"Just say it," you silently reminded yourself. You knew you'd regret it if you didn't.
It would be one of those shower arguments with months-old, years-old regrets. And the hot water could never appreciate the comebacks that had simmered so long.
Not again. Not this time.
You could just walk away. Just walk away and keep your mouth shut. Be good. Be respectful. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That was what you were always told. Be polite. Always so polite. You don’t like fighting, don’t like arguing, and yelling makes your soul tremble.
Don’t cry about the little things, they say. But how many times do the little things have to happen before they become big things? One mosquito, you’ll survive. But if it’s a whole cloud that follows you around? How much can you afford to lose, even if it's all small bites?
You’re tired of keeping quiet, of never saying anything.
You think, sometimes, that it must be all the bitter words you’ve choked back that turn your stomach, that buzz in your skin so you toss in your sleep until you resign yourself to stare at the red numbers by your bed, waiting for the alarm to just go off already.
Just say it.
You don’t bury it with excuses or preface it with apologies.
You’re both surprised that you actually said it. She’s staring at you, giving you a chance. Now is the time to take it back, to apologize, because obviously, you wouldn’t question her. You had good parents, even if some days she sniffs that she doesn’t understand how they can hold their heads up. You know better than to speak against your elders. Now is your chance to grovel.
Of course, it wouldn’t be over. It never is. She’d bring it up again, she always does. She remembers everything except her own promises.
She’s still waiting, pointed shoe tapping now. Her face is smug, she knows you’ll break down, you always have.
But you don’t.
“Excuse me?” she says since toe-tapping isn’t being effective and you’re refusing to look in her eyes. It’s a harder tone. You’re at the third stage now. It’s like the tornado watch. First comes the stare, next, the toe-tapping in her sharp shoes, now the tone. Next will be the Snap.
You hate the Snap.
But you don’t leave. You could run to the bathroom and wait. Like you always do, when the apologies and explanations don’t work. Just sit and wait it out, with the cold rim digging into you, and your fingers fiddling and folding the toilet paper. You have to sit because once she tried to barge in anyway and you’re terrified she’ll go and do it again. It’s a cowardly retreat and she and you both know it. And it’s only a temporary escape because she’ll bring it up again and again, about young people who waste all their time on their phones.
You dig your heels in and you stay.
You don’t look at her though. Courage comes in small steps.
"No,” you repeat to the tile.
She Snaps, and you wince, despite closing your eyes in anticipation. You rub your eyelid, checking it for damage. She always does it so close. But that’s not why you hate it. You always picture her slapping her knee next and calling you to come on and roll over.
“Look at me in the eyes and speak clearly, dear. Don’t be lazy. It’s a sign of respect.”
If you were braver and rasher, you would say something like And that’s why I’m not doing it. But you’re not and that’s why it will be just another shower fantasy.
You look up. Her eyeliner is thick and she smells of peanut butter.
“‘No’, I said.”
You can only hold her eyes for a few seconds.
The Snap has come and now it is time for the storm. She is reddening, preparing the list, deciding which disaster from when you were three-years-old she wants to start with.
“I don’t have to do this,” you say.
You don’t. You should, and there will be a price to pay when you don’t. You’ve always been a good kid and good kids don’t abandon family. You’ll probably be grounded and they’ll all talk about you. You don’t have to like family, you just have to love them, that’s what they always said.
Well, if they love her so much, why aren’t they here? Why aren’t they listening to her gossip and badtalk the neighbors and your cousins and your grandma and your mom? And just having to nod and smile at the appropriate parts. And keep eye contact. And she’ll get mad if you don’t get outraged with her even if you’ve met Abigail’s boyfriend and think he’s a nice boy who listens to her and washes the dishes, despite loving dirtbikes.
Why aren’t they scraping maple seedlings out of the gutter, and vacuuming, and scrubbing the floor on their hands and knees because a mop “just doesn’t get the job done”? And she can’t do it unless it’s to show you how you’re doing it wrong.
Why aren’t they here to hear how they are a failure? And she’s just telling them to help them? Because she doesn’t want them to be leeches like the rest of their generation?
You don’t have to do this anymore.
You get up and start gathering your stuff.
She’s still staring at you, but it’s different now. Oh, she’s angry but now she’s also bewildered. It’s startled her out of her original lecture and she even backed up a few steps, but she’s not done. She’s never done. “But you can’t do this, I’m family.”
You thought that you would be able to be angry. That you could say something sharp and intelligent that would shut her up. But instead, you’re staring at her grasping hands, thinking of all the family movies you’ve seen of gardening together, of fresh lemonade in sweaty hands, and laughter. They’re cheesy things. People don’t live like that. But it could have been, it could have been so much more.
Your answer comes out slow and sad, “So am I.”