Even with my eyes open, I couldn’t testify in court that I was actually awake.
Whatever bonding agent sleep used to seal them closed was getting harder to break. The fog that had settled in my mind took its time clearing out. I felt movement behind me. Turning, I saw his sleeping form buried under the blankets. I reached my hand out to touch his exposed shoulder – he snorted and rolled away.
No Sunrise Surprise for me today.
Out of bed like a fumbled football, I ransacked my bureau, grabbing what I hoped would amount to enough clothing to allow me on the street. Shoes in hand, I wandered into the bathroom to change. Nothing I wore matched, but who would care at this hour? The shoes were a problem though. I had grabbed one running shoe and one leopard print heel. I considered hacking the stiletto off before I remembered my old man had cut my shoe budget. Well, that settled that. I snuck back into the darkened room and dug around for the second sneaker and got out before my old man knew I’d been there. I smiled at my stealth; that was, until I ran into the door. I swore I heard a muffled chuckle coming from the bed.
I put a pot of joe on to boil while I did a few laps around the block. The cold air woke up every injury I had incurred over the years.
“All right, I hear you. Quit your yammering.” I said as I slowed my pace. Sure, I called it running, but sauntering alley cats were passing me with sanctimonious grins on their faces. Let ‘em, the furry wiseguys – at least I was trying.
When I returned home, I noted a light in the living room. Armed with a hot cup of coffee, I carefully rounded the corner. A small boy with gravity defying hair was mumbling something to the coffee table. I lowered the mug,
“Hey kid.” I said to the boy.
“Hi Mom.” He said without looking up.
“That’s all you’ve got for me?” I asked, cocking a brow.
He jumped up and ran at me before I had time to brace myself. Skinny arms circled my legs with a ferocity usually reserved for teddy bears on a stormy night. My coffee jumped over the lip and scalded my collar bone. I’d asked for it, hadn’t I?
Disentangling myself from the urchin proved difficult, but I managed. “Who you talkin’ to there, Sport?”
“My Legos.” He replied with a tone that may have implied that I was the schmuck.
“As long as they don’t talk back.” I said with a smirk. As I walked away, the mumbling began again – I hoped it was the kid.
In the kitchen, I assessed the damage of the night before. A thin patch of white powder stared up at me from the floor, reminding me how rough things had gotten. I ran a hand over the overworked pasta cutter and it all came flooding back to me – the teacher pulling me aside again, the broken vacuum cleaner, the cat vomit on the couch – by the time my old man had gotten home, I was already primed for escape. I mustered up a weak smile for him but he saw through it quicker than a tramp leaves a church social.
“How about it?” he asked casually, already with eggs and flour in his hand.
I was no stranger to drowning my sorrows in carbohydrates. I knew I’d pay for it this morning and here I was, with my checkbook out and hanging over the top of my pants.
“Damn. Should of run farther.” I thought. I couldn’t have gone another foot if someone was chasing me with an overdue credit card bill.
I started loading dishes in the machine. It was a menial task and I hated it but hell, it had to be done. With the last of the forks put in their caged slot, it was time to start breakfast. When I turned around, I encountered a disheveled princess standing three feet high who hadn’t been there before. I tried hard to jump out of my skin, but didn’t quite make it.
It had been a long time since these kids questioned why I jumped so high when I discovered someone else lived here. I blame my brothers and all those years of jumping out from behind doors.
“Gah! You scared the he… hey there, Sunshine. You’re quieter than a mouse with a secret when you wanna be.”
The little girl rubbed her eye and looked up at me, squinting to keep out the light.
“Hi Mom,” Princess said in her sleep-filled voice, and toddled off to the living room to check in with her accomplice. I watched her stems as she passed by. Damned kid; how’d she get better legs than me in only five years of life?
Definitely should of run more.
The old man rolled into the kitchen with a jocular air about him and wrapped me up for a kiss. I fended him off as best I could but in the end I gave up; I just plain liked it too much. He went in to question the kids about their sleep and dreams and hopes for the day. I had to give it to him; he was a better interrogator than me.
It was okay, I had plenty of stuff to think about on my own. Lunches were made and bagged as I wrote up a shopping list in my head. I made a mental note of everything I didn’t have but ultimately I knew it was useless; I hadn’t remembered what I needed in a grocery store since Clinton was president. I made another note to put “shopping list” on my shopping list.
Breakfast was bacon, and so what if it was organic turkey bacon? And yeah, the eggs were free-range and hormone free, you want to make something of it? They were scrambled stiff, weren’t they?
We threw it down our throats like we hadn’t eaten since the night before.
I got the kids shuttled to school and my old man off to work with hardly any hassle. I’m good like that – getting rid of things. I walked back into my house and it was quiet…too quiet. I made my way cautiously around the interior until I came to my bedroom and stopped short. I saw a shadow poking out from behind the closet door. I put my hands up in front of me – fists formed – and slowly pulled the door back with my toe…I was ready for it. We were facing each other dead on.
“Hello, Laundry.” I said grimly to the mountain of soiled clothing so big, Mike Tyson would shake like a Chihuahua. “Not today, pal.” I added, hoping my message got through. “You aren’t gonna win today.”
I acted quickly, before it could shift its weight. I lunged forward with everything I had and dug both arms elbow deep. With a boulder-sized pile of clothes in my arms I reeled backwards, staggering, trying to hold on – I had to hold on. Laundry tried to obscure my vision but I tilted my head to one side, allowing my left eye partial visibility. As Laundry did its best to crush me, I lurched forward out of the room and down the hallway in a precarious dance-like gate, spinning to avoid knocking tchotchkes off their shelves.
I almost made it.
Until I ran into Laundry’s co-conspirator. The runner in the hallway had turned up and when my heel caught it, it knocked me backwards. I landed like a cheerleader on prom night. Socks and t-shirts flew out of my arms in a shower of putrid confetti. As soon as I had a minute to catch my breath, I shot back into action, collecting everything I could and slamming my full body weight against the laundry room door. I knocked the lid of the washer up, deposited everything in my arms and shut the lid before it could scream for help.
I had no choice but to drown it. I’m no sadist but it left me no choice.
I stumbled out of there, dazed and winded. I walked until something got in my way, which turned out to be the couch. Sitting to catch my breath, I put my arm on the remote. Hell, I deserved a break. I turned on the TV and found some vapid talk show that put a great deal of weight on a particular magazine article about how cuticles was affecting women’s lives.
When I got the call from the school, I was numb. I had watched a different version of the same show for six hours. I jumped up, risking vertigo, and began the hunt for my handbag and keys. It was a time-killing, soul-crushing search, and if I found them, I wouldn’t be winning any public service awards – but I’d know, and that had to be enough.
“NOW,” the principal had said. It was the humorless tone in his voice that spurred me on. Maybe I should have listened to the short guy’s conversation with his Legos a little more carefully this morning. I finally found what I needed and raced out to my car.
It wasn’t until the third stoplight that I realized I’d forgotten to do the most important thing of all, the one thing that would make our home safe, with no threats lurking, where kids could play without worry, where closets were only closets…
I forgot to add detergent.
Thank you to L.C. Neal of Fictionique.com for editing