My bag drops in a frayed heap by the front door and I walk the squeaky floorboards leading to the kitchen, my boots leaving sloppy prints on the dusty wood. A pot caked in hardened cheese and bits of pasta, a crumb-covered counter and two crimson stained bottles in the sink show me that today, like most days, time has stood still inside my house.
“Sheila?” I call just loud enough to be able to say I did.
Pulling back a clump of dark wet hair from between my lips, I throw bread down on top of the stale crumbs and snag the peanut butter out of the cupboard. Searching the fridge for jam, I realize there’s no point, nothing will have changed since this morning. I smear extra peanut butter on one of the slices before whacking the two together. We don’t cut crusts in this house. I try to live by “waste not, want not” but seem to come up short most of the time.
I sit at the cluttered table as Eden leaps up ready to share, sending several unopened bills to the floor. “No, no, babe. I can’t.” The cat rubs her shoddy fur against my sharp wrist bone and meows a feeble yowl. “Sorry, Shitty Kitty,” I lean in to kiss her forehead, “I’m just too hungry to share today.”
“Shitty Kitty” had become my name for Eden when, years ago, Sheila had stumbled over her. Angry, she’d booted the cat half way across the room and shrilled; “Get out ya goddamn piece of shit!” Slurring; “Go da hell,” She’d slumped onto the couch and rubbed at her barely bashed shin. When Sheila had finally crashed, the cat limped out from under a chair. I’d picked her up and stroking her chin I’d whispered; “Yeah, but you’re my goddamn shitty kitty.”
I leave the plate for Eden to lick, grab my satchel and head upstairs. As always, I try not to look as I pass her door but I catch a glimpse of Sheila’s bare leg wilting off the side of the bed. Her narrow calve is as anemic as the paint on her walls. It’s stark and still against her dark sheets, a hostage.
I open the door to my own murky room. It groans at being forced to appear welcoming. The light from the floor lamp muted with a grey silk scarf, casts moon glow off its dark surroundings.
Smearing the sooty liquid over my walls and ceiling way back when had been calming and the smell of fresh paint had blessed me with a welcome high. Wiping out the lavender of younger years had felt like I was burying something I never wanted to see again and now the fragrant incense that I smoldered nightly to battle the wafts of Sheila’s stale alcohol smothered even that indulgence.
She never comes in here. Not any more. My room affords me numbness but for her, it is the opposite. For Sheila, it threatens to wrench out the ugly from her booze-blunted brain. The hurt and the pain toy with the corners of her waxy, Crayola-red lips. Nightmares of the past curl their wicked fingers at her brow and flicker in her vacant eyes. No, Sheila never comes close to my door unless she is fraught for something only I can give or get.
I drop onto the bed, bootlaces dangling, tongues drooping; my satchel landing beside me. Smatterings of Eden’s hair cover my black leggings. My long, white shirt is damp and my ribs push at the thin cotton.
Sheila is moving now, her bare feet making slow slapping sounds on the worn wood. She stops at her end of the hall and I wait, ribs rising and falling.
“Liv? You home?” Her voice is grave and marred by the icepick of a headache that comes with a hangover. “Olivia! Are, you, home?”
“I called, Ma. You didn’t answer. What more d’ya want?”
Sheila is exquisite. Her auburn hair drips over her pale shoulders and down her back in thick, wispy tendrils; her skin, porcelain without a lick of paint despite her self-sabotage attempts over the past five years.
“Throw the frozen Lasagna in, would’ya?”
We have frozen lasagna three nights a week. That’s how long one tray of it lasts the two of us. Sheila eats like a bird.
“Yeah, Ma. I’ll get to it in a minute.” I pause, knowing what’s coming next.
“And Liv? Grab me the Advil and a glass of water.”
“Sure, Ma. Whatever you want.”
Through the crack in the doorway I see her frail wrist and delicate fingers drifting back into lock-up.
I heave myself up from the bed, grab a dry shirt and throw my hair up in a bun as I saunter back downstairs.
Oven at 450, I open the freezer and take the Lasagna out, leaving it empty. There will be a shiny new foil tray when Sheila gives me enough money to buy another one next week.
I fill a glass from the tap and bring the ever-present Advil back up the stairs.
Men loved Sheila. Boyfriends used to come and go. She was the kind of woman they could look after, protect. She made them feel strong, in control. She made them…powerful.
As I reach her door, the pills rattle in my hand and just like that, I’m ten again, carrying medicine to her, back when she only needed it once in a blue moon. Her sheets were light then and matched my dress. Lavender was her favorite color and I’d chosen it that morning to please her. He was lying beside her, both of them face down and much like today, her leg had hung over the side. I remember admiring her flawless skin and dainty, painted toenails. White particles hovered all around them making my kid mind dream of snow. Sun lit them both like gossamer angels. Even at ten, I’d understood the irony.
Leaving the bottle and the water on her nightstand, I’d quietly backed out of the room not wanting to wake them.
I hadn’t realized my Mother had woken that morning, just as I was disappearing. She’d lifted her head, about to call out to me, maybe even to ask for a cuddle, but instead, her bleary eyes had met with the three dark red splotches I hadn’t known I’d dripped onto her floor. It wasn’t until I’d gone to the bathroom later that day that I’d discovered the blood and frantically scrubbed at the stains, ashamed she might see.
There were no more men after that and no more Mommy; just Sheila, me and the bottles; bottles of booze, bottles of pills, bottles of feelings we’d never discussed. She blames herself. I know that. I blame him. He knows that.
I’d tried my best to smother the lavender for her. Turns out it’s a hardy vine. I’d killed the color, but destruction had flourished and I will always blame myself. No one knows that.
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