You’re in your room with your sister when your mom barges in the front door, wailing. At first it sounds like the chatter of her usual arriving-home routine—cackles and baby talk with the dog. But then it’s something else, and your chest grows heavy, and you and your sister dart eyes at each other with inverted arches for brows.
So now you both scramble out the door and find your mom pacing in the living room. Her phone is wedged between her hand and her ear. Her face looks like a feral sad clown. And she’s screaming into the phone: “I came into my driveway!”
And you’re looking around the house, searching for your cat because he must be dead. This day has been coming. And you can’t find the cat anywhere.
“And he had a gun!” your mom shouts into the phone. And now she’s crying. Or perhaps she’s been crying this entire time. The cat’s not dead, which is a relief, but that means your mom was at gunpoint, which isn’t much of a relief at all.
And now your grandma’s sobbing—she’s been sitting on the couch the entire time—as she stares at your mom with a horror-smile.
Then you’re outside, waiting for the cops to come. And your mom won’t stop repeating what happened: They pulled up right behind me. Tapped the window with a gun. So I screamed, and honked, and they ran off. And your sister won’t stop repeating her theories: That’s because you went to the bank. They must have been following you. Older lady with a new car. And you can’t stop being annoyed, glad your mom’s okay, but ruing how much more paranoid she’ll become about banks, driving, and nighttime.
“I could see him through the rearview mirror sneaking up like this,” your mom says and struts like a penguin with swagger.
And then two cops come. And your mom spots fingerprints on the window. But one cop says there’s nothing they can do. Instead he makes small talk, and eventually drives off. And what you’re left with is the hum of neighbors in their homes.
“Maybe it’s good neither of you heard me,” your mom says. “He could have shot you.”
You stare at those set of prints. They seem small, like they don’t belong to a menace. Just greasy residue on glass. The next day your mom wants you to take a photo of the prints, but you can’t—it’s either too dark out or there’s a glare on the window. You pick her up from work with her car, and it begins to pour.
“That’s okay. It won’t go away with rain.”
One night you have to make a deposit, but she won’t let you go to the bank at that hour. These days she calls you to come outside when pulling into the driveway at night. You roll your eyes and groan. But on nights when you’re entering the driveway by yourself, you double-check the rearview mirrors.
One bright afternoon you notice a red van behind you. A quarter-way home, the van is still behind you; it has followed you through traffic circles and into quiet, suburban streets. You drive a quarter of a mile past your house before the van turns and it’s safe to go home.
One day you and your sister are in the car getting food at a drive-through, and she lowers the window.
But the damage is done. And when you tell your mom, she pretends she doesn’t care about the ruined fingerprints. But you catch her glimpsing at that window from time to time.
Weeks pass and her friend takes the car to get detailed.
“What a nice birthday gift,” she says. Maybe it’s all over.
The car seems spotless. But on the driver’s side window, when you drive at night, when the orange-pink from the street lampposts gleam hypnotically on the glass, you can see the streaks of a smudged stain and wonder if those are the misshapen fingerprints of the man who came to rob your mom at gunpoint. The man who makes you hesitate whenever you enter your own driveway. Your own home.