Mother loved Louisa best. Once again, Louisa had successfully convinced Mother to blame Gemma for one of her own infractions, sending Gemma to her room without dinner. “I don’t want to see you again until morning,” Mother had said, clutching Louisa, who’d stopped fake-sobbing long enough to stick her tongue out.
Gemma opened her bedroom window and let in the sweet summer air. She listened to the sound of her friends playing, families laughing, food sizzling on backyard grills. She grabbed her sketchbook and pencils, gifts from Dad, and let her mind run free.
In the first picture, Zoey was screaming, her face beet red, while Jackson’s finger was firmly implanted up his nose. Delete. Second photo – Zoey shoved Jackson just as the camera flashed. Delete. By the 10th photo, Zoey and Jackson wore bright smiles, their arms wrapped around each other like loving siblings. Brandi posted it to Facebook with the hashtags: #blessed #bliss #momlife.
In another city, Brandi’s friend Sandra was scrubbing vomit out of her shirt as something crashed in the next room. They’d been snowed in for days. She glanced at Brandi’s latest Facebook update on her phone, and sighed.
It was too hot to sleep. The air was so still in the bedroom that sisters Cora and Emily had shared growing up that they decided to move to the screened in back porch, praying for the slightest breeze. They hadn’t spoken in months. Their father’s funeral had drawn them both home, but only for a night. In the morning, they’d leave, continuing on opposite paths.
Hours later, they were still awake, and restless, when Cora began to recall a memory. Their father, tiptoeing out of the back door in the middle of the night, venturing to the covered bridge that bordered their property. He would emerge an hour or so later, wearing a mysterious smile.
Barefoot, the women tiptoed through the dewy grass in their nightgowns, giggling, their arms around each other. “It was really dark those nights, but I’m pretty sure this is the place,” Emily said as they looked around for their father’s secret treasure. They easily found the shallow hole he’d dug. Inside – a half-empty bottle of his favorite bourbon. Emily dusted it off and took a long swig as she sat in the dirt, passing it to her sister who followed suit.
They leaned against the dirty wall in silence, as a cool breeze began to encircle them.
I open the back door and step onto the deck, the sticky summer heat moistening my skin, and step gingerly into the refreshing, frigid, pool. My mother insists that babies are too young to swim; I didn’t learn until I was in my twenties. I clutch my six-month-old daughter to my chest, her head resting in the crook of my neck, until the water is chest-level. I carefully let her go, my arms outstretched to catch her, just in case. Fearlessly, she ducks her head underwater, her tiny legs fluttering like a bird’s wings. I dive under and rise to meet her under the rippling blue surface, kissing her cheek.
The Six Sentence Stories prompt this week is Deck.
She told her mother she was taking a walk. She barely looked up as Rebecca walked out the door, busy with Rebecca’s father and brothers, homework questions, dinner prep, chores. It was a loud, rowdy home. Rebecca had no place there. She served no purpose besides being in the way.
She sat on a bench and looked out at the city skyline, her teeth chattering as a bracing, cold wind whipped around her. Despite the temperature, she unzipped her baggy hoodie, desperate to see it. Her secret. She peeked at her belly, a round orb, pulsing with alien movement. She had no way of knowing if her child would be male or female, but she imagined a little girl. She and her daughter, holding hands, swapping secrets, living in their own shared world. This was her purpose.
My daughter has the best of everything. Her clothes are from the finest boutiques in town, her wardrobe rivaling mine in size and quality. Her hair has been highlighted and cut by my own stylist from the time she was small. I’ve given her everything she’s ever wanted. Things she didn’t even know that she wanted. Private dance tutors, acting classes, beauty pageant wins, cosmetic enhancements. We want her to be happy. I thought she was happy.
When her teachers told me that Riley’s interactions with another girl in school could be considered bullying, I dismissed it, taking it with a grain of salt. Didn’t all teenage girls argue? But then I met the girl, Cassie, and her mother, in the principal’s office, and I saw something I recognized in her sad eyes. Riley laughed the whole thing off in the car on the way home, and I joined in, wanting to make her happy, to reassure her I was on her side, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Cassie is gone now. When I found out the news, I locked myself in my bedroom and cried the rest of the day. Visions of my own youth tortured me. Disdainful looks from the pretty girls with their perfect skin and shiny hair. My desperation to be accepted, only to have doors slammed in my face at every turn. I thought about the day I gave birth to Riley, when I promised her that she would never endure one moment of suffering.
Today, I dried my eyes and got on the phone to find my daughter a lawyer. They want to put her in jail, but I can’t let that happen. She’s my baby.
Another chapter in the neverending saga of Paul and Alexandra, Katie thought as a perfectly good wine glass shattered against the far wall, red wine streaming down the stark white paint like blood. Alexandra, the glass-thrower, screamed at Paul that he’d never loved her, that no one wanted him there because he was an awful person. Paul retorted that Alexandra was over-the-hill, desperately, pathetically, trying to hold on to her youth and failing miserably. Katie stood, throwing her hands in the air.
“ENOUGH!” Katie shrieked, rattling the windows.
Alexandra and Paul immediately quieted, turning to face Katie in shock.
“Haven’t the two of you ruined enough family gatherings?” In the preceding years, Katie and her siblings had gone to ridiculous lengths to keep their bickering parents separated, and she was fed up. She turned to her mother.
“I invited dad here. I’m getting married tomorrow. He has as much right to be here as you do.” She faced them both sternly. “Both of you should be ashamed. Your children are embarrassed of you. If you behave this way tomorrow I’m having the both of you thrown out on your butts and you can argue in the back alley like a couple of hillbillies. This nonsense,” she swirled her finger between the two of them, “is over. Do you understand?”
Her parents stared back at her in stunned silence. She stepped closer. “I said – DO…YOU…UNDERSTAND?”
Paul and Alexandra looked at each other, then responded in unison. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Let’s play hide and seek, mommy,” Cat said, half covering her eyes with her pudgy hand. Ashley knew that Cat was afraid and wanted to delay her bedtime as long as possible. Her father had been the one that banished the monsters and other imaginary creatures that went bump in the night. But she only saw him twice a month now.
“How about we sing instead?” Ashley scooted so Cat could sit next to her on the piano bench. She played a few notes of Cat’s favorite lullaby, whispering the lyrics in her ear. She could see her daughter’s eyelids getting heavy.
After Ashley did the best job she could ridding Cat’s room of monsters, she tucked the little girl into bed and kissed her goodnight, wishing her sweet dreams.
She tiptoed to her own room and turned out the light. The bed seemed to swallow her. Alone in the still darkness, she had to admit, she was afraid too. Sleep seemed so far away. Why is this so hard? She considered turning on a light, or the television, letting white noise fill the quiet, but decided against it, falling back against the pillow. Slowly, her eyes began to adjust to the dark.