the tell-me-again times
In the happy times, in the tell-me-again times, when I’m seven and there are no stepbrothers and it’s before the stepfathers, my mom lets me sleep in her bed.
Her bed is a raft on the ocean. It’s a cloud, a forest, a spaceship, a cocoon we share. I stretch out big as I can, a five-pointed star, and she bundles me back up in her arms. When I wake I’m tangled in her hair.
“Tell me again,” I say and she tells me again how she wanted me more than anything.
“More than anything in the world,” she says, “I wanted a little girl.”
I’m her little girl. I measure my fingers against hers. I watch in the mirror as she brushes her hair. I look for myself in her features. I stare at her feet. Her toes, like my toes, are crooked and strangely long.
“You have my feet,” I say.
In the tell-me-again times she looks down and places her bare foot next to mine. Our apartment is small and I can see the front door from where we stand.
“Tell me again,” I say and she tells me how it was before I came. What it was like when she was all alone. She had no mother, she says, she had no father. All she wanted was a little girl and that little girl is me.
“Now I have everything,” she says and the side of her foot presses against the side of mine.
eight is too big for stories
But everything changes and I’m not everything anymore. We’re in the bathroom and she’s getting ready. His name is Thomas, she says, and he won’t like it if she’s late. She tugs at the skin below her eyes, smooths her eyebrow with the tip of her finger. I’m getting old, she says.
“Tell me again,” I say.
“Eight is too big for stories,” she tells me. She sweeps past me to pick out a dress and when she does, I know. I know this dress. It’s the dress she wore the first time, the dress she wore the last time she left me alone. It’s yellow and when I touch the fabric, my fingers leave marks.
“Stop that,” my mom says and steps out of reach. Then she sprays perfume between her breasts and I turn away. I know what comes next. She’ll go out and I’ll get a babysitter. She’ll wear perfume and put on nylons. She’ll wear high-heeled shoes. The babysitter will sit at our kitchen table and play solitaire.
“Why do you have to go?” I say.
“I’m tired of being alone,” she says and I stare at the wall of her room. The bathroom fan shuts off in the next room. Alone is how our story starts. But then I came along and changed all that.
“You’re not alone,” I say. My back is to her and on the wall of her bedroom are the photographs I know by heart. The pictures that go with our story. She always starts with the littlest one. The one of her mother.
“The last one,” my mom says, meaning it’s the last picture taken before her mother died. She died before I was born. “She was so lonely,” my mom says. Our story starts on the day that her father left her mother. It starts with my mom taking care of her mother when she was just a kid like me.
I can take care of you, I think. But already she has her coat on. She’s opening the front door because Thomas is waiting downstairs.
I look at another photo, the one of me at the beach sorting seashells and seaweed and tiny bits of glass. In it, I’m concentrating and wearing my mom’s sweater with the sleeves rolled up.
“Bye,” she calls and I look up, but the door is already closed.
he’s our family now
She goes out that night. She goes out the next night. I sleep alone in her bed and when she comes home, she packs a suitcase. She’s going away for the weekend, she says. She’s going away for the week. In between she comes home. She repacks. She washes her nylons and hangs them in the shower. She washes her face in the sink. I watch her in the mirror as she gets ready to go out again. She looks at her face from different angles. She pinches and pulls at her skin.
Then I meet this man. This Thomas. She brings him home like he’s some kind of gift.
And I’m told to be nice. I’m told to stand still. I’m made to wash my face.
I stand in front of him with my arms straight down at my sides. He’s in the kitchen, crossing in front of the light like an eclipse. Our kitchen table looks strangely small. Our ceilings too low. I’m watching the front door and willing him to walk back out of it. Instead he bends down until his face is even with mine.
“She looks just like you,” he says.
“You don’t look like anyone special at all,” I tell him. And I curse him. And I start a club to hate him. And I make a magic spell to get rid of him. And when she marries him, when we pack up our apartment and move into his house, when I change schools and have to eat the food he likes to eat, I don’t talk to him.
“Anna,” my mom says.
“What?” I say.
“Be nice,” she says. “He’s our family now.”
Copyright © 2012 by Erica Lorraine Scheidt