I kiss Louise goodnight and tuck the blanket around
her tiny shoulders. It’s a woven
synthetic, scratchy like wool and just as heavy in the middle of the
summer. Edged in smooth satin. And that’s the only saving grace of this
cheap blanket: that smoothness over the scratchiness that soothes Louise to
sleep. She grasps the satin, rubs her
thumb along the top. I hear a rumble of
thunder and go to her window, wrestling it closed against thick layers of paint
that flakes in my hand.
“Sleep tight, Louie,” I whisper. From her dresser, I pick up a picture of my
mother—a mother who died giving birth to me—and whisper a silent prayer to that
smiling woman behind glass—Let her be
happy. Let her be safe—before
tiptoeing from the room and closing the door quietly behind me.
This I know: Louise will throw off the blanket while
she sleeps. Even at seven, she refuses
to be constrained by anything, even something designed to provide comfort. But I also know this: Late at night, she will
worry her finger over the bits of the blanket that have pilled and gathered unbidden
upon the blanket’s surface. With her
tiny fingernail, she’ll tease them from the blanket, roll them between her
finger and thumb. And then, while she
listens to Paul and me argue, she’ll tuck one into each nostril so that she can
smell what she
calls “mommy perfume,” while she sleeps.
I return to the dining room where Paul is setting
out the bills; arranging them by due dates, eight of them stamped in red—Past
Due—as if that red stamp could somehow magically force us to come up with the
money that Paul has spent on fast women and fast cars and expensive romantic
dinners for two while Louise and I ate Ramen noodles and watched Laverne and
Shirley reruns on a black and white portable television set.
We work quietly, only breaking the silence to announce
an amount to write on the check.
twenty-nine.” “Rent. Four fifty.”
We pay what we can and put the rest back into the file folder. Paul stacks the envelopes neatly, affixes the
final stamp, perfectly aligned in the right hand corner of the envelope.
Lightning flashes and the overhead lights dim for a
moment and for the first time in months, Paul and I allow our eyes to
touch. He gives me a smile full of
sadness and regret. “I’m leaving you, Becca.”
I am not shocked by this. “I figured it was coming.”
He is angered by my composure. I can tell he wishes for my anger, to justify
his own. “I mean…I don’t even know if
Louise is my child.”
He looks me in the eye. “Do I?
And I realize that not only is there another woman,
more permanent that the last one, there is someone else: “How do you know the
other child is yours?”
He has the decency to flush. For too many years I’ve allowed him to
believe I believed his excuses of last-minute work; travel emergencies; demands
of trying to move up the corporate ladder.
He removes his overnight back from the front hall,
perpetually packed, but this time intended to be unpacked into someone else’s
life. He leaves in the rain, slamming
the front door behind him. I step out
behind him, watch his taillights disappear down Liberty Avenue. The lightning flashes and the thunder roars
and I let the rain wash over me, soaking me to the skin.
Louise stands in the door holding the satin edging
of the blanket close to her cheek.
I return to the house and gather her up in my
arms. I prepare her a cup of hot
chocolate and put on my pajamas and we snuggle in the oversize chair to read a
“Daddy’s gone, isn’t he?”
“He went out for a bit, yes.”
“He went forever this time.”
I stare at her.
“Why do you say that?”
“The anger is gone.
The house is bigger.”
I choke back a sob and kiss the top of her
head. Louise is the smooth over the
scratchiness of my life.
“What will we do now, Mommy?”
eyes—the eyes of her father—are troubled.
There’s a smear of cocoa on her upper lip.
“Where will we get money?”
“We’ll be fine, sweetie.” I pat her leg and tuck her back into bed,
this time pulling only the sheet over her.
I take the blanket and the picture of my mother into the dining
room. With a seam ripper, I remove the
smooth satin where six years ago I’d hidden hundred dollar bills. I remove my mother from behind the glass and
take the key to the safety deposit box.
When I first met Paul he told me to never trust
Thank God, I’d listened to him.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Chelle at http://awriterisborn.wordpress.com/ gave me this prompt: a blue blanket, a picture, a thunderstorm.
This was also linked to Yeah, Write.
Labels: flash fiction, Scriptic