I didn’t write this because I’m a horrible person, I wrote it because I’m not. This is a catharsis. It’s how I shed that film of gutter humanity. What follows is something I’ve seen in real life tweaked enough for me to feel comfortable calling it “fiction.” After I saw all of this, I was deeply bothered. As a human, as a husband, as a father. I was unsettled and ill, like someone else’s vomit was roiling in my stomach. This is how I excised that feeling before it became a cancer.
Sometimes I hate my job. Sometimes I hate people. “Sometimes” is becoming more and more. So I hold my children, tell them I love them, feel their little heart beats, listen to the air go in and out, laugh when they ask the absurd things children ask and I thank my wife for giving me all the gifts in my life that have ever truly mattered. Do the same. I’m not asking please. You do it.
She finally sat back from the edge of the tub, leaned against the toilet and caught her breath.
“There,” she said in a huff. “Life is officially uncluttered.”
Her arms burned. All the water on the floor soaked her through. Goosebumps. Her lower back burned from the odd angle of being on her knees leaning over the lip of the tub as long as she had. Pushed a drift of wet hair from her face with a huff. God, I need a cigarette.
If this was what being twenty-three was like, to hell with it.
Her shirt clung to her chest like her babies. She sneered and dug around on the sink counter for a smoke. Found one, carefully dried her hands before handling it. Pruned fingers make it hard to flick a lighter but she got a flame. Dragged deep. That burn coupled with the rawness of her throat—exertion, it’s a bitch—and she savored the pain.
“This is where I’m at in life. This is my life,” she leaned back until her hair fell in sodden clumps along the toilet lip. “Fuck.”
Stared down at her toes. The last thing she spent any real money on. French tips are all she wanted. One foot, twitching with a beaten flip flop on it. The other flip flop down the hall. Lost getting to the bathroom. Her ankle bracelet, a present from her prom date, snapped in half. The beads dotted the floor like confetti.
Her nails needed attention. Kim, her regular nail girl, had called three times to schedule an appointment. Have to call her back. Use the last of her EBT on that since she’d already bought this week’s carton.
She’d taped a picture of David and her on the wall. Forget when she did it; one of those memories that meandered too far away in the fog of her burdened life. Next to that picture, another. Her and James.
The David picture was four years old. She may have been pregnant in it. Cassie was three now, so the math worked. The James picture was nearer to now; maybe ten months ago. She was six months pregnant in that one. James junior was eighteen months.
Cassie. Cassie equaled three years of broken sleep. Insatiable bouts of crying. Cassie was the worst. Sometimes Cassie would cry well into the night no matter how much she screamed at her. “Shut the fuck up already,” echoed up and down the apartment hall. And that bitch downstairs—the one that always eyeballed her when she’d come home late with whatever guy it was that night—would call the cops.
She got tired of answering the door just to rub her hangover temples and lie. Listen to their radios squawk about other calls more important than her being exhausted.
Three years of, “This is my life. Fuck.”
And if David could get off his ass and send any of the child support he’d promised when he packed up and left them … She didn’t even care if he furnished the whole amount, but damn. Do something.
“Bitch, I’m outta here.” His words, back when his little princess was the ripe age of four months. “You’re too fucking crazy with all your post-partum whatever. You gonna throw shit at me? I oughta call the fuckin’ cops! Crazy bitch.”
He never did call the police, and she was quite sure he had planned that speech since the day he signed the birth certificate. He was just looking for the right excuse to give it. She knew David was worthless. Hell, his own mother never spoke to him without using cuss words and screaming. No wonder his parenting skills were subpar. David hadn’t seen Cassie in five months.
“But, if I had my way,” she said at the bar just last night, “I wouldn’t either. I mean, I love her and all, but I get so tired of her neediness. James junior is less clingy.”
James senior was probably out getting high like he always did. “Baby,” he’d say with that high-pitched weed giggle all the pothead faggots on TV laughed with. That retarded hyena cackle. “Baby, I only get high on days that end in Y. Hee heeeeee heeeee … !”
She only fucked him because she was lonely and he had good smoke. Now this. Now James junior. After that pregnancy test she decided to start embracing rubbers. Even on Medicaid the pill was too expensive. Budgeting it in around other necessities—which she defined as cigarettes and a little bit of cheap booze because, let’s face it, Friday night is Friday fuckin’ night—and even the miniscule amount she’d pay in for the pill got too steep. Let the guy absorb the cost and finance the protection.
And what about her? She exhaled a frail ring of smoke up into the bathroom ceiling and started crying right there on the wet tile. Short-shorts, soaked T-shirt and that was about it. All the red marks on her arms. Her eyes swollen from the sobbing before now.
What about her? Her whole life ahead of her and then BOOM. Knocked up by a lowlife. Her own mom just said, “Join the club,” and laughed at how her dad was out of prison for a total of fourteen months scattered across her entire life. Cocksucker was out just long enough to get another felony.
Her friends went to college. Far away. Came home with stories of better parties that what she could get to. Something besides shooter games with well drinks. They started dropping top shelf brands and her stomach turned. Envy. Seething envy. Stories about something besides skunk weed. Imagine a dime bag with no stems or seeds. Holy crow, she wanted to go to college. Fuck the reading and studying. The social life … oh, the social life. Her stomach turned. Envy. Seething envy.
She tried not to be bitter towards Cassie, but some nights it was hard. Cassie was the anchor that sunk it all. James junior got a pass just because he only added to an already existing problem. Him and his Cookie Monster shoes. Learned to walk in them.
Her skin crawled with missed opportunities. Like mites scurrying along on six prickly legs, tearing up her flesh and nibbling here and there, each pinch of their jaws a reminder. A reminder of her forgotten life. She needed to unclutter.
No Johnny in a letterman’s jacket. No sports car. A curfew every night because her own mom refused to be a babysitter. “Get home and bath your own kid for bedtime. Let me tell ya something, Grandma doesn’t equal “new ma,” for Christ’s sakes.”
David packing up, ignoring he made all the promises she’d ever want to hear. Never fulfilling a single one. She should’ve learned when she told him she was pregnant and he whispered, “I’m so excited, baby. I promise you’re gonna feel like a queen.”
Queen? Nope. Does a queen have nothing but one damn flip flop and a smoldering cigarette in her wet hand? Sore muscles? An uncertain future? An obsessive, blinding drive to unclutter her life that really translates to un-fucking her life?
Ash falls and sizzles in her palm. She jerks out of her reverie. All was still now. Finally quiet. She sees the pair of Cookie Monster shoes still sticking out of the tub water at an odd angle. On the other side one of Cassie’s legs crawled up the side, her toes intruding on the soap shelf. Snakes of her hair floating up from the bottom, playing in the luke warm water’s ripples.
Two upside down lollipops. Easing her burden.
She tries to stand, slips in all the spill. It was a hell of a fight down the hall. Lost her damn flip-flop in it getting back here. Yanked her ankle bracelet in half. Cassie nearly got away. She gets her pay-as-you-go cell phone off the counter. Dials 911.
“They’ve drowned,” she says, and while she is numb and hollow and dazed and uncertain, she doesn’t feel any better about her life.