|Posted by bubbagrey on January 11, 2014 at 11:45 AM|
By Franklin Klavon
As published in Brain, Child Magazine
Lisa woke up singing. Daylight shone into her small bedroom. It had snowed last night, and the window was feathered with frost. She touched the crystals, numbness seeping into her fingertips. She lay in bed with her stuffed dog, Puppy. "Don't play too close to the edge, Puppy," she warned, hopping the dog around the corner of the bed. Puppy fell, and Lisa picked him up off the floor. "My God, Puppy, you are so clumsy. Be more careful next time." Lisa heard footsteps and hid beneath a blanket. When she peeked her head out, Ellie stood in the doorway, her blonde hair in a ponytail, a coffee cup in her hand. "Mommy!" Lisa called out.
Ellie came to the four-year-old and sat on the bed. Lisa hugged her, climbing up on her lap. Ellie kissed Lisa's cheek. "Be careful you don't spill my coffee, honey. You know how clumsy you are."
"I missed you, Mommy," said Lisa.
"Did you have fun with Grandma last night?"
"Rupee threw up on the floor."
Ellie shook her head. "I’m going to have to do something about that damn cat. Did you help Grandma clean it up?"
"Uh-huh, and Ralf tried to eat it. Bad Ralf, Grandma told him. Grandma made Ralf go outside, and he barked at the door."
"Did you and Grandma watch Black Beauty?"
"Yes," said Lisa. "The horse got hit with a whip."
"That's sad," said Ellie, stroking Lisa's tangled hair. "He was such a pretty horse." Lisa laid her head on Ellie's breast. Ellie looked around the room. The floor was littered with clothes and toys, the walls scribbled with crayons. Ellie thought about the guy she'd met last night.
"Mommy, can we make a snowman?"
"There's not enough snow."
"There's snow, look." Lisa went to the window.
Ellie sipped her coffee. "I know it snowed last night, but it's not enough."
"But, Mom, I got my new boots," Lisa argued. She went to the closet and brought out
purple boots, the ones with pictures of mermaids.
"I understand, Lisa, but the snow's not deep enough."
Lisa dropped the boots on the floor and picked up a one-armed doll. Ellie stood and looked out the window. A tricycle lay tipped over in the yard. Lisa said, "I'm hungry, Mommy."
"Alright, but first you need to take a bath. I'm dropping you off at Aunt Rhonda's. Mommy met a man last night at the bar, and he's taking me out to lunch today. Isn't that exciting?"
"Is it my dad?"
Ellie laughed. "No, that wouldn't be very exciting."
In the bathroom, Ellie turned the dial up on a wall-mounted electric heater. She stuck the rubber plug in the bathtub drain, ran the water to the right temperature, then sprinkled bubble bath on the water. "Come here, honey," she called to Lisa, who was in the hallway petting Ralf. Lisa came with Puppy under her shirt. Ellie put Puppy on the vanity and pulled Lisa's pajamas off. Her pajamas were yellow with brown teddy bears.
"Can Ralf and Puppy come in the bath?"
"No dogs in the tub," said Ellie, lifting Lisa and putting her in the steamy bath. Lisa's body tightened, her face contorting at the touch of the hot water. Ellie threw the pajamas in the hamper. "You can play with Barbie, though." She went in the bedroom and pulled a doll from the toy box. She removed its clothes and gave it to Lisa in the tub. Lisa splashed in the bubbles and held Barbie's head under the running spigot. "How's the water? Is it too hot?"
Ellie checked the temperature, dipping her hand in the bath, then ran cold water for a minute, then turned it off. Lisa lay on her back, her skinny body barely submerged in the bubbly water. "Mommy's going to do some things while you soak in the tub, honey."
"Okay." Lisa rubbed soapy hands on her belly.
Ellie closed the bathroom door, leaving it open a crack. In the kitchen, she poured another coffee, then called her sister Rhonda. "Hi," said Ellie, "I was wondering if I could drop Lisa off about eleven?”
"I thought you didn't work until five o'clock."
"I don't, but remember David, that cute guy we were talking to last night, he asked me to lunch at Castles after you took off."
"Boy, I don't know, El. Brian took the kids to the ice arena, and I was planning on hitting the tanner."
"About eleven. Plus, I was going to try and hook up with Brian's mother for lunch. She's been bugging me to take her out. She just sits home all the time, you know."
"Well, can't you take Lisa? I might like this guy."
"Sorry, I really can't, El. You can bring her over about three, though. I should be back by then."
"That's too late, Ron." Ellie frowned. "You sure you can't be a dear?"
"Call one of your friends. What about Cindy?"
"No, Cindy's always too busy."
"Why don't you ask Mom?"
"Mom's mad at me," said Ellie. "She got pissed when I came home two hours late last night. She got in her car and drove home and barely said a word."
After Ellie got off the phone, she went in the basement, pulled her work clothes from the washing machine and loaded the dryer. She soaked a stained shirt and changed the litter in the cat box. Back upstairs Rupee meowed at his empty food dish. There was one kernel of cat food floating in the water bowl. "Well, hello, kitty," said Ellie, picking up the purring cat. Ellie fondled his pink ears. She filled the cat dish with dry food and changed the water. She went down the hallway to the bathroom.
"Hi, Mommy," said Lisa as Ellie looked in. Lisa was sitting with her head below the dripping spigot, picking up handfuls of bubbles and blowing them in the air.
"You alright in here?"
"Mm-hmm," Lisa said, patting bubbles on her face.
"How'd the floor get all wet?"
"There was a big wave."
“Okay, don't splash water on the floor."
"Aunt Rhonda can't take you this early, so I'm going to ask Grandma."
"I don't want Grandma. I want to be with you."
"Don't start," said Ellie, "I told you I made plans." Ellie called her mother on the cell phone as she headed toward the kitchen. "Hi, Mom, I was wondering if you could take Lisa for a few hours this afternoon? I met a guy, and he asked me to lunch at Castles."
"You were just out last night," said her mother.
"I know, and I'm sorry, but he's a really nice guy, and I don't want to stand him up. His name is David."
"What about your daughter? You don't mind standing her up. She was crying for you last night. She needs her mom."
"She has her mom all the time," said Ellie. "All I do is work and take care of the princess. What about me, don't I get a life?"
"When Lisa moves out you get a life. Until then, you need to put her on top of your priority list, ——you know, right above your orgasm."
"Whatever," said Ellie. "Bye." She ended the call and put the phone on the counter. Last night's dishes sat dirty in the sink. "Thanks for doing the fucking dishes for me, Mom." She banged the dishware emptying the cold, slimy water and refilled the sink. She soaked the dinner dishes, boiled water on the stove for oatmeal, then sent a text message to Cindy.
"Mommy, this water's cold," Lisa called out from the bathtub.
Ellie clomped to the bathroom in fuzzy slippers. "Okay, no need to shout." Lisa's hair was wet and clinging to her neck as she danced Barbie on the scarcely bubbled water. Ellie put her phone on the vanity and ran warm water in the tub. "Let me wash your hair," she said, squirting shampoo into the palm of her hand. "Close your eyes, honey." Lisa squeezed her eyes shut as Ellie massaged the shampoo into her brown hair.
The cell phone vibrated. Ellie rinsed her hands in the running water, dried them on a towel and checked the text message. It was from Cindy. She punched in a reply on the keypad, then continued washing Lisa's hair. The cell phone vibrated again. Ellie rinsed and dried her hands, then replied to the text. She squirted more shampoo in Lisa's hair. The cell phone vibrated.
"Not this again," said Lisa.
"Hush," said Ellie, wiping her hands. She called Cindy. "So is it okay if I drop Lisa off about eleven for a few hours?"
"You can bring her over, El, but I can only keep her for an hour. My brother's taking Jessica and Andy at noon, while I get my hair done."
"You think Erik would mind watching Lisa?"
"He might watch her, but it's all the way over in Painesville."
"Mommy!" cried Lisa, sitting stiff in the climbing bath water. She grimaced as shampoo fizzed in her hair.
"I got to go, Cindy. Lisa's calling for me."
"I'll talk to Erik and let you know."
A glass tumbler sat by the sink. Ellie filled it with running bath water, then rinsed Lisa's hair. She turned the water off. It was up to Lisa's armpits. "Okay, stand up, honey, and I'll get your body." Ellie washed Lisa with a washcloth. "Do you want to stay in the tub and play for a bit while I make breakfast?"
"Yes!" Lisa said, eager to play in the deep water.
When Ellie came in the kitchen, Ralf was wagging his tail, standing by the sliding glass door leading to the back deck. "I'll let you out in a minute, boy," Ellie said to the dog, "after I make this oatmeal." She poured oats in the boiling water, stirred and reduced the heat, then covered it to simmer. She set the timer on the stove. "Lisa," Ellie called out to the bathroom, "I'm going to take Ralf outside for a minute."
"Okay," Lisa called back, climbing out of the tub to get the glass tumbler.
Ellie put her coat and boots on, went downstairs and took Ralf out the back door of the walkout basement. The fresh snow glistened on the boughs of the pines. Blades of grass poked through the snowy yard. Beneath the deck, Ellie stood on a cinder block, reached up and pulled half a marijuana cigarette and a butane lighter off a ledge. She lit the joint, inhaling deeply, holding the smoke. After three hits, she spit on her fingertip, extinguished the joint, and stowed it back on the ledge.
Ralf wandered amongst the juniper trees near the fence. Ellie made tracks in the bright snow as she went to the side yard to stand in the morning sun. The frozen grass stubble crunched beneath her boots. She crouched down to pet the little dog but lost her balance and sat in the snow. She stood and brushed off, gazing at the long shadows of the junipers.
In the bathtub, Lisa put shampoo in her hair and poured water over her head with the glass tumbler. She got soap in her eyes, screamed and dropped the glass. It clunked on the bottom of the tub. "Mommy," she cried, rubbing her eyes. She grabbed for a towel hanging on a rack. Unable to reach, she climbed on the edge of the tub; the splashing bubbles had made it slick, and she slipped into the water, bumping her head. Lisa struggled to the surface, gasping and thrashing her arms.
She climbed out of the tub, crying, pulled a shirt from the hamper and dried her eyes. "Mommy!" she called out.
Ellie sniffed the scent of marijuana on her fingertips. Her mouth was dry but she liked the taste. "Ralf," she called, "time to go in the house." She whistled, but Ralf didn't come back. She whistled again. Then she noticed dog tracks in the snow. "I'll just track you down," she thought out loud. "Ralf, you can't outsmart me." Ellie followed the dog tracks along the fence to the back of the yard. The tracks twisted uphill, turned west at the clothesline pole, where Ralf had peed, then disappeared in the brown needles beneath a row of white pines.
She followed the pines until the tracks reappeared, then headed toward the birdbath. A blue jay lay dead in the water basin. The plumage on the head was flattened and bloody, a wing splayed out on top of the ice. The other wing was frozen in the water. Ellie jumped back. "Ralf!" she trembled. The hair on her neck bristled. The dog came from behind a spruce, and Ellie picked him up, hugging him, talking in whispers.
Inside, Lisa made bath water tracks down the hallway as she came into the kitchen. "Mommy!" she called, but Ellie didn't answer. Oatmeal boiled on the front burner. Lisa stood on her toes to see the bright red heating element. She reached with her fingertip. Rupee meowed at her feet. "Where's my mom, Rupee?" she said, kneeling down to pet the purring cat. Lisa went to the top of the stairs and called out again, then scampered to the bathroom. But when she climbed in the bathtub the water felt cold. Gripping with both hands she turned on the squeaky, hot faucet.
When Ellie came in the house and back in the kitchen, the timer buzzed on the stove, and the oats bubbled angrily, puffing out pockets of steam. The lid rattled on the saucepan. She turned off the burner, read a text on her cellphone, then called Cindy. "Erik don't mind watching Lisa," said Cindy, "but you'll have to pick her up at 911 Oak Street in Painesville around four o'clock. That's where Sam Clemet's mother lives."
"Who's Sam Clemet?"
"I don't know. He must be a friend of Erik's."
"And it's alright with his mother?"
"As far as I know it is. I won't be there, El. I'll be getting Andy and Jessica beforehand at Erik's house, but I won't have room for Lisa in my little pickup. Erik will drop Lisa off in Painesville while him and Sam work on Sam's car. But before that, Erik has to borrow a wrecker from his work to haul Sam's car from where it broke down on the interstate. So at least Lisa will get to ride in a tow truck. That'll be fun."
"Yeah, she'll like that," said Ellie.
"One more thing, El, you need to pick up Lisa no later than four because Sam's mom has to leave for rehab."
"Rehab? What kind of rehab?"
"How should I know? I never met the woman."
She ended the call, then followed the water puddles down the hallway and looked in the bathroom. "What–are–you–doing?" she hollered at Lisa. The tub was filled to the brim, and Lisa stood waist-deep in the middle, singing "Jingle Bells," dunking Puppy in the water. Puppy was lathered in shampoo.
Lisa jumped and burst into tears. "Giving Puppy a bath."
Ellie turned the faucet off and hoisted Lisa out of the tub. "You don't put stuffed animals in the bathtub!" She reached in the water to pull the drain plug, but it was too deep without unbuttoning her sleeve. "To hell with it. I don't have time for this shit." Ellie dried Lisa and wrapped her in a towel.
"Mommy, you're hurting my hair," said Lisa as Ellie tugged a comb through the tangles.
Lisa's teeth chattered.
"Before lunchtime I'll be dropping you off at Cindy's, and then I'll pick you up in Painesville this afternoon." Ellie poked Lisa's belly. "Do this for Mommy."
"But I don't want to go to Painesville," said Lisa with a long face.
In Lisa's bedroom, Ellie selected an outfit; a lavender skirt with a matching striped blouse, tights, and a sweater. "Put these on, baby."
"Can I wear my magic slippers?" Lisa asked, holding up a pair of sparkly, blue sandals.
"Those are for springtime. It's too cold outside."
At the kitchen table, Ellie and Lisa sat down to breakfast. The oatmeal was scorched. Ellie mixed in butter, brown sugar, and milk. This is a disaster, she thought. Lisa tasted the oats and spit it in her bowl. "I want Cocoa Puffs."
"We used the last of the milk," said Ellie.
Lisa frowned. "I don't like this."
"Eat it anyway." Ellie went to the cupboard and rummaged the top shelf. She stood at the counter eating barbequed potato chips, while Lisa sat in her booster seat, playing with her oatmeal. "Do you want me to make cinnamon toast instead?" asked Ellie.
"Yes, please, and juice."
"Okay, but I want you to take a few bites of oatmeal." Ellie put two slices of white bread—blotched with barbequed fingerprints—in the toaster, then poured Lisa a tall glass of orange juice. Lisa ate chunks of oatmeal, pouting, her elbow on the table. She bumped the orange juice and it spilled over, dripping to the floor.
"Lisa, why?" Ellie shouted, her head throbbing. She sopped up the juice, smoke pouring out of the toaster, then wiped the floor with a wet towel. She balled the towel and flung it in the basement. The floor was sticky as a licked candy cane.
After a rousing breakfast, Lisa turned on the television in the living room. "Mommy, will you watch cartoons with me?"
"I'm sorry, honey, I can't. I need to iron my work clothes."
"Why do you need to iron your work clothes?"
"Mommy wants to look nice so she makes big tips."
"Why do you want big tits?"
Ellie laughed. "I can think of a lot of reasons." Then she said, "tips," emphasizing the “p”.
Lisa watched Superheroes. Rupee came in the living room, meowed three times, arched his back, and then gagged on the carpet in front of the TV. "Rupee, don't! Mommy's going to bury you with a posthole digger." Lisa covered the hairy cat vomit with a cushion off the sofa, then sat on the cushion.
Ellie came up the stairs. "What's all this shouting about?"
"Why are you sitting so close to the TV, and why's that cushion on the floor?"
"That cushion." Ellie snapped her fingers. "Pick it up." Lisa got to her feet. "Today, please!" She picked up the cushion, but Ellie snatched it from her hand when she saw the lumpy puke on the carpet. Ellie flung the cushion at the white cat as he ducked under the loveseat.
Ellie grabbed a broom from the kitchen and poked at the cat. "Come to Momma, Rupee. Come to Momma." But Rupee stayed fixed beneath the loveseat, his belly on the carpet, his eyes wide.
Ellie slammed the broom to the floor, then cleaned the carpet and sofa cushion with foam cleaner. Lisa sniveled on a plastic Mickey Mouse chair in the corner. Ellie picked up the broom. "Next time, honey, tell me when Rupee has an accident. Don't hide it."
"I thought you were going to bury him alive with a post digger." Lisa sniffed.
"I would never do that—the posthole digger's broke." She looked at the clock. Ralf nosed the wet spot on the carpet. "C'mon, Ralf, time to go outside to the bathroom."
"Again?" said Lisa.
Ellie grabbed Ralf's collar and pulled him across the floor.
"Mommy, can you make the dinosaur puzzle with me?"
"Not today," said Ellie, "I have to take a shower and get ready for my lunch date." She went to the basement, Ralf at her heels, and opened the back door. Beneath the deck, she stood on the cement block, and retrieved the roach from the ledge. Pinching it in her fingers, she lit the end, held it to her lips and puffed, savoring the sensation. She hit the joint again, put it out in the snow and stowed it on the ledge.
Ralf peed on the bird feeder pole in the yard. "Let's go Ralf," Ellie called to the dog. But Ralf was familiar with this game, and the more she called, the further he wandered.
Lisa pulled the dinosaur floor puzzle out from beneath her bed, brought it to the living room and spread the cardboard pieces on the carpet. She looked at the picture on the box; a herd of brontosauruses waded in a swamp, eating the tops off trees. A baby brontosaurus was neck-deep in lily pads. Lisa named the baby dinosaur "Bernice." She made up a song and sang to Bernice.
"Mommy, where are you?" she sang out at length. She went to the top of the basement stairs. That's when she noticed Ellie's car keys on the kitchen table. The key chain had a miniature picture of Lisa and Ellie. She sat on the floor, looking at the picture, jingling the keys, attempting to insert each one in an electric wall outlet.
In the basement, the backdoor opened, and Ellie and Ralf came up the stairs and into the kitchen. "Lisa, no!" Ellie grabbed the keys from her hand. "You'll get shocked like a bug zapper." She picked her up off the floor.
"The fucking thing wouldn't start, Mommy."
Ellie carried Lisa into the living room, slipped on the puzzle pieces, and almost fell. "I thought I told you not to get the puzzle out." She plopped Lisa on the love seat. The cushions were covered with Rupee's hair.
"Mommy, we can make the dinosaur puzzle together."
"I have to get ready for my lunch date." Ellie let her hair down and turned on the boom box, then went to her bedroom. She unbuttoned her plaid blouse and threw it over a chair. She dropped her faded jeans in a crumpled pile on the carpet. Violent Femmes played on the radio. "Ooh, I like this tune," she said, hustling into the living room in pink bra and panties. She stepped over the puzzle pieces, where Lisa sat on the floor, then cranked up the boom box.
"Mommy, it's too loud." Lisa covered her ears.
Ellie grabbed Lisa's hands and pulled her up. "C'mon, sweetie, dance with Mommy." They held hands and danced back and forth. Ellie did a slow pirouette, moving her hips.
"You're walking on my puzzle!"
Ellie stopped and glared at Lisa. "Did you brush your teeth? Of course not, you need to be told. Go brush your teeth." She pointed down the hallway, and then turned the boom box louder.
Lisa tromped down the hall to the bathroom and pushed the door closed. She pulled a stepstool in front of the sink, climbed up, and brushed her teeth with chocolate toothpaste. She put her toothbrush in the toothbrush holder, wiped her face with a hand towel and climbed off the stool.
"Oh no," she panicked, touching both hands to her mouth. Barbie floated face down in the bathtub. She dragged the step stool, climbed up, and leaned over the stagnant water. But as she reached for the doll, her feet lost hold of the stool, and she splashed into the tub head first, her legs kicking in the air.
Breathlessly, she grasped Barbie, putting the doll on the back ledge. She raised her head, gulping air, but didn't have the strength to lift herself up. She plunged again, this time deeper, breathing in water.
In the living room, Ellie ate a Klondike bar, dancing to "Man In The Box." The song ended, and she lowered the volume. "Lisa?" she called out, padding down the hallway, unfastening her bra. She peeked into the bathroom. Lisa's legs kicked gently, sticking out of the bathtub.
"Lisa!" Ellie rushed to the tub, trembling, mouth like soot, and yanked Lisa by the hair from the shifting pool. Ellie squeezed her, patting her back as Lisa vomited water, wheezing.
"Mommy——mommy," Lisa choked.
"I'm here, baby. I'm here for you."
"Mommy, is Barbie okay?"
Barbie lay on the back rim of the tub, naked, no nipples on her boobs.
"Barbie's just fine, honey. Barbie's going to be okay."
Lisa broke into hysterical sobs, hugging Ellie, clawing her back. They sat on the floor. Ellie cradled her daughter, singing a lullaby. "I don't want to go to Painesville," Lisa whimpered after minutes had passed.
"I know, honey. You've already had a big day, and I'm staying home with you." She touched Lisa's nose. "We have a lunch date."
"Can we have hotdogs?"
"How about hotdogs and French fries?"
"Can we make my dinosaur puzzle?"
"Yes, we'll make the dinosaurs."
"And a snowman?"
"There's not enough snow, baby." Ellie kissed Lisa's cheek.