After Daddy heads for his Saturday job, Mommy again convinces shrieking Brother, eleven, smack, with a kitchen spatula, smack, to “respect” her, smack. When it’s over, you sneak into his bedroom to love sobbing Brother. He’s stuckity-stuck in self-oozing welts, his I-not eyes blind as peeled onions in a dense red sea.
Mommy’s rage shifts to Pixie, six, who hides dirty clothes under her bed, where tiny worms curl and die, yuckety-yuck. Mommy hurls Pixie’s room like vomit, slings “misaligned” books from shelves through air, pages riffling, to smack the hardwood floor and slide under the bed, out the door, downstairs. Mommy heaves a chair. Pixie’s I-NOT eyes freeze, icicle-tears on her cheeks. Standing behind Mommy on the landing, you watch her arms hate. You could push her—hard—but falling downstairs would hurt Baby, fat inside her.
Mommy turns, still irate. Your turn. SMACK. “SMART, ARE WE?” she demands.
“I not smart a’tall,” you say, cheek aflame, “I-NOT.” (blank)
(unblank) While babysitting that night, your sixteenth birthday, you dare hope: pile Pixie and Brother into the Ford and drive up the hill, lickety-split, past streetlamps into stars. Reality bursts your bubble: can’t drive. As Responsible Eldest, you stay in the fear with the babies here and yet to come.
Baby, now age two, calls you Mum. On summer mornings, after Daddy’s car crests the hill, “real” Mom dispenses SMACKS with the vitamins, guns the Ford to the “post office,” and returns at 5:20, letters in hand. She hums, twirls, fondles the newel post and banister. Daddy’s home at 5:30 to Mom thumping pots on the stove. You and Daddy smile from I’s behind eyes, sensing something. Mom craves mail? Mail? Male? Which male?
Later, babysitting in the dark living room, you design doomed escapes. You conclude you’re so ding-dong dumb you should skip college, stand guard at home between siblings and Mom, but you need to get smarter (Mom skipped second grade), get away, get laid—all fodder for guilt in years to come.
Age twenty-seven. Your lungs deflate when your body SMACKS the floor. The current love of your life is throwing a fit you can’t understand because he drunkity-drunk raped you last night. You wonder, Shouldn’t someone else be having a fitty-fit? Flit to what’s for breakfast, Western omelette with cheese?
Days later, you still can’t breathe—lungs as useless as pooped balloons. Home at Daddy’s, prowling his medicine cabinet, your hand upends bottles like cartons of Jordan almonds. Your tongue catches pastel-orange aspirins, yum-yum, plus countless, multisyllabic, rainbow-pretty pills. Vodka chaser in a Sleeping Beauty cup. Forgot ice. Sink past pain to I-AM, aahhh-see?, so deep …
Absence of oblivion, hospital room. Hi-I-I, Mom. Smack. “You naughty.” I-NOT-ee.
Moon-eyed, you tell Mr. Shrinkety-Shrink later, I did not mean to upset my family. He doesn’t commit you. You don’t deserve it—can’t commit suicide right, even a second time. When was the first? You can’t remember. Remember ice next time. Next time?
Age thirty-seven. The intern’s induced labor three times. No dice after forty-two hours. You’re the one in a thousand who can’t dilate enough, and poor Daughter’s stuckity-stuck in fetal distress. They tilt the bed sideways and strappity-strap you in. Husband’s left through a blizzard to “feed the dogs again.” You roll your watermelon self out into the ice and let death love Daughter and you, but you’re strapped in and doped up, and you croak at the door cracked ajar, Can someone stop this, please. Your ObGyn carves Daughter from your watermelon gut. Morphine kills the cut—sweet.
Two-day-old Daughter naps in your arms, hospital pillows propped all around. You drift into her eyebrows, new memories, peace. You wake at home. Daughter has colic and won’t sleep. You shake her. Her tiny fists flail, her face a red sea. You cry never again, and you never do shake her again. Amazing, you think, I can do mother love.
Husband says it’s over. A younger woman makes him hard. Must be your second (third?) (fifth?) meltdown. If you lose count, do they count?
Age forty-seven, typing Professor’s words on a laptop, tappity-tap, your captioning projected for hard-of-hearing students to read. The admins schedule you in consecutive classes because you say you can’t do it but, martyr-like, do it anyway. What you’d like to type: Brother’s dying of AIDs, Pixie’s a divorced marriage counselor, and Baby, a teacher, is a closet anarchist with a satanic son. But you have no insights, save stale guilt, so you type other people’s words, yakkity-yak, earning bucks for Daughter’s future tuition. The Professor plays auctioneer; you can’t keep up and think, I can’t do this anymore, but somehow say the words out loud. Heads turn, eyes stare. You keep typing, face on fire, relieved you weren’t thinking, Why can’t I get flipping laid.
Age fifty-seven, falling out of love with your FedEx man, who messed with your head. No dignity lost—can’t miss what you never had. Fluid drips all around. Ice melting? Tears? Self-ooze? Can’t tell, but if love didn’t scare you before, it sure scares the cockety-caca out of you now. You forgot infatuation lasts three months and isn’t love anyway. It was flirting and fantasy, morphed into concupiscentia carnis. Six decades to learn lust isn’t love? How absurd can life be? This absurd: Your current quandary—become a hermit or lounge lizardette?
Movement draws your eyes skyward to choices circling on wings: Clocks, Cocks, Copulate copiously, Conquer fear, Care again, Celebrate life—sip—chug. You want to soar. Mr. FedEx man, you think, Thankity-thanks for flirty-fun company destined for crisis while inducing catharsis and releasing hope; please forgive-forget all the disconcerting crap—it wasn’t I-AM (how could I-NOT have known?).
You conceive of comfort as you carve your cave clean, craft windows and doors, imagine rain-sweet air hugging aeries. You dream a personal ad: “DWF seeks DWM who thrives on cracked company and flies routinely from Death Valley to Cassiopeia.”
Roisin McLean has published fiction (under various pen names) in Perigee: Publication for the Arts, Fiction Week Literary Review, and Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts. Her essay, “White Chin Hair and a Lonely Female Cardinal,” appears in the 2012 anthology, Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging. Her interview with ex-pat author Thomas E. Kennedy will appear in print and online in The McNeese Review in Spring 2013. She has been nominated four times for the prestigious Pushcart Prize and was a semifinalist for The Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction (Nimrod/Hardman). McLean studied with Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, Fiction.