Emmaline Kleptky’s single-minded pursuit of her artistic career went sideways years ago when she fell in love with an ambitious attorney who dreamed of white picket fences and a house full of happy children. Now in their mid-thirties living in Midwest suburbia with a mortgage and three kids, their connection is waning, and the careers they have aren’t the ones they hoped for.
When Emmaline learns her estranged father is dying, she attempts to accelerate her painting career, bent on proving she’s capable of supporting herself with her art—something he claimed was impossible. Making space in her life for creative work inspires an uproar from her husband who wants everything to stay the same. As they wrestle for control over the future of their family, secrets they’ve kept seep to the surface and moral limits blur.
With her relationships ripping apart and her father fading, Emmaline must learn to trust herself enough to be her own person. She must choose whether doing what she loves and striving for her dad’s approval is worth tearing apart the life she’s built and the identity she’s been given.
Emmaline dreaded the impending plunge into madness. As she stood at the edge of the hilltop parking lot, the carnival swirled below, a cacophony of squealing children and chattering adults. Hints of roasting meat and burnt sugar wafted through the sticky air, heat and humidity clinging at a level absurdly high for the beginning of fall in Ohio. Her scrunchie barely held onto her strawberry blond locks, wispy strands flying away from her scalp in every direction. What little makeup she’d taken time to apply that morning had melted off by this point, and her sweats sagged around her hips. She longed to slip home and bask in the air conditioning while sipping a crisp, white wine, letting the latest installment of Grey’s Anatomy carry her away from reality.
One shoulder held bags of supplies and diapers and the folded Pack 'n Play, while her two-year-old, Ryan, tested the endurance of her other arm. She descended toward the chaos like a heavy-laden mule making its way through the Grand Canyon. Her free hand held onto Kimmy, her curly-headed preschooler, who dragged her feet through the grass, complaining about not being given donuts for dinner. If only she could take back the one time she’d stopped at the Tim Horton's in the middle of town in dire need of caffeine. Now every time they drove past it, the kids begged for donut holes; and Kimmy held onto ideas longer than it took the human stomach to digest a wad of gum.
As she stepped onto the steaming asphalt behind the elementary school, the chatter grew louder, pushing in on her, the stench of butter-soaked popcorn turning her stomach. Screeching kids ran past her in all directions, turning her path into a weaving maze. This celebration of the start of yet another school year couldn’t have fallen on a worse day.
Every year, it seemed possible the day would finally come and go without her noticing, enough time having passed, but this still wasn’t the year for it.