Content warning: pregnancy and toxic relationships
“You got a fast car/ I want a ticket to anywhere”-Tracy Chapman
Outside, crickets sing soft love songs for the end of summer. The moon is full bellied and glowing, just like me. Her bright beams stroke my distressed face, brow furrowed out of anger. I pace in a cotton nightgown, my toes curling into the threadbare brown carpet. My fists, slick with sweat and anxiety, curl stiff fingers...and uncurl them. I hiccup. It jolts you awake. Soft, little kicks, like butterfly kisses. We’re suddenly ravenous. I am delighted by the distraction and meander into the bright kitchen. The fridge is stark and white and bare. I lift up leftover pizza, stuffed in a gallon sized bag. My gag reflex is triggered at moldy cheese which I toss into the silver trash can before washing my hands. Beside me is a loaf of bread; we’re having toast. “Your father only eats white bread, which I hate,” I tell you. The yellow light bulb flickers above my head and I bat away a moth circling my head. You kick again. More butterfly kisses. The linoleum floor feels cool and comforting against my bare feet. More toe wiggling. The kitchen fills with the scent of bread and I breathe it in, lean against the counter, stroke your domed home. There’s a pile of dirty dishes in the sink next to me. “Might as well get something done,” I whisper and turn. It takes me a moment to position us so I can rinse the dishes while you settle down again. The water is a hazy yellow exiting the faucet. Our ancient pipes let out a dragon’s roar. The water runs hot and it runs clear.
“My mother always said, ‘washing dishes is like being an archaeologist. All of the proof of what you have done is right there in front of you,’” I regale you with wisdom passed from your grandmother. In some filing cabinet, locked away in the back of my brain, I can see her twinkling green eyes gazing up at me as I rinse off the proof of chicken nuggets with ketchup and a side of mac and cheese. The memory makes me smile. She returned to a standing position, reached over me, and turned the squeaky left tap which allowed cooler water to flow. I protested passionately, proclaiming, “Mom, I’m a big girl now. I’m ten.” I held up my hands, wiggling all of my fingers as proof, “I can rinse the dishes with hot water.” I jammed my little hand and twisted to shoo the cool water away. My mother’s smile was always broad and passionate. It’s the smile my father fell in love with. She pretended to rearrange colorful plastic plates and sippy cups while I finished carefully rinsing the adult’s dishes: the bigger, ceramic platters, two steak knives, my father’s beer cup. “Oh, honey,” she said when I passed it to her, “That one gets hand washed.” She set the glass carefully on the counter, by the dish rack, but not on it. I hated rinsing the silverware. Devilish prongs and slippery handles meant I was always at risk of getting an injury. I bit my lip. “Here,” offered my mother, “Why don’t I do this part? You can grab the detergent out, I know you love that part.” My little feet tripped over each other as I bent down to the wooden cabinets under the sink. The blue bottle is heavy so I grabbed it with both hands, tightly. I placed it on the floor and unscrewed the red lid. I tipped it over like the teapot in that one song we used to sing together. The scent of clean filled the kitchen.
You kick. You bring me back to you. I stash your father’s beer mug in the freezer. Cold air gushes over my flushed face. Since he’s not home, I steal some time, allowing it to wash over me. The box by the dining room table half heartedly whirs. My hand on my stomach. Over you. “Your daddy is just like mine,” I mumble remembering …reminiscing… He crashed into the living room like a bull in a China shop five out of seven days of the week. He’d slam his Igloo lunch box by the front door and rip his Bigfootesque feet out of worn, brown, leather boots. I’d stand in the safety of the kitchen, waiting. My father towered over me at six feet tall. His giant body would settle into the leather chair next to the couch, his pride and joy, bought using a “holiday bonus” when I was ten. His sausage fingers would wrap around the little black remote as he summoned something, anything, to distract him from work. The footrest would open with a pop. I’d walk from the kitchen, holding the frosted cup of safety out like a torch to light my way through his dungeon. Nosy freaks can’t peer in on a living room when all the blackout curtains shut them out. I used to place the glass down so gently, so as not to allow a single bubble of foam to move. He would sip it, not slowly, and by then, I better have dinner out, neatly plated on a platter.
The sound of the toaster dinging reminds me why I ventured into the kitchen in the first place. I pop open the fridge and grab at the butter. I set down an appetizer plate, decorated with dancing bell peppers in sombreros. You seem full of anticipation at a midnight snack. I glance at the clock, correction, a 3am snack. Our toast is buttered and I slather on some strawberry preserves. I hope you love the surprise chunks of fruit as much as I do. When I return the butter and the jam to their icy home, I glance at the milk. We’ve got maybe a glass left. I unscrew the blue top and take a sniff; it seems alright before filling a glass. The creamy liquid pours out a quarter of what I really wanted. But I will take what I can get. My meal is scarfed down quickly. I decide to stash the evidence in the dishwasher. The sound of rushing water fills the kitchen. I run my fingers through my hair. Your father isn’t home…yet. The step stool is untucked from beside the fridge and I climb it slowly. The silence of the kitchen is only broken by my deep breaths. Can you feel my heart rate rising? My fingers shake as I open the tallest cabinet above the sink and reach for the cookie jar shaped like a bear.
It is a heavy duty ceramic jar. The bear has a brown face and little pink ears. His little red hat has a Pom Pom on top which is what I used to wrap little fingers around when I wanted to sneak a treat. We didn’t always have carrots in the house, but we always had cookies. It was the highlight of my weekly trip to the grocery store. My mother would clutch the list like a life raft in a sea of bustling families each Saturday morning. She liked to get there early, before everyone else, but life always managed to create chaos so we really swung in around 11am. She would rub me along through produce, tossing an apple or a single banana into the basket. Potatoes were, and hopefully always will be cheap, so a large 5 pound bag made its way into our cart each week. I often lingered in the bakery, pressing my face into the glass windows which offered an array of donuts and cakes. “Donuts are for the rich, baby,” my mother told me. She’d toss some meat into the cart, anything left on the Sale cooler and reach for a loaf of store brand bread. My little feet ran to keep pace with her. I realize now that if you don’t look at the food you can’t buy, then it hurts less to buy it. Milk, cheese, a dozen eggs were placed into the cart. As we approached the end of the store, my mother would have to run to keep pace with me. I knew exactly where the cookies were. She would always find me staring at the rainbow of plastic packages holding any kind of cookie imaginable. I was allowed one and only one. Sometimes, I’d branch out and choose Oreos or Chips A’hoy, but most weeks I wanted Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies. The only time her red lips would smile at me in the grocery store was in the land of cookies. The frozen section was more her area of expertise. Each week we had chicken nuggets, fish filets, and bags upon bags of frozen veggies. She’d push me along past the ice cream to the cashiers, take out her huge wallet burst with coupons, and tap her long fingernails while her beady eyes watch the screen like a hawk. I still bought cookies for Teddy, even after she was gone.
“Someday the cookie jar will hold cookies again, my love,” I promise you. Instead, Teddy holds money. Cold. Hard. Cash. It’s stacked and rubber handed into neat stacks worth $100 each. I have five stacks which I have diligently tucked away from the moment I held that little pink stick with the little blue line. Teddy’s full belly makes every ass pinch, every lingering eye, and every, “Hey sexy, how much for a kiss?” worth it. Happy customers leave larger tips. “Your father may know my pay stubs, but never my tips,” I whisper. My beady eyes stare at the unmoving front door before I reach into the jar and recount my savings. I leave the bear on the counter and paw through the two pairs of men’s jeans lying on my bedroom floor. I pull out a wad of ones and fives which total to $40. “Your daddy always has cash,” I mumble begrudgingly. Like a bandit with treasure I scurry back to Teddy and add it on top.
“I’m home,” choruses your father. He drops his Igloo lunchbox by the door and sets to work on his non-slip restaurant grade shoes. I shove Teddy in his home, disembark from the step ladder, and rush to the freezer. The beer glass hits the counter with a hollow thunk. The bottle cap flies off the beer with a thunk. I stand, holding the glass, waiting. He turns on the TV to some game show. His sausage fingers wiggle and point like a child at the models in sparkling dresses holding prizes. You have gone mysteriously quiet. I lean over for a kiss, catching the scent of unfamiliar perfume mixed with grease from fries and burgers. I fight tears back to the kitchen where I toss in some chicken nuggets and French fries. It’s 4am. He does his first beer in 30 seconds; I arrive with a second one. “Thought shift was over at midnight,” I holler. I hear some grunts and the sound of the chair reclining as he settles cheese scented feet on a foot rest.
“Got some drinks with the crew,” he responds. I know better than to pick a fight and instead grab his lunch box. I take out the candy bar wrappers and the plastic baggy covered in crumbs from cheese crackers. At the very bottom is a greasy, stained, napkin. It has a cheesy black martini glass decorating one corner. A green olive precariously balances on a toothpick. I flip it over. Call me, along with a phone number written in flowing letters. A lipstick print is smeared at the bottom. Some part of my heart shatters. “What the hell is this?” I demand. He waves me off. “No, seriously,” I say. He turns up the volume on the TV. A salesman with greasy hair begins pushing a chocolate milkshake. Next to him stands some woman in a bikini. “Hey, you should try that,” he says and jabs at the screen.
“I’m pregnant,” I yell,“With your baby!”
“When’s dinner?” He asks. I stare for a moment at the pimple covered face of the manager of Burger Shack. You begin to kick. I turn on my heel, plate up his food, and pour a third beer. His large hands paw at me when I serve it to him. They explore my breasts and hips while managing to deny you. When I kiss him, I taste her cherry lip gloss. I have a sudden need for a shower. In the comforting bright light of the bathroom I stare at my reflection. My father always said I have my mother’s eyes. When I found out I was pregnant with you, I had a sudden urge to learn more about her. To explore her story. However, every question I posed to her husband was met with the call being disconnected. The faucet groans and screeches to life. “Stop wasting water and just get in,” he screams from his throne. I hop into the tub and rinse off. The water soothes my aching feet. It washes away the scent of stale diner coffee and bits of bacon grease lingering in my hair. When I step out I towel off and apply lotion to my whole body. I relish in the time I spend on my tummy. On you.
“Babe! I need another beer,” your father interrupts our time. I slip back into a clean set of panties and a new nightgown before heading into the kitchen. Beer number four is poured. The brown bottle joins its friends by the sink. His hands reach again for my waist, his lips long for another kiss. My cheek grants his request. “Whatever,” he grumbles and pushes me aside. But that’s fine. I wander to my bedroom to stare at the newspaper articles collected in my journal. My journal is a beautiful leather bound book. I found it on sale at a local shop. The pages are undated, but lines and the cover has beautiful butterflies dancing in a field of flowers. As per my ritual, I flip through the pages and breathe deeply. The first article is the one released just after the fire. Local Farmstead Burnt in Tragic Fire: A local home burnt in a tragic fire yesterday evening. The fire department was called by the owner of the home, Burt Robinson. The cause of the fire is still unknown... Burt reports that his wife, Angie, is still missing... I flip to the second page. Tragedy Strikes Local Family: The police have now released to the public the identity of the remains found in the home that burnt last Friday. Angie Robinson is the wife of Burt Robinson and mother to Patricia, age 12. At this time, she is believed to be the only victim of the accident.
“Where was I?” I whisper into the dark night and close the journal before turning my lamp off. I fall asleep with my hand on my belly. On you.