Let It Not Be Said

“Ma, come out of the shower.”
“No.”
“Ma. Ma, come on.”
“No!”
Melanie stands outside the bathroom door, practicing the now nightly ritual in which her mother locks herself in the bathroom, gets in the shower with at least some of her garments still on, and refuses to come out. There is only one bathroom in the small house, and the closest neighbors are over five miles away.
In retrospect, Melanie thinks she should have had her mother move to Atlanta with her rather than moving back to her childhood home, which used to be a farm but is now a small house with acres of land rented out to corporate growers. Where a stable once stood, there is now a rotting semblance of a building where termites, the exterminator told her, were impossible to get out now. All he could do was protect the house from their spread. Which was something, at least, Melanie thought, hoping that the extra favors she’d given him helped to make sure that he did the job right.
A girl could get mighty lonely living with her possibly senile, maybe paranoid, and most definitely difficult mother for over a year.
“Ma, I need to pee.”
“No! They’re coming to get me, don’t you get it?” This is hissed now, as Melanie’s mother moves from her obstinate stance to one that had a reasoning, whether invented or truly believed.
“No one is coming for you.”
Silence.
Melanie sighs and walks away from the bathroom towards her childhood bedroom.
“Don’t leave me!” The cry echoes after her, but Melanie knows that if she were to rush back to the door, her mother would revert to nay-saying.
In her room, covered with posters of irrelevant and broken up boy-bands, models, and basketball players that Melanie didn’t bother to take down when she first moved in, she picks up the paperclip she’s been using for the last few nights.
“I’m here again, Ma,” she says, back at the door, on her knees in front of the doorknob.
“Go away! Let them find me! Save yourself, baby!” The cliches came fast and automatic, echoes of movies Melanie and her mother had watched over and over again, years ago. This is her mother’s grand performance, the role of a lifetime played by a woman who’d never wanted to be an actress. All she’d wanted to be was a rodeo rider, but that was only for boys when she was a girl, so she became a factory worker instead, and then a homemaker, and then an sort of Jill-of-all-trades when it came to anything involving a needle and thread. She altered wedding dresses, made baby clothing out of hand-me-down big brother rags, patched together old family quilts, and hid teenagers unwanted pregnancies for as long as she could by letting out hemlines and creating collage shirts that seemed like the height of alternative fashion, clashing patterns purposefully loud so as to distract from the bump of a belly under them.
There hasn’t been a needle in the house since Melanie moved in, soon after her mother tried to commit suicide with them, a process so ridiculous that Melanie almost started to laugh when she saw the doctor’s photos of her mother looking like she’d been to the acupuncturist and gotten up and wandered home before the treatment was over.
“Ma, I’m coming in now.” Melanie begins to pick the lock, deciding that tonight she will finally unscrew the doorknob and make the door unlockable for once and for all.
But her paperclip isn’t working. Or then again, it is working, she can hear and feel the lock moving but she still can’t open the door. “What have you done now?” she yells through the door.
“I’m only protecting myself, Mel! You of all people should understand that!”
Melanie regrets now more than ever having confessed her rape to her mother. It didn’t heal her, and it’s only given her mother more bizarre ammunition to use against her now. Melanie moves to the living room and then the kitchen and finds what she’s looking for – an absence. A chair missing. Her mother has used the old chair-under-the-doorknob thing. Melanie has always thought that this only works in movies, but as her mother is putting on a Raspberry-worthy performance at the moment, she assumes that her life is simply like this now. Melanie is nothing if not a realist.
“Ma?” Back at the door, she tries again. “Ma!”
“No!” It’s a screech.
“Okay, Ma, I’m going to go pee outside and then I’m going to bed without brushing my teeth.” Melanie walks to the front door and as she opens it she hears behind her the opening of the bathroom door.
Her mother, underwear soaking and her bra undone in the back but still dangling on its straps around her shoulders, stands in the doorway.
“Don’t be silly, Mel,” she says. “You can’t go to bed without brushing your teeth.” She traipses along the hallway to her bedroom and lies on top of the bedspread and stares at the ceiling. Melanie watches her for a moment and then goes back to the bathroom where the shower is still running. She shuts the water off, pees, brushes her teeth, and then returns to her mother’s room. She will dry her, dress her, and give her the medication she is still getting used to. She will put her to bed and kiss her goodnight. And then, as she does only every so often, Melanie will put on boxer shorts and a tank top and she’ll crawl into her mother’s bed and lie there, awake, listening to her mother breathing, snoring, dreaming. And Melanie will pretend that she is six, and that her mother’s snores help to put her asleep. And she will pretend that there will be cereal and chocolate milk in the morning and a yellow school bus stopping a mile down the road to take her to school. And she will remember her mother waking her up and telling her she sleepwalked into her big grownup bed again, and herself pretending that she did indeed, and that it wasn’t on purpose.

Cornered

I am blinded by the light fracturing against the small glass figurines that are set up in long, well-ordered rows on the cabinet shelves. The sparks in my eyes hurt and I shut them, instinctively, and wonder why my instinct would make me do something so dangerous. What if the light were a sign of hostile intent? But evolution, perhaps, didn’t know that light could be used as a weapon, since the only thing relevant to it was the sunlight.
“Who’s there?” I ask. I get no response, but the light goes away and I open my eyes to see Mr. Clairmont, the next-door neighbor, peering at me through slits in his eyes. His cheeks are sunken and his hair stands up in white tufts on the sides of his head.
“How did you get in here?”
He doesn’t answer. He turns around and puts his face into the corner. The flashlight he was holding drops from his hands. He moans and begins to rock back and forth. I don’t know what to do. Should I try to comfort him or see if his caretaker is at home or, if she’s not, call an ambulance?
“Let me stay!” He shouts at the top of his lungs, into the corner, without looking at me. The sound seems to travel up the corner and reverberate across the ceiling towards me. I remember wishing I could stay away from my parents when I was a kid. It was sometimes heartbreaking to leave my friends’ houses where, it seemed to me, everything was so much better. I wonder if Mr. Clairmont can possibly feel the same way. He’s mumbling into his fingers now and he’s turned half towards me so that I can see that his eyes are darting at me with quick, short glances.
“Okay,” I say. “Tea?” He shakes his head. “Hot chocolate?” He shakes his head again. “Warm milk?” I try once more. He shakes his head again. Okay then. I don’t know what he wants, but if he wants to stay, I suppose he can. It’s not like he could attack me in my sleep. For one thing, he’s about eighty and I don’t know how much strength he’s got in those wobbly arms and skinny legs of his. He still refuses to look straight at me, so I sit at the table and wait.
But not for long. I get impatient. So I go to my room and lock the door. I can’t sleep well, though. I keep imagining him out there and I wonder what he’s doing and whether or not he’s lonely. His wisps of white hair make me want to cry when I remember how I saw him on the street the other day trying to make them lie flat across his head, when they insist on flapping about in the wind.
I try to turn the radio on, but then I realize that it’s not plugged in and I don’t feel like getting out of bed to stick the thing in the socket. It seems like so much effort, and I can’t help but think that I should have made up a bed for Mr. Clairmont on the couch. But I don’t think he would actually down.
I must have fallen asleep because the clock now says that it’s five in the morning. I get up and slowly go to see if Mr. Clairmont is still here. I have this horrible feeling that he’s still standing in that same corner, waiting for something that he can’t put into words. Why didn’t I go to his house and see if his caretaker was there?! How could I have been so irresponsible? If he’s lying dead on my kitchen floor, I’m going to get sued. Or worse. Maybe I’ll get accused for neglectful murder? Is there such a thing? Is it like third degree murder or something?
I’m not sure how I get myself out of my room but I do, somehow. And – Mr. Clairmont is in the kitchen, but he’s not in the same corner he was in. He’s humming and wiping down the counters. The moment he sees me, though, he drops the sponge and looks guiltily at the floor. As if he’s expecting me to chastise him or something.
“How are you doing, Mr. Clairmont?”
He looks up at me and smiles. He has a tooth missing. It suddenly seems as if he’s looked like this – exactly like this – since he was a six year old kid who just lost his first tooth. I think he’s had an okay night.