There are sixteen different living rooms in my parents’ living room store. Each room has at least two lamps and that is one of my jobs at night—to turn the lamps off. The last time my father tried to wire them all to a switch, he set the sprinkler system off and had to close the store for a week, so we have to do it by hand. It is my favorite part. I know all of the lamps by heart, how some switches are at the base and some are up near the bulb and some you have to turn like a key and some you have to push like a button and some are not even switches but pull chains. I turn off the lamps at random, one here, one there. I turn them off this way because I imagine it is like a sunset in the store, how the whole room dims in stages, or that it is like turning down the night sky’s stars, one by one. My mom likes to turn on and off the lamps like I do. She taught me that, although I don’t know if she thinks at all about sunsets or stars—she is very busy worrying about what I will do with my life.
My father read somewhere that one of the hardest things is to imagine a piece of furniture in your house. To get the space right and the colors and dimensions. He tells customers to spend all the time they want. He tells them to close their eyes, to visualize. “Go home and come back,” he says. “You’ll get it right.” But they don’t come back. I don’t know how the living room store stays open. My mother does the books, which might explain why one side of her mouth frowns down and maybe why lately her eye twitches, because my parents were supposed to retire but did not. It is a big fight they have, about how and when and what could have been done differently and what will happen to the living room store. My father wants me to take over but my mother says, oh that’s nice, give your daughter a sinking ship, and then my father slams something—even though he knows my mom and I both hate that.
My mother doesn’t like me alone in the store at night, which is another big fight my parents have. The store is at the end of a strip mall with an arts and crafts store, a Dollar General, a Friendly’s, and an Ace Hardware. The parking lot is well lit, and there’s a security system installed throughout the strip, but my mother still [End Page 548] worries—rapists, burglars, mass murderers, with or without brain tumors. My father says, Maureen, things like that don’t happen in this town, and my mother says, well, but still.
So my mother tries to stay as long into my shift as she can. She says that she and I are like ships passing and she can’t stand it, so we order food from Friendly’s. She puts the be back in ten sign out to keep customers away, and we eat dinner in one of the two college living rooms, the more male one usually, with the nested faux-wood tables and the black futon—we perch on the edge of the futon so as not to spill anything. It still makes my father nervous, and he pretends to do inventory but really is watching us.
During the days at home, at my parents’ house, which is just two miles away from the store in a neighborhood laid out like a peace sign, I make something I call worry-prayer dolls. I sell them online. They look like Mayan worry dolls, but you can have them custom-made, like what color skin and hair and eyes, so you can pin your worries and prayers on someone specific. Even though I’ve given my mother a worry-prayer doll in my likeness, she says I should apply for college...