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Halving a Home

By Brandon Nadeau 

Reprinted by permission of Shift: A Journal of Literary Oddities, Copyright 2024 by Brandon Nadeau

The old pickup coughed a blue cloud as it hobbled inside the cockeyed garage. Liam killed the engine, listened to its death rattle, and sighed. He’d been neglectful. 

The garage door closed with a crash that echoed in catacomb-like darkness. Liam took a breath of fresh silence, grabbed his phone, opened his email. There it was: Congratulations on Your Promotion. A chemical warmth filled his chest, and he said, “Fuck yeah.”

The door to the backyard thudded shut behind him as he squinted along a path of abandoned toys. The summer sun was low and to the west, and Jasmine cuddled Ash in the shade of an overgrown dogwood. She listened to the boy’s chatter with weighted eyes that pulled her face toward the Earth. 

Liam drew near, took a knee, and cleared his throat. Ash sprang up, toddled over, pressed his forehead to his father’s and whispered, “Hi.”

“Hey, bud. How are you?”

“Bye.” He ran off.

Jasmine approached with open palms. “So?”

“Got the job,” Liam said.

“Told you.” She punched his chest. “You doubted.”

“I was cautiously optimistic.”

“Same thing.”

Liam gestured toward the garage. “Truck’s fucked.” 

“I’m heartbroken,” Jasmine said. “North Edmonton Kia’s having a sale.” She could recite the gas mileage of any vehicle on the market.

“Meant to give it to Mike,” Liam said. “Not much of a gift now.” 

“You’ve done enough for him.”

“He’s going through a rough patch.”

“Yeah, well, he doesn’t deserve your friendship.”

“Nah, he’s a good guy.”

Jasmine winced, scanned the horizon. A tan haze climbed an otherwise clear sky. “Air’s supposed to get bad.”

Liam nodded. “Can smell it already.”

“Why does a forest fire smell like burning plastic?”


“Figures,” Jasmine said. “I’ll make dinner. Will you watch Ashley?”

The boy burst from the foliage along the fence line and disappeared behind a raised garden.

“I’ll try,” Liam said.

Jasmine left.

Ash pulled Liam to the paved pad by the backdoor of their post-war bungalow. The concrete heaved above ground that’d shifted over spring. Liam worried about the foundation.

They sat with a bucket of sidewalk chalk between them as Ash drew an abstract depiction of untamed emotion while eating a leaf.

Liam wrote ‘Mama’ in red. “What’s this say, bud?”


“Nice,” Liam said without looking up. He wrote ‘Dada’. “How about this one?”


“No, dude, this one.” Liam underlined it. “Sound it out.”

Ash giggled. “Mama.”

Liam followed his son’s gaze to the kitchen window, where Jasmine puffed her cheeks and pulled her ears wide. Ash bounced on bent knees, scratched his armpits, and said, “Ooh-ooh-ah-ah-ah.”

Jasmine blew a kiss. Liam caught it and put it in his breast pocket. He chalked a heart around ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ and drew a cross between them. When he looked up again, Jasmine had gone. He wondered if she was content. She was hard to read, had been for years. Her emotions flatlined after the operation as if the surgeons removed something they shouldn’t have. Now, she rarely laughed and never cried.

It occurred to him that he’d misplaced a helpless child. An emergency search ensued. He scoured the backyard, checked under and behind all child-sized objects, crawled through spiderweb-infested bushes.

He ducked into the play-fort behind the shed and said, “Thank God.” Then his throat tightened. “Whoa, where’d you get that?”

Ash faced a four-story Victorian dollhouse, opened like a book along a central hallway. Catwoman napped in the upstairs bedroom as Two-Face showered in the ensuite and Batman brooded on the balcony. Liam felt hot and cold and nauseous. He thought Jasmine got rid of that dollhouse.

“Ash, dinnertime,” Liam said.


“Let’s go.”


“You’re funny.” Liam slipped his hands under Ash’s arms and lifted. Ash squirmed and kicked over the dollhouse.

“Hey,” Liam forced a patient tone. “Calm down.”

Ash swung his head back, smashing Liam’s chin.

"Jesus, fuck," Liam dropped his son harder than he had to.

Ash fell silent, turned crimson, then erupted. Liam ignored him, inspected the dollhouse.

“Dada.” Ash reached out. Liam brushed past him, left the fort, and stormed across the lawn. Ash followed, imploding into a pile of sobbing child as the dollhouse was placed on a flowerbox beyond his reach.

Liam rubbed his jaw, inhaled slowly, turned around. “Hey, man, I’m really sorry.”

Ash’s chin trembled. “Dada ouched me.” His first complete sentence.

Liam considered lying. Just an accident, didn’t mean to. “You’re right.” He struggled to swallow. “Wasn’t very nice.”

He took a step forward, Ash flinched, and pain coursed Liam’s torso. Felt as if his sternum had turned against him and stabbed his solar plexus.

Liam sat down and rubbed his son’s bouncing back. A breeze awoke the windchimes above the back gate. 

“Time out,” Ash said.

“I deserve one.”

Ash crossed his arms around his chin.

“Dada’s mess up, too,” Liam said. “I hope you’ll forgive me.”


Liam carried Ash inside like a backward knapsack and shouldered the door shut against the wind. He walked across the open concept as Jasmine watched from behind a boiling pot, steam beading on teak cabinetry. The house smelled like garlic bread and burning plastic. Liam buckled his son into his highchair and began a countdown. Ash grabbed his harness straps and grinned upward.

Blast-off: the boy’s rocket shook until it left the atmosphere.

Liam tidied, watered the plants, and emptied the litter box. Removed a fur-laden basket of unfolded laundry from the dinner table. Consolidated Jasmine’s real estate brochures, placing them with her empty day planner and dusty copy of Real Life Organizing. He turned on the radio, set the table, and sat down.

Jasmine turned off the radio, put out dinner, and sat down.

Spaghetti and meatballs.

Jasmine cut the garlic bread in two, passed half to Liam and said, “My mom heard Ashley say the S-word today.”




“Yeah. And you’re the only one that swears around him, so—”

“Shit’s a swear?”

Jasmine rolled her eyes.

“Your mom was here?” Liam said.



“My cross-fit competition…”

“Yes,” Liam double-tapped the table. “That’s right.”

“You forgot.”

“Did not.”

Jasmine mashed a bowl of pasta for Ash. “Said you’d make the second half.”

 “I know that…” Liam shifted. “And I meant to, but—”

“Jesus, fuck,” Ash said and then no one said anything for a while.

Liam broke a piece off his garlic bread and passed it to Ash, who threw it on the floor without looking at it.

“My afternoon was crazy,” Liam said.

Jasmine snorted.

Liam rubbed his wrist across his brow and poured himself a glass of Malbec. Ash looked from the wine bottle to his mom, then turned his head and wide-eyed his dad. Liam slid the bottle forward. Jasmine’s lips formed a smile, while the rest of her face didn’t.

Liam poured her wine and said, “I forgot your competition.”


Liam cleared the table, emptied the dishwasher, and filled it. He hand-washed the pots and pans, took out the garbage, swept, and folded laundry.


Liam leaned against the kitchen counter. What’s Mike doing right now? Stocking his beer fridge? Relaxing in the light of a high-definition gunfight? Seducing some twenty-something over trendy takeout?

The floorboards announced Jasmine's arrival. She paused behind Liam, who didn't look back. The wall clock ticked obnoxiously.

Jasmine rubbed his back and said, "I'm sorry." 

"You did nothing wrong." 

"That’s not true.” Her voice wavered. “Liam, I need to—"

“I’m the sorry one,” Liam said. "Start over?”

"Okay,” Jasmine said. “Yeah…okay." 

They cuddled on the crimson loveseat. Ash rolled on the rug and chewed a fire truck. Wind and far-away fires had cast an apricot veil across the picture window. The sun was a white hole.

An auburn light appeared in the haze where their street intersected with another. It grew larger and brighter and brought a motorcycle with it. The bike halted before the house next door, and Mike removed his helmet. He killed the headlight, dismounted, lit a cigarette. Then he looked up and flashed a coy smile at Liam and Jasmine, as if he knew they’d be watching.

“Goddammit he’s charming,” Liam said and waved.

Mike tipped an invisible cowboy hat, then strolled the cobblestone path to his front door.

Jasmine examined her hands. “Garage door’s acting up again.”

“Opening on its own?”

“Three times today. Pain in the butt.”

“I’ll fix it.” Liam leaned back and squeezed his neck. “I’m nervous. What if I’m garbage at managing?”

“Liam, look at me. I have every confidence you’ll be garbage.”

Liam smiled.

“At first,” Jasmine said. “Then you’ll get good, then you’ll be the best.”

“You’re the best.”

Ash farted. They laughed as a family.

“I got bronze,” Jasmine said.


“Third place.”

“Your competition…”


“I didn’t even ask,” Liam said.


“I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

The white-hole sun neared the rooftops.

“Didn’t know you kept the dollhouse,” Liam said.

“Of course, you made it for Ashley.”

Liam raised an eyebrow.

“What?” Jasmine said.

He made the dollhouse for their daughter, who died in Jasmine’s womb on a cold Friday forty months ago. The sky was gray that day. The roads were icy and God was a monster. They drove home with a miscarriage care package in the back by the car seat. Liam ground his hands raw on the steering wheel as Jasmine hugged her stomach and wailed. Removal was scheduled for the coming Sunday.

Ash climbed onto the couch and sat between his parents. Liam kissed his wife’s temple and said, “I love you.”


Liam sat in bed against the padded headboard after a long, hot shower. A breathtaking red sunset bled into the room.

Jasmine walked in naked and said, “Let’s fuck.”

“Oh,” Liam said.


“Sorry. Just tired.”

Jasmine straddled him. “I’ll do the work.”

Liam pressed a hand against her belly. “Not tonight.”

“Come on, you’re not tired.”

“Please fucking stop.”

“Wow.” Jasmine rolled off and glared at the popcorn ceiling.

“Jasmine, I—"

“Forget it.”

Liam put on the podcast they passed out to every night. He picked a random episode.

Welcome to Mystical History. Today, we examine the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Was it a miracle? A metaphor? A collective delusion in response to an unbearable trauma? For the next three hours, we—

“Can’t we just talk sometimes?” Jasmine said.

Liam cringed and pressed pause. “Love to. What should we talk about?”

 Jasmine huffed. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Let’s just have a conversation, talk about whatever comes up.”

“Fine, let’s see what comes up.”

The sunset drained away and life was a twilight wasteland. A gust billowed the bedroom curtains and Liam despised his wife for leaving the window open. Jasmine’s silence was serrated while they waited to talk about whatever comes up.

“I had an affair,” Jasmine said.

Liam left his body, heard himself say: “Who with?”

Jasmine sat up. “Mike.”

Liam felt nothing. “Since when?”


“How many…encounters?”

Jasmine shrugged. She’d never looked more beautiful.


They watched her fingers lift off her lap one by one. “Five,” she said.


“I’m ashamed, Liam.”


“The amount doesn’t matter.”

“That’s a relief.”

“Just have to repent.” Her voice cracked. “Repent and be forgiven.”

“You don’t believe that shit.”

“Sin is sin, Liam. Remember? Five times, once, what’s the difference?”

“Four.” Liam turned away, pressed play on the podcast.


The podcast was long over. Liam laid awake and frozen for a vacuous eon before his mind shattered and shot off in all directions. Who initiated? How long had it gone on? Where’d they do it? He leapt out of bed and recoiled from his pillow. Jasmine slept, breathing loudly through a tight, churning jaw.

The moon was a metallic blotch on a charcoal canvas and Liam was on Mike’s lawn. A toxic breeze embraced his bare back and made the grass wheeze and the highway moaned and wailed and violence felt virtuous.

Liam sat on Mike’s porch. The gas can was red and everything else was grey. He upturned a barren flowerpot and the key beneath it caught the streetlight. Its freshly cut edges were still sharp for lack of use. Liam clenched the jagged metal inside an impossibly powerful fist. He doubled the pressure with his free hand and screamed through his throat.

Sirens sang a dissonant chorus that swelled toward a crescendo as Liam floated about his backyard like a pale spectre collecting toys. He uncoiled the garden hose with bloody hands and washed away the sidewalk chalk. He tore the dollhouse in half and smashed it.

Was Mike the first or one of many? Was Ash even his?

Of course, don’t be ridiculous. Liam laughed.

He wept inside his truck inside his airtight garage and the brake pedal felt odd beneath his bare sole. He turned the ignition, the motor muttered and fell silent. He tried again, gave it some gas and it choked on fluids and fired up. An exhaust plume conspired beyond the dash lights.

“Life is so cliché,” he said and laughed and wondered what he meant by it. He opened his window, leaned his seat back, closed his eyes. “I should’ve poured your wine right away, should’ve remembered your competition…”

Liam caressed the pickup’s trembling console. “Sorry for being a bullshit husband.” His head and chest ached in synchronous waves. “But it’s fucked up what you did and I’m not giving you excuses… Anyway, I hope it was everything you wanted and I mean that. Hope he respected your body and…”

Liam’s stomach churned. “Jesus, Jasmine, your womb was a coffin for a weekend…I can’t imagine…you became a tomb so…closed off…open up and…sorry…let you down….”


Mike’s motorbike backfired as it roared past the open garage door, shocking Liam awake. The truck had stopped running. He turned the key: nothing. 

Liam went inside, had a cold shower, and wrapped a roller bandage around his hand. He sat on the bedroom floor and watched his wife sleep.

“She would’ve been beautiful in all ways like you are, Jasmine. She was our daughter, she existed, she was all we talked about for eight months and then never again. Why can’t we just talk about her sometimes? I need to—” 

“She would’ve loved the dollhouse,” Jasmine said. Her eyes were oxidized coins in a well and the windchimes sang and danced in the distance.

Liam nodded, inspected his bandage. His phone buzzed. He checked it and said, “Shit.”

“What?” Jasmine said. 

“Air quality advisory.” 

“How bad?”

“Bad as it gets.”

“What do we do?”

“Hunker down until it passes.”

Liam closed the window. Jasmine sat up, crossed and then uncrossed her arms.

“Are we going to be ok?” She said.

Liam laughed. “It’s not a tornado.”

“I know that….” Jasmine rubbed her hands on the blanket. “I mean…like….”

Liam sat beside her. “We’ll survive.”

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