– Are you scared yet Mommy?
– Not yet.
– You will be.
Her body buried in stuffed animals and her face the only part visible, Lena laid motionless in Ava’s bed and stared at the whale in Ava’s ceiling, red and blotchy, a remnant of one of the more intense rainstorms, and knew that letting Rob show Ava the original Star Wars trilogy (he had gasped in horror when, on their first date, Lena admitted to having never seen the films, an affront he rectified in a six-hour marathon on their second date that should have been the first indication that she was embarking on a journey of class-five emotional whitewater) so young was a mistake: Ava’s first words had been an impression of scary, throaty Yoda that only got scarier, throatier and more context-appropriate as she got older.
Blotchy whale was the last thing Lena saw before the final stuffed animal covered her face and the world became black. Her tailbone killed, despite the application of self-massage tricks learned in the Calming Waves trenches; there are few massage tricks to alleviate the agony of a bruised tailbone. She couldn’t get the smell of tzatziki out her nostrils and, under her breath, she cursed Piero, the Pixie and the tzatziki. This was the third time he had “fired” her. The second, Piero had fired the entire staff before dinner service because he had spent an entire “sick day” watching a Restaurant Impossible marathon and was feeling alpha; he re-hired them 22 minutes later, when, sledgehammer in hand and dividing wall smashed, he realized he couldn’t do the entire rennovation himself and lost interest (and a dividing wall). The first time, he re-hired her before she made it to the Impala and before she clipped the passenger mirror of his mid-life crisis ’93 Porsche, which had been her intended target. Maybe this time was it. More than 24 hours had passed; usually it was no more than 24 minutes.
Right now, however, she didn’t care: Ava’s bed was comfortable and she had cut a deal to broker peace and get back into her grudge-holding child’s good graces amidst the considerable emotional fallout from the abandonment of Triceratops and subsequent breaking of the promise to pick him up on her next day off (the first of many, she lamented). The deal was simple: Ava could make her do whatever she wanted and Ava wanted to play stuffed animal sarcophogus, or, “aminal cophgus,” in Ava’s parlance; thus, immobility courtesy of every stuffed animal in the tiny room and a fade to black courtesy of Care Bear ass.
– Are you scared now, Mommy?
Lena remained quiet; she didn’t make a peep. Ava’s giggles grew. Lena moved her hands to her side and turned them up.
Lena sprung out of the aminal cophgus and pulled Ava to her. Stuffed animals flew everywhere. Ava laughed hard. Lena tickled her and ignored the “hey, I’m still here, remember me!” screaming from her tailbone.
– I got you Mommy, I got you!
– You’re the one being devoured by the tickle monster.
– No! You are!
The doorbell rang. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt. Squawk. Another item on the to-fix list.
– Help Mommy up.
Ava roared, Rahr!, and helped Lena to her feet. The attack of the tickle monster had nearly done her in; painful reverberations twanged like an out-of-tune guitar string in her feet and in her head. At the top of the stairs, she reached for Ava’s hand.
– I got this, Mommy.
Ava slid down each step on her butt; Lena held the loose railing and feathered each step with care and no small amount of trepidation. They had barely made it home the night before; Lena had never been more thankful for her occasionally-manifested mutant ability to hit every green light in the four point six miles between Grille and home.
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt. Squawk.
Lena opened the door to a man with silver hair and a silver mustache in a silverish suit with a turquoise-bedazlled bolo tie tight to his neck; the collar of his shirt starched and sword-sharp; cowboy boots spit-shined and perfect. He held a pamphlet: inkjet watercolor rays of light emanated from its center.
– I’m sorry if this is an inopportune moment, but I read of your dilemma.
– Which one?
– It was in the papers just this morning. I want to offer our help.
– Your help?
– We would like to help you find solace in your time of need and hope that you will read our material and maybe join us this Sun –
– How does that help?
– It is important to understand and accept that this is all part of God’s plan, part of the trials He puts you through-
– Can I ask a question?
– Will your, what was it? understanding and acceptance help me keep my daughter’s home?
The unctuous cowboy-boot prophet leaned back on his heels and fondled his mustache.
– My dear, we can offer only salva –
– So the answer’s no.
– I’m afraid you misund-
– Then go fuck yourself.
Lena slammed the door in his face and locked the door. She turned to Ava.
– Do as I say, not as I do, okay?
Ava yawned. The mailbox door opened and closed. The bottom step creaked. Lena heard a muttering from the other side of the door: it was either “God be with you,” or “fuck you too”; she wasn’t sure. Lena tapped her head against the closed door. Ava reached up and pulled the overhang of her t-shirt.
– Mommy? More aminal cophogus?
– I don’t wanna naptime.
– A rest then.
– I don’t wanna rest.
The cowboy-boot prophet had subtextually said so, the sign, overtly: it was time. She needed to look to their future, to living with Ben and Claire or to finding something else (Piero’s abandonment of good graces had decimated that prospect, for now); that the time had come to stop fighting or not fighting or whatever the hell it was she was doing and that this was the future, if only she could remember where she put the packing tape.
Ava’s rhino-snores deepened below her feet and over the roar-hacking of the ancient window fan as Lena stood still in the attic and stared at the expanse of unused stuff. The imposition of naptime after the unadulterated fun of aminal cophgus, the moral villification of the cowboy-boot prophet’s visitation and the ensuing histrionic chase through the house that was less and less home had resulted in another bevvy of Triceratops-infused and “all I want for Christmas is Daddy” vitriol; Lena wanted to pretend that it got easier but it didn’t.
Lena moved the remnants of Ava’s first crib aside and slid the flat-stack of boxes out. She relished, for a moment, in the rightness of her insistance on the 50-cent Home Depot boxes instead of the perpetual reuse of wine boxes from their first two moves together, all young and full of hope. What bullshit. You never know, she had told him, you never know when the wine boxes will break and what if we’re not near a wine shop? It’s easier and cheaper this way. He fought her hard on that one but nonetheless, according to Ava the CI, ended up with half the Home Depot boxes, absconding with them during Lena’s shifts at the Grille.
She couldn’t hear herself think and didn’t want to, but she unplugged the window fan anyhow and watched the sparks fly from the two-to-three prong adapter. She heard herself think. She heard a car pull into the driveway and the broken asphalt crinkle undertire. She heard Ava yell “Daddy!” and the ensuing butt-slides down each step.
To be continued.