Kaye Branch lives in Massachusetts. Her work has been published in a number of places.
Channel by Kaye Branch
It was mid-afternoon and Desiree was awake. For a modern woman, the feat would have been unremarkable, but for Desiree, who had never worked full time, it an unusual and almost unwelcome occasion because she had no plans. Her only friend Daniel was at work like her husband, who might punish her with his fists if he found out she was awake. Sometimes he punished her for thinking.
Thinking was the first step towards taking action.
Desiree wasn’t limited to her body when it came to taking action, since she was a mage with the ability to leap into her body in other dimensions. She rarely made trips, but when a rare occasion such as that one presented itself, Desiree couldn’t resist the urge to stay where she was.
Desiree’s least favorite and favorite dimension were the same because it was the only dimension where she’d gotten help as a teenager and started a career.
In her dimension, she’d never met Jackson Driscoll because his father got transferred to Dallas, not Austin where she’d attended high school. In the other dimension, Desiree, still under her given name Delia Slater, met Jackson Driscoll in homeroom and flirted with him at football games where she was a star cheerleader and he rode the bench. Their first date was inevitable and though their relationships started like most high school flirtations, over a few months Delia came to trust Jackson more than she’d trusted anyone else and eventually told Jackson about the problems at home. Jackson told his parents. Jackson’s mother, who had three sons and no daughter, insisted that Delia move in with them. She tutored Delia for hours after school and with her help, Delia earned her diploma and went to hairdressing school, where her undiagnosed dyslexia, which impaired her in all other dimensions, didn’t keep her from graduating. Jackson agreed to marry her after he finished college. He was true to his word and got a job teaching high school in a suburb, where they bought a house and had two children. Desiree watched them just enough to stay up to date. Their daughter Erin was a freshman at Texas A and M and their son Patrick played varsity football at the school where his father taught.
On that particular afternoon, Delia was doing an elderly woman’s hair.
“How are your children doing?” the woman in the chair asked.
“Erin just spent her first weekend on campus without coming home,” Delia said without pausing from her work. Delia’s hands moved with grace and experience only Desiree envied and Delia thought nothing of it. “She still calls everyday, so I get a lot of time to speak with her, which is nice because I barely get to talk to Patrick. He gets home from football practice real late and he has to get up real early to make it to practice. I just try to get him breakfast and he mumbles something to me and then he’s out the door.”
Delia sighed and caught her reflection in the mirror and didn’t hold back from making a face that could cause a wrinkle
“Sounds like your kids are developing normally,” the woman in the chair said.
“Well at least they don’t need as much attention as they used to,” Delia said. “Jackson and I are going out to dinner and movie on Thursday night when Patrick has practice, so I have something to look forward to.”
“How many years have you been with Jackson?”
“We met thirty-two years ago and we’ve been married twenty-nine years.”
“I take it you were a young bride.”
“I thank you kindly.”
Although she knew he wouldn’t hurt her, Desiree tensed up when Adam walked to the door of her bedroom and peered in, as if he was looking into uncharted territory. Adam had no sisters or daughters and his only marriage had lasted eleven months twenty-two years ago.
“How was your night out?” Desiree asked.
“It was what’s became standard,” Adam replied with his usual stiffness. “Standard” meant that Adam drank coffee while Desiree’s husband Anthony drank until Adam had to drive him home. “Are you all right?”
Adam leaned closer to get a look at her face.
Desiree knew he found a few bruises she no longer had make-up over because it was late at night. She felt like a circus freak on display – That Woman Who Stayed With That Man. People were always watching, but no one did anything.
They also said things about Desiree’s abilities as a mother. None were positive.
When Desiree’s daughter Kira had started drinking, she got what she deserved.
When Kira sobered up and graduated valedictorian, people said Desiree cashed in on a reward she didn’t deserve.
When Kira left home abruptly, people stopped talking to Desiree.
“I’m fine,” Desiree replied.
“Call me if there’s any trouble,” Adam said as he turned away.
“Never offer help you can’t give,” Desiree said softly, so Adam couldn’t hear.
If Desiree could have traveled into Adam’s mind instead of his bedroom in an alternate dimension, she would have found out that Delia wasn’t the only one looking forward to Thursday night.
Kira worked as a waitress and got most Thursday evenings off. Adam had cleared his schedule that week to dine with Kira at his mansion. It wasn’t the first time she’d come over and Adam looked forward to conversation with someone who wasn’t on his payroll, even if Kira was nineteen and younger than Micah, his son, who she’d dated in prep school.
“How’s work?” Adam asked after they greeted each other.
“About the same,” Kira replied. “I bring food to people. Sometimes they tip. Sometimes they yell.”
“You know, I could get you a position as a receptionist at my company.”
“Receptionists have to deal with rude people, like waitresses and they don’t get tipped.”
“If money’s the issue, I could-.”
Kira put a hand up. “I know if you gave me any money, it would be because you feel bad about not stopping my dad from doing terrible things to me while I was in prep school. Money can’t erase that. My mom taught me the hard way that if I don’t do something for myself, I’ll get exploited.”
“You’re not going to get exploited. You’re going to college in the fall. You’ll start a career.”
“I could still get exploited if I trust the wrong person.”
Adam shook his head.
Kira didn’t press the issue any further.
While Kira and Adam talked, Desiree switched dimensions in mind but not body so she could enjoy Delia’s date with her husband.
Desiree channeled into Delia’s body midway through the movie, which was easy to follow because it was a standard inspirational story about a girl who became a famous singer while battling poverty and an overbearing stage mother. It wasn’t the type of movie Anthony would watch but from what she could surmise from Delia’s occasional glances at her husband, Jackson enjoyed it.
Delia’s eyes started to flutter open and closed as the singer prepared for the show that would make or break her career. Delia leaned against Jackson’s shoulder. Jackson reached back toward her to put his jacket over her body.
Kira was surprised when Micah greeted her at the door alone when she came to the house he shared with six others the next day. She followed him to the living room, where they gravitated towards seats at the opposite ends of a couch.
“Where is everyone else?” Kira asked.
“They’re coming,” Micah replied.
“You used to say your dad was coming to dinner so we had to wait until someone got a call he wasn’t coming. If he came at all, he was early.”
“My housemates don’t even know about that rule. They’re coming.”
“Good. By the way, I had dinner with your dad last night.”
“Oh yeah. You go to his house on Thursdays.”
“Mmm-hmm. He seemed exhausted.”
Micah shrugged. “He usually is. His job is stressful.”
“You never used to call your dad’s job stressful before you dropped out of college.”
“Until I dropped out, I let Dad make the plans. Knowing what I know about Stanford and corporate life, I’m not sure why he thought all of it would work out.”
“He wanted you to have his job because his job makes more sense to him than relationships.”
“Well, they get tricky.”
“At least you call. I haven’t spoken to my mom in over a year.”
Micah got up and patted Kira’s shoulder.
On Friday night, Anthony came into Desiree’s room and wouldn’t leave until he left bruises.
During the process, Desiree slipped into Delia’s reality.
After surviving an entire weekend on campus, Erin asked Delia to meet her at a steakhouse not far from campus on a Friday night, when her father worked and her brother had football instead of going home because going home meant defeat.
Delia met Erin on a bench and as the waitress led them to their table.
Based on the tables Delia passed, almost all the other customers were college students and everyone had to yell over the music and the volume from two big-screen televisions giving the entire restaurant a celebratory atmosphere, making Erin at least look relaxed.
“Have your classes been hard this week?” Delia asked.
“No,” Erin replied, seeming nonchalant. Dyslexia, which Desiree had gotten diagnosed as an adult and Delia never learned about, made easy classes inconceivable. The look on Delia’s face must have been terrible because Erin went on. “The professors go easy on us since it’s the beginning of the year. Sometimes they don’t even use up the full class period, so I get more time in the dorms.”
“Are you making friends?”
“I’ve made a few. All of the freshmen are trying to make friends, so everyone has at least three. It’s actually a little weird.” It was the only good thing about college Desiree liked. Taking classes in subjects like anthropology, which were off-limits to her in high school, made her think of reading difficult texts.
“I don’t know who I can trust.”
“When you meet someone you can trust, you’ll know because you feel it.”
Erin looked sideways, like Kira.
Erin had her father’s brown hair but she and Kira both had Desiree’s blue eyes.
“I guess you’re right, Mom.”
Desiree felt a dull and inexplicably physical pain and shifted back into her own battered body.
Saturday night arrived before Desiree could make plans for it. To compensate, she swooped into Delia’s body, as Delia walked into the kitchen.
Based on the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, Delia hadn’t gotten around to the dishes that night.
Desiree suspected her alter-dimensional counterpart hoped Patrick would come in and make himself something to eat.
So much time had passed Delia gave up hope, alternating glances between the clock and the dishes, caked in the residue of food Desiree couldn’t cook.
All parents worried.
Delia just didn’t know what it was like to have no way to communicate with her teenager for a year and a half.
Desiree knew Kira was resourceful.
She also knew how easy it was for a teenage girl on her own to get taken advantage of.
Desiree slammed back into her own body when someone knocked at her bedroom door.
She opened it, saw a police officer in full uniform and understood that her life was about to unravel.
After things calmed down enough that Adam had news to report, Adam dug up the index card Micah had jotted his telephone number down on the last time they’d seen each other. Micah circled it and put his name on the bottom, as if he thought his father would lose his ability to recognize his handwriting.
Micah answered after three rings.
“Hi Micah. Anthony Ross just got arrested.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“Did Desiree finally go to the police and press charges?”
There was a pregnant pause.
“No. He got charged with embezzlement.”
“His substance abuse issue made it hard for him to maintain his lifestyle.”
“Clearly. Do you know where Desiree is?”
“She’s staying with a friend.”
“I believe her friend’s name is Daniel.”
“Okay. Daniel. I’ve already got his number, so I’ll call there to make sure Desiree’s all right. Good-bye Dad.”
Micah hung up and took a sigh of relief.
Before he found out she was safe, he hadn’t realized how concerned he was about Desiree.
Kira looked forward to the end of the weekend after her father’s arrest hit the papers because Micah invited her to an informal brunch on Monday at restaurant in a funky hotel.
She wasn’t surprised when she didn’t see Micah as she walked into the restaurant. Micah was always late. Kira wondered if the trend of indifference would plague her into the week as Micah walked through the glass door, looking tense.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said.
“You’re always late,” Kira said.
“This time is worse. I was late and I lied.”
“Yes. I’m not actually staying for brunch. I just suggested we meet here because I called your mother and she wanted to see you and she didn’t think you’d accept an invitation to brunch with her after she let your dad disown you.”
“How…? Where is she staying?”
Kira nodded. She trusted Daniel.
“Okay.” Kira took a few slow steps into the restaurant and saw her mother at a table drinking coffee.
She looked tired. In Kira’s memories, she looked much worse.
“Mom?” Kira asked.
Desiree felt relief washing over her as she heard Kira’s voice.
She hugged Kira.
“Mom. I know you always had high hopes for me making something of myself, but I’m a waitress now.”
Desiree pulled back so she could cup Kira’s face. “There’s nothing wrong with that! What you did by leaving was close to impossible and here you are!”
Desiree pulled Kira back into a hug.