the corner. Clothed. She prayed it wasn’t Tim; that he was somewhere else with the baby. Prayed that Travis had someone out there.

She turned the body over. It was Tim. She recognized his mouth, his nose. He had a revolver trapped under his body, and was bleeding from his temple. He’d fallen on the baby. Em pulled her out hoping that she’d just been trapped. Hoping she’d been spared or forgotten.

But she hadn’t.

Em wondered if her death has been revenge or mercy. It wasn’t hard to tell what had happened here. She’d thought these types of people were supposed to be immune from this kind of thing. The order of the shots was unclear for now, and that made her chest ache. The techs would figure it out later, but Em didn’t want to know. She didn’t like Travis’ mother, she didn’t like her snide comments about all the bottles in Em’s recycling after LaToya left, she didn’t like her political signs or her scrunched nose whenever Em and LaToya had friends over. But Em wouldn’t wish the torture of watching your child die on any mother. She backed out of the room and called 911 from her cell phone. She kept her voice down.

After hanging up, she led the boy out to the porch to wait. She looked at her watch yet again.

“Do you know those neighbors?” She asked, pointing to the tidy house on the other side. More old people, she could see a face watching them in the kitchen window.

“Yeah. They go to my church.”

“So… why did you come to my house then?”

“Mom said you wouldn’t be raptured.”

“Cause I’m a lesbian?”

“Well, that and…”

“And what?”

“What happened to your hand? You face? Was that from work? My mom talked about your job a lot. She said maybe I should be an ambulance driver when I grow up.”

She looked down at her purple knuckles, one looked fractured. Her lip still felt puffy. It was split on the inside. She’d always like to fight. But lately, it had meant something more. A release from the anger that had been building, a little escape of steam before the whole thing blew. Normally, it was at the bar, anonymous in her jeans and black t-shirt. But last night she made a mistake and let an idiot goad her into a heap of trouble: a fistfight in uniform.

“So, I’m bad. I don’t go to heaven. So, you can come over here.”

“He nodded.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, her elbows on her knees. “I’m sorry you’re stuck with me, and I’m sorry that they left you alone.” And in that moment her breath caught as she realized: his mom had known this was coming.

“Don’t be sorry about that.” He looked at the sky as the air filled with sirens. “It’s my own fault I wasn’t as good as them.”

Meagan Lucas is the author of the award-winning novel, Songbirds and Stray Dogs. Meagan has published over thirty short stories and essays and they can be found in places like: Santa Fe Writers’ Project, Still: The Journal, MonkeyBicycle, Bull Magazine, and Pithead Chapel. She teaches Creative Writing at Asheville-Buncombe Technical College and is the Editor-in-Chief of Reckon Review. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and children.