“Let’s go to our happy place.” Mommy would say when Daddy’s voice began to hit a certain octave–somewhere between a beastly bellow and a rumbling growl. It bounced off bone. Broke bone–when a slur accompanied it. Sometimes when it didn’t.
Mommy told the nurses I was clumsy–a topsy, turvy tot falling head over teapot. Lost in my own little dream land. The nurses never looked as convinced as Mommy did.
Hospitals were frequent but transient haunts, us hollow-eyed phantasms in advance mourning for the identities we’d hastily shed once clear of the emergency room’s sliding glass–don’t catch your doppelgänger’s eyes–doors. Make-believe Mommy and dream-clumsy daughter, a match made
Mommy ignited first. Led by example.
Shot herself up with liquid fire then drew my bath like a matchstick drawn across its box. Asked me to jump in
to the flames. Pretend I was a molten mermaid. Hold my breath till it was true. I’ll help you, my dreamy girl. Help you dream.
I don’t recall who helped me out of the tub. Breathed for my little lungs until they realized they were not gills
and magma burned going down. Woke me. Some neighbor, maybe.
No, he was out cold in his la-z-boy parked in front of the TV set, lost to whatever place existed behind his icy blues. Dream land or darkness. Happy places aren’t given, dreamy girl. They’re created.
“Whaddya wan’?” Daddy grunted when an ee-em-tee in midnight-blue finally nudged the bulky shoulder he was using as a drool rag. Then, when he was
informed told Mommy injected enough heroin into her veins to burst into flames went sleepy-bye like she wanted and asked if he knew about her prescriptions–for dis-ah-sea-ation?–in the medicine cabinet why, he muttered, “Crazy bitch” and rolled over.
I was taken away for a while.
Poked and prodded at hospitals. Questioned in white-on-white offices by white-on-white docs. Tossed like a hot-potato from one home to the next till finally returning to Daddy.
“Ya look like yer ol’ lady.” He says when we see each other again. Takes a swig from the bottle in his hand. “Crazy as her too, I hear. Freakin’ out the fosters at e’ery turn.” Another swig. A head shake. “Ya go goddamn gaga in that bathroom like her and you’re gone, capiche?” I nod when it’s clear he’s waiting for it. “Good. Just had it remodeled.”
Only the tub was replaced, I discover.
Swapped for one with less dingy porcelain.
It’s a blank slate. A white page reflected in the mirror above the sink. Don’t stare at your doppelgänger. It’s what got me booted from the last foster home.
(There’s only you, the docs said.
Mommy never liked docs. Dreamless, unhappy types, she said.)
Once Daddy leaves for his nightly bar crawl, my evenings are spent lying in the tub, legs stretched till toes find the lip of the drain, arms crossed over my chest as if I were in a casket instead. Sometimes, I add water–up to my neck
how Mommy preferred.
Just me and my dreams–Mommy brushing my hair back, her fingers twitching in staccato against my scalp…. Daddy dragging me by the hair, throwing me into the tub and locking the door…. Slurred shouts and muffled screams…. Me staring at my reflection, a captive companion…. Mommy lowering me into the water that last time, Let’s go… to a happy place….
It’s all fragments. Phantasmagoria. Lucid dreaming.
I will doze, though. Fully. Especially when there’s water. Warm and inviting, it lulls me. Sounds safe and familiar, its lapping at my skin whispered secrets. Nonsense babble reminiscent of Mommy’s bath-side chatter.
Tonight, I wade into an accidental slumber.
The tub was empty when I got in. Now, as I am jolted awake, water is chin-high and beginning to overflow, trickle down porcelain to uneven tile in trails that slowly creep towards the doorway Daddy looms in.
A door screeching on its hinges, slamming to a halt against drywall. That’s what woke me. Not dreamed screams.
Daddy stumbles forward, his steadying hand thrusting the door backwards again. Bang. The weight of the water soaking my clothes, my skin, finally hits. No going goddamned gaga in the bathroom.
A stream licks the toe of Daddy’s boot, darkening the leather. I shiver. The water is cold.
This is gaga.
“Whad di’ I tell ya, girl?” Daddy slurs, drifting closer. Bracing himself with his other hand on the edge of the sink. “Whad I goddamn warn ya?”
“Daddy,” I scramble to my feet, fighting drag, knees knocking each other. So cold. “A pipe must’ve burst–”
“Not in ma new goddamn bath!” Daddy pounds his fist down on the sink, its echoing thud consuming this tiny space. “You’re as crazy as her!”
“No, Daddy!” One leg makes it out of the tub. A bare foot finds tile. So, so cold. “I was jus-t-t-t…” My teeth chatter. I’m too, too cold to think of a good excuse. “lying down. Like I said, a pipe has to have burs-t-t-t-”
“Crazy!” Daddy careens towards me. A fist finds purchase in my hair–tugs. Hard.
Out of the tub, I’m lifted the rest of the way then thrown. My hip clips the sink, my head, the mirrored glass above. Something cracks. Belatedly, I wonder what ever happened to the medicine cabinet? Then, the pain catches up to me and I can’t think of anything but.
It’s more of a burning, scalding sensation that begins at the crown of my head and works its way down, my face–the left side–my neck, my shoulder, hip–goddamn–all the way to my toes. Did I say I was a little chilly earlier? What I meant was so numb, so wholly freezing that I feel like I’m on fire. Roasting alive. Magma in my veins.
Let’s go, dreamy girl.
Something warm and thicker than water trickles into my eye–the left one, gazing dead into my double’s eyes. They’re red and slashed across the middle. Crazy. They look crazy. Below, a grin is also slashed.
To our happy place.
My double lifts a shaky hand. Traces a crack with its trembling finger as if searching for an opening. Success!–I guess. Her smile sharpens, shattering what glass remains with its pointiness. With her fist.
There’s only you.
There is. Only me. I push myself off the sink, ignore the sting in doing so. The crack and pop. Only my happy place. The one Daddy’s perched on the edge of, leaning temptingly over, trying to plug a dam that can’t be. Not now.
Water sheets across tile, pooling in dips and missing spots. Icy hot. I barely feel it. The step or two I take toward Daddy. Hardly registers. I feel nothing.
She drowned, you know. A nurse said to an ordely when they thought they were out of white-on-white earshot. The girl’s mother. Enough dope in her system to kill her but that’s not what did. Woman drowned. And, the girl… she was found in a bathtub. Unconscious but unharmed. Some water in her too but other than that…. Suspicious, ain’t it?
Mommy wanted to go to a happy place so she did. Needed a little help getting there, maybe, but it’s what she wanted. What she deserved. Rest, finally.
Another step. I feel nothing but awake.
Mommy wanted to sleep. To dream. I never did. There were only nightmares when I shut my eyes. Screams swallowed by slurred shouts, breaking sounds till silence. Peaceful pain but pain nonetheless. Searing, red-hot pain.
There were no dreams. None. No happy places–till I made one.
I close the distance between where I stand and where Daddy leans. He’s got one meaty hand jiggling the tub’s faucet back and forth, the other reaching down for the drain, water up to his shoulder.
“One thing, goddamn it.” He grumbles. “Asked ya not to do one goddamn thing. An’, how difficul’ was it?” A hard yank of the faucet’s knob. A slurred curse. “Back to the fosters’ with ya! Hell, the crazy house!” He shakes his head. “Whad di’ I e’er do to deserve this….?”
I widen my stance, place a steady foot on either side of Daddy’s bent legs. Flex my fists. Brush glass shards off the one.
Another none-too-gentle yank rips the shiny knob off its shinier faucet head. It hits porcelain with a sharp, poignant clank. Daddy begins to turn my way.
“Hope you’re happy–” I will be.
The rest of Daddy’s speech becomes garbled, half-sputtering half-ineffable disbelief. He’s not used to receiving this kind of help. Giving it but not getting it. But, I want to do for him like Mommy tried to do for me. Like I did for her. Daddy’s given so much, he deserves this.
A shiver runs down my spine. Blood scorches beneath my simmering skin.
Thrashing is easily calmed with a few swift meetings of bone and porcelain. There goes the finish. Nothing was ever said ’bout anyone else going gaga in the tub.
Mommy didn’t struggle. Breathed like the mermaid she wanted
me to be.
“Don’t ya want to be happy, Daddy?” I push down until porcelain keeps me from going further. Thrashing lulls into twitching. “Don’t ya think ya deserve to be?”
Slowly, twitching ceases, fades into stillness entirely. My hold doesn’t loosen till the bubbles stop rising, though. Guess he did think so. No matter, he stopped fighting it.
I rise and back away from Daddy. When my hip finds the pointy edge of the sink again, I realize how sore I am and, also, that the water has stopped flowing. There’s only painful silence. Reddened eyes glance at Daddy in the happy place. Peaceful pain.
My blood cools.
I face what’s left of the mirror and stare at my reflection. For the first time, I don’t see my double. I see what Daddy saw–Mommy.
“Happy?” I ask.
She nods, flashing me a smile.
I return it.
Hope you enjoyed~
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