Jan Brady by Jan Stinchcomb
When Jan Brady slams the door, it stays closed. No class trips, no family reunions, no happy hours.
Not one happy hour in her whole life, glossy-haired Marcia complains, years later. She is not alone in this sentiment. Everyone remembers how Cindy lost her lisp at the exact moment she shot profanity at Jan. Fortunately the parents weren’t around to hear this, but Peter and Bobby hooted their approval as they welcomed a stunned Cindy into teenhood. High fives all around. Greg shook his head, afraid to articulate what he had always known, that Jan was the kind of girl he hated. If she hadn’t been his sister, he would never have noticed her. She would have been one of those mystery kids in the yearbook, a resentful phantom.
Mrs. Brady stirs her coffee as she sits with her husband at the kitchen table. Nothing has changed: the audacious orange and avocado color scheme still reigns; the stark wood paneling has taken root on the walls; the starburst clock keeps the time of a more innocent era. They will never sell this house. Carol is waiting for Mike to finish reading the local paper’s front-page story about Jan. They read the paper every day, for in this house the internet simply won’t take, no matter how many times Alice’s butcher boyfriend tries to install a router. Mike is retired, rich and jovial. He isn’t going to let the middle daughter bring him down––she’s not even his kid, a fact that has always been both obscure and obvious. Mike Brady, architect, doesn’t want to know what Jan has done now. It’s always something with that kid.
Tiger likes to steal away upstairs and sniff the seventies. He starts in the boys’ room, pressing his nose against the loneliness, until he has found the essence of Greg, Peter and Bobby. These are his boys. Of all the smells they left behind, it is AstroTurf on old Keds that pleases Tiger the most. The girls’ room forever exudes a trace of strawberry Lip Smacker, Jergens lotion and Love’s Baby Soft perfume. Boys and girls are different, but everyone has pheromones. Everyone has emotions. The Brady family lives on in Tiger’s nose.
Jan’s scent stands apart, a distillation of anger and refusal. She is the lone wolf, the person who never wanted to be here, but Tiger searches for her nevertheless.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of The Blood Trail (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Find the Girl (Main Street Rag). Her stories have appeared in Longleaf Review, FlashBack Fiction, jmww and Queen Mob’s Tea House, among other places. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology, was longlisted in the Wigleaf Top 50, and was featured in The Best Small Fictions 2018. Currently living in Southern California with her family, she is a story editor for Paper Darts. Find her at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.