A Place for Everything by Jayne Martin

“A place for everything and everything in its place,” our mother would tell us girls. During her daily inspections, she would enter our rooms smelling of disinfectant, a paddle in her hand to punish the sloppy offender.

“Where do these crayons belong, Arlene?”

“But I was just using them.”

Whack! Whack! One for the crayons out of place and one for talking back.

My stomach would twist, bile rising in my throat, as I heard her approach my door. She never knocked.

“Why would you need privacy unless you’re hiding something?” she’d say. Whack!

But no matter how hard I tried, there wasn’t a place for everything and so stuff piled in I-don’t-know-to-do-with-it and I’ll-deal-with-it-later stacks on every surface. Cartons of things I couldn’t remember ordering, books I never read, mail unopened, newspapers and magazines climbing to the ceiling, clothes in heaps on the floor. All the while, the rooms wrapping around me like a warm embrace.

The sisters arrive promptly at 9:00 a.m., a truck with workers pulling to the curb behind them. This time the building manager had called. A fire hazard, he’d said.

I sit in obedient silence as, bit-by-bit, my fortress is disassembled, the room growing more cavernous with each banished item as I grow smaller, smaller. The smell of disinfectant floods the room and I tense, waiting for the sting of the paddle, though Mother has been gone for years.

This would be my last chance, the sisters say. And then they, too, are gone.

Jayne Martin lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she rides horses and drinks copious amounts of fine wines, though not at the same time. She is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her debut collection of microfiction, “Tender Cuts,” from Vine Leaves Press, is available now. Visit her website at: jaynemartin-writer.com.

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