Static by Savannah Louise

Old family photographs tell you nothing, because in photographs everyone becomes treacherously glad. She was the same. Black feathered hair and smoky eyes, holding a cigarette to her smile. She has me on her hip in this snapshot, wearing her sunglasses like some advertisement. The only clue is her under eye circles, dark as plums. The flash makes us bright and flat. She beams into the camera.

She met our father in a diner, the sort of place that was open late and set out poorly cleaned cutlery. He held the door and she fell in love. She was drunk. I’m telling you this because I want you to know they were once just children.

Our house had cockroaches and broken sinks. Dad was good at lying and never mowed the lawn. In the evenings he would go to work and she would bathe you. This is how I found out she was sad. It wasn’t because of us. She would lock the door and weep, her mascara dripping down her rouged cheeks like rust lines. In my memory I can still hear the squeak of your bare baby skin on the back of the bathtub, the lukewarm water swishing. I can still smell the pink and powdery scent of baby shampoo floating up against the old, discolored mirror. It reminds me of her sadness.

“Run along and get him a towel.” She would tell me, and I’d run.

The only picture I have of you shows her guiding your soft brown hair to a comical, sudsy point at the top of your smiling head. She was always doing small, silly things like this, despite herself. She had a good sense of humor. I mean, mom wasn’t always the way she is now.

She argued with him more when we moved to the blue house. We brought glasses of water to her room where she laid, rheumy eyed and apologetic. She would pretend our stuffed animals were alive and then tell us we were her favorite children in the whole wide world. But she kept to her blanket world, the faded floras of the bed sheets blooming over her body, a self-burial.

“He isn’t at work.” You decided, one night when he didn’t come home again. We were poking plastic forks into our overcooked mac and cheese.

“Yeah.” I admitted. “That’s why we never have any money around here.”

That’s probably what you remember the most, the money.

“Your mother and I fight a lot. Sorry.” He would say, handing us each five dollars from the front pocket of his flannel. He thought he could win our approval if he gave us money every time they fought. It never worked. After a while he didn’t give us money anymore because they stopped trying to be peaceful. It was my fault. I had stopped praying for them because I wanted a shirt from Kohl’s.

We were almost teenagers by the static month of June, when the nights were weird and mutable. The first time it happened I was on the top bunk, reading Calvin and Hobbes. They had been arguing and Dad leaned into our doorway. “Put that goddamn book away and lets clean this fucking house up.” We looked at each other and laughed, we were sick of his shit by now. He never cleaned. He just wanted to tell us what to do.

When mom came downstairs her arms were bleeding. She just stood there, looking celestial under the white kitchen light, looking as if she knew something we would never know, something very sad. You tried to help her but she wouldn’t let you. You didn’t understand what was happening, you thought he had hurt her. You screamed “I hate you” and he lunged forward in fear. For a moment I could hear sounds of him hitting you and my heart began to speed. I was growing older with each second, becoming very tall. I stepped between your screams and his forearms. I saw a breaking in his eyes for maybe a second and he let go, defeated. We all crashed together, then. Sobbing, I took your small hand and broke free. We began to run brave into the night, into the neighborhood of flat roofed houses and windows with blue TV light streaming out into perfectly manicured lawns. We ran until we got to our safe spot, a narrow path that should have been an alley, but instead leaked into a vacant lot that was lined with trees. Get up there, I’d say, get up. Hoisting you into the crotch of a large oak.

I feel like we stayed there for hours, listening to the drilling of crickets and talking about everything besides you-know-what. We don’t want to go back because we were afraid to find mom, alone, crumpled on the floor, with pills or knives or rope from the garage, her glasses hanging loosely on her lifeless hands. But we go back. Our stomachs are empty and we are afraI’d of the night. We creep back in through my window and go down the hall. The whole house is dark except for the flashing lights. There is an ambulance and a lot of police cars. We know dad has already left, squealing out of the driveway in his stupI’d car. We wouldn’t see him for a long time after that. It was the neighbors who made the phone call. They must have heard the noise. This time, I was ok with that.

Mom is in the living room, on a stretcher. The paramedics swarm around wearing badges and dark pants, acting like they know everything. Unfamiliar words spit from their walkie-talkies. Mom sees us and bursts out crying trying to hug us with her bandaged turkey-arms. “I’m ok I’m ok”, she keeps saying, “I’m not afraI’d. Do I look funny? I’ll smile. Take a picture.”

We back away and the cops ask us questions like we are some witnesses to a crime. I want to hold your hand, to show them that I am the one taking care of you, but you are almost twelve and you would have felt weird or unmanly or something.

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3 Responses

  1. This was brilliant.

  2. I read your story.It is a very well crafted story.I enjoyed it.

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