Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lief: Sixteen

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“I know,” Dad said. “I know.”
    He repeated this a lot. It was his response to everything.

    Lief watched his gray upper lip--where his mustache used to be--as he said it again. “I know.”
    “This isn’t fair,” she told him. “You promised.”
    Glover was behind the couch, slamming his Tonka trucks together. “Truck!” he yelled. “Smash truck!”
    Dad nodded. “What can I say, sweetheart?” he said. “I know I did.”
    Lief was squeezing the t-shirt she was holding in her hands so tightly it seemed like she wasn’t aware she was holding anything at all.
    “Stop fucking saying that!” she yelled. “Stop just stop just stop! Stop fucking saying it!”
    Dad sighed big. “What do you want me to say?”
    Lief fell down on the couch. “This isn’t fair,” she said again.
    “I called everybody,” he explained. “I really did.”
    “Truck! Smash!”
    Lief was crying now. “Is that all he can say?” she asked.
    Dad shook his head. “He says lots of things,” he replied. “Look, I’m sorry.”
    “Shut up,” she said.
    “Really. I am,”
    She sat up on the couch.
    “Shut up shut up shut up shut up.”
    Dad was down on one knee now. “Please, Leap,” he said. “I can’t do this alone.”
    “Don’t,” she said.
    “I can’t,” he repeated.
    Lief was quiet for a minute. There were hot things inside her. She was rocking her feet against the floor.
    “I have to go,” Dad said. He reached out to touch her shoulder, but her arm didn’t make it all of the way. “I’m sorry, really.” He took his coat off the hook. “I put the left over cake from last night in the fridge,” he said. “If you were looking for it.” He bent down and kissed Glover. “Love you, buddy.”
    When he closed the door, Lief’s feet started stomping.
    “I hate all of this,” she said.
    Glover continued to ram his trucks together. “Truck!” he yelled.
    Lief didn’t turn around. “I hate you, too,” she told him. “I fucking hate you, too.”
    The apartment was small. She got up and before she knew it she was at the refrigerator.
    “Can’t even fucking breathe in here,” she said.
    She opened the fridge door and pulled off the tin foil over the cake.
    “Unfair,” she whispered. “Unfair.”
    She stuck her finger in the frosting and licked it off. “I hate it here.”
    The phone was next to the sink.
    “Hello, is Samantha home?”
    Glover was banging and yelling even louder. Lief covered the phone with her hand. “Quiet!” she yelled to him.
    “Hey, Sam,” she said.
    “No, I can’t.”
    “I just can’t.” She started batting the phone cord with her free hand.
    “My dad couldn’t find a sitter.”
    “He is?”
    “I can’t.” She hit the phone cord so hard it slapped against the linoleum floor.
    “I know, Sam. I can’t.”
    “This blows. This fucking blows.”
    She was quiet for a minute. “You could bring everybody here. My dad’s at work for the night. So we can do whatever.”
    “I don’t know. Watch TV?”
    She grabbed hold of the cord and pulled hard on it. “I know it’s small. I fucking live here.”
    “No, I’m sorry. I’m just really pissed off.”
    “This just fucks up everything.”
    “Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
    Lief hung up the phone gently. She kept her hand on the receiver for just a second before she started lifting it up and smashing it back down into its cradle.
    “Truck! Smash!” Glover yelled.
    She was just making noises now. She kept slamming the phone into the cradle until he heard the plastic crack.
    Glover had started crying at some point.
    “Stop it,” she told him.
    She had never closed the refrigerator door. She reached in and grabbed a handful of cake. The frosting crept through her fingers. She took a bite before throwing it on the floor.
    “Stop it!” she yelled again.
    The apartment was so mall, everything was so close together. She was behind the couch before she knew it. She was on top of him before she knew it. She was over him so quickly, her hand was over his head so quickly, she heard the sound of her hand hitting his head so quickly, she heard it before she saw it, before she even felt it.
    “Stop it! Stop crying! Stop!” She hit him three times hard. Each hit was a punctuation mark.
    There was a sudden quiet. Lief look at his face, frozen for a moment, the skin turning red, tiny globs of birthday cake frosting smeared in his hair. It was a longer moment than all the others.
    He was crying again, but different this time. He was crying before she could say she was sorry.
    She picked him up. “I’m sorry, Glow,” she said. “Don’t cry.”
    Her hand was still covered in frosting and she was getting it all over the bottom of his overalls.
    “This isn’t fair,” she whispered in his ear. “I’m not your mom. I didn’t ask for this.”
    She was rocking him in her arms. “I just wanted to go roller skating.”
    She undressed him and washed his hair by the bathroom sink. He had stopped crying, but was silent and breathing heavily. He still had a confused look on his face.
    “No more tears,” Lief said, reading the shampoo bottle. “Hold still,” she told him. She rubbed the shampoo into his temples, trying to remove the frosting that was matted in his hair. He squirmed. She grabbed his shoulders. “Hold still,” she told him.
    She ran the washcloth under the faucet, wrung it out, and wiped the shampoo from his hair.
    “’scold,” he said.
    “Shh,” she replied. “We’re almost done.”
    She sighed heavily. “I’m not a boy crazy girl,” she said. “Chad’s different, though.”
    After she ran through the clothe through his hair a few times, she dropped it in the sink and grabbed the towel.
    “It’s not fair,” she said. She wrapped the towel around Glover’s head to dry his hair. “Chad was supposed to be there.”
    She dried his hair vigorously for a few more seconds, then sat down on the toilet. “And I’m here.”
    “’scold,” Glover repeated.
    “You’re retarded,” Lief told him. “You’re a retard who only says like three different things.”
    He sniffled.   
    “I could read like books when I was three,” she said.
    He sniffled again.
    “Let’s get you dressed,” she said, taking his hand. She bent over and picked up his balled up overalls off the bathroom floor. She pulled some clothes from his dresser.
    “Put this sweater on, too,” she said, handing him the clothes. “We need to wash your pants at the Laundromat.”
    She also handed him a hat and mittens. “It’s cold out,” she told him. “We’re going to have to walk.”
    Glover held the mittens in his hand and then dropped them on the floor.
    “Pick those up,” she told him. She bent down and grabbed the mittens. She knelt down and grabbing each of his arms, jammed the mittens on his hands.
    “I can’t do this every night,” she said, pulling the hat down over his head. “He promised me I wouldn’t have to tonight.”
    She pulled up and buttoned his pants, put his shoes on and tied them. “Go get your jacket on,” she told him. He waddled across the room quickly and pulled his coat off the coat rack. Lief reached for the coffee can on top of the cabinet. She pulled out a few bills and some change. She balled it up and stuffed it into her pocket. She put on her jacket, stuck Glover’s overalls in a plastic grocery bag, then knelt down to button up his coat.
    She was crying for a bit before she realized it.
    “It’s cold out there,” she told him.
    She wiped her face with the sleeve of her jacket.
    “Everything sucks,” she said. “Everything’s just so fucking stupid and unfair.”
    Sobs starting burrowing into her chest. She breathed in deep to still them.
    “I fucking hate myself,” she said. She pinched her nostrils together with her fingers, and when she pulled them away, they were wet with snot. She wiped them on her pants.
    “Alright,” she told him. “Take my hand.”
        It wasn’t too long of a walk. There were plenty of streetlights. Lief held Glover’s hand the whole time.
    “It’s not too long of a walk,” she told him. “Just make sure you hold my hand the whole time.”
    Glover was already dragging his feet.
    “Come on, it’s just around the corner,” she said.
    “Tired,” he whined.
    She bent over and picked him up. “I don’t know if frosting stains,” she said. “But Dad’ll be upset if you’ve ruined these.” She held up the grocery bag with her free hand.
    Glover was heavy in her arms.
    “We’re almost there,” she told him. She felt herself getting short of breath.
    “I’m not being selfish,” she said. “It’s not selfish to want what every other girl gets.”
    She could see the Laundromat in the distance.
    “I’m not selfish for wanting that,” she continued. “I didn’t ask for any of this. It’s not my fault.”
    “’mcold,” Glover whispered.
    Lief shook her head. “I didn’t ask for this,” she said.
    They reached the Laundromat door, and Lief lowered her arm so Glover would slide back down to the sidewalk. She pushed open the door for him. “Go on in,” she said.
    An old man was sitting by the entrance. He waved at Glover. Glover pulled his hat off. The old man waved again, this time curling each finger one by one, like a spider. Glover didn‘t smile.
    “Come on,” Lief said, taking Glover by the hand. She bought some detergent from the dispenser and then tossed the overalls into one of the machines.
    A woman was folding her laundry on top of the machines across the way. “That’s a waste, washing only one thing,” she said.
    “It’s the only thing that’s dirty,” Lief snapped back. She put the quarters in the machine and it roared on.
    “I was just helping,” the woman said.
    “Yeah,” Lief responded.
    She grabbed Glover by the hand and walked him to the seats by the front window. She took a pen from her jacket pocket. “Go draw on that newspaper,” she told him. She picked the newspaper off the seat. “If you kneel down you can use this chair as a desk.”
    She pulled off each of his mittens and put the pen in his hand. “Go ahead,” she said, facing him towards the chair.
    “You should be nicer to your mother,” the old man said.
    Lief looked over to him, then to the woman folding her laundry.
    “She’s not my mother,” she told him.
    “Catfield!” Glover shouted, pointing at the newspaper.
    Lief looked over. “That’s Garfield, Glow.”
    The old man was scratching his long white beard. “Your son is beautiful,” he said.
    Lief turned away from him and dropped to one knee, so that she was kneeling beside Glover. “He’s not my son,” she said over her shoulder. “He’s my brother.”
    She could hear the machines running and the buzzing of the overhead lights.
    “I know you,” the old man said after a while.   
    Lief shook her head.
    “He’s harmless,” the woman shouted over.
    “You’re Charlotte’s daughter,” he said.
    Lief didn’t turn around. “I think you have me confused,” she said.
    Glover was holding the pen in his fist, making violent circles on the paper.
    “Catfield,” he said again.
    Lief could almost feel the man standing right behind her.
    “You’re Charlotte’s daughter,” he repeated. “I know you.” His voice seemed closer.
    “That wasn’t my mother’s name,” Lief said. She put her arm around Glover. “That wasn’t her name.”
    “I spent Easter at your house,” the old man said. “You remember me.”
    Lief felt cold pinpricks against her skin.
    “Her name was Ann,” she said. “You have the wrong person. My mom’s name was Ann.”
    Lief turned around. The old man was not as close to them as she had felt he had been.
    “We had, we had roast duck,” he said. He started walking towards the detergent dispenser. “It was the year, the year.” He started flicking the knobs on the machine. “And lamb. We had lamb.”
    Lief sat back in her chair.
    “I told you he was harmless,” the woman said.
    The old man continued to flick the knobs. “You look just like her,” he said, nodding.
    Lief looked down at Glover. His circles were starting to tear through the newspaper. She noticed her hands were shaking.
    “Catfield,” Glover said once again, quietly. He was almost singing the name.
    She put one hand on top of the other to steady them. “It’s Garfield, Glow,” she whispered to him. “His name is Garfield.”
    “You look so much like your mother,” the old man said, turning back towards her, “it’s like looking in a mirror.”
    Lief left the overalls in the washer and took Glover home. He was heavy like clay in her arms.
    “Dad won’t even notice they’re gone,” she told him. “We probably couldn’t even get those stains out anyway.”
    Lief carried him up the stairs to their apartment. He made tiny noises as she climbed each step.
    “Almost home,” she said.
    “In our old house,” she said, climbing the last set of stairs, “we had our own washer and dryer. And a basement. And a backyard where we could play. And I had my own room.”
    She got to the front door and tried to reach for her keys without disturbing him. “And Mom always kept the front door unlocked,” she said. “No matter how many times Dad asked her not to.”
    She opened the door and pushed inside. She laid Glover down on the couch. Her arms felt different once she was no longer carrying him.
    She cleaned up the cake from the kitchen floor, then washed the dishes and dried them, folded the dish clothe over the stove handle.
    She looked up to the phone on the wall. She could see the small crack in the plastic base. She ran her fingers along it. She could barely feel it.
    She dialed the number without really thinking about it.
    “Hello?” A sleepy voice answered.
    “Hello,” she said. “Is Chad home?”
    Lief could hear the person--she wasn’t sure if it was a man or a woman on the other line--making tiny noises, trying to orient themselves.
    “Chad’s not home yet,” the voice said. “He’s out with some friends.”
    “Oh,” Lief said. “Oh, okay.”
    “It’s late,” the voice told her. “It’s a late time to be calling.”
    “I’m sorry,” Lief said.
    “We go to sleep early,” the voice said. It sounded like a woman now.
    “I’m sorry,” Lief said again. “Have a nice night.”
    Lief put the phone gently back in the cradle on the wall.
    “I’m so stupid,” she said. “Why am I so stupid?”
    She let herself slide down until she was sitting on the kitchen floor. She pulled her knees up to her chest. The tears came easily, seemed to come from lots of different places, and also from no place at all.
    Something brushed against her leg.
    She looked up and Glover was standing in front of her. He held his Tonka out, rubbing it gently against her leg.
    “Truck,” he said.
    Lief took it from his hand and held it against her chest. Glover nodded. “Truck,” he repeated.
    Lief wiped her eyes against her sleeve. It was still many hours until morning.
    “I know,” she said.

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