Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 13: Roxanna


I clean for her every other Tuesday.
She lives in a 2 bedroom condo
with two kids under 7 and an ageing Sheltie
named Rufus.  Her husband, stationed
in Afghanistan, exists only in a wedding portrait
hung at the top of the narrow stairs.
My first clue: Bobby’s bed-wetting,
Sara’s booger-art on the wall
of the upper bunk.  Dead guppies
on the windowsill.  Sara’s half-empty inhalers
stuffed into a Hello Kitty backpack. 

Second clue:  wading through empty bags
from every fast-food joint in Fircrest.
McDonald’s.  Burger King.  Dairy Queen,
Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino’s.  In some places,
the ketchup-stained wrappers and Big Gulp
cups, napkins, plastic forks and spoons,
drift up to my knees.  One bad week,
I run out of garbage bags, have to haul trash
out to the dumpster bundled in dirty towels.
By then, I know not to ask questions
about the love notes scrawled in pink lipstick
across the bathroom mirror, the plus-size
lingerie draped over chairs like spiderwebs,
the whispered, throaty phone dates
behind the locked bedroom door.

But the last clue that it is finally time to quit? 
It isn’t the time I arrive to find Rufus’s fur
coated in peanutbutter, Bobby grinning
like a bright-eyed demon.  I wash him
for Mommy!  Or when he sprays cooking oil
on all the windows, the TV, into the VCR,
the computer, beams, I do Windex!  I do shiny!
No, the day that breaks my heart comes
as I mop the kitchen floor that won’t dry.
Water pours out of the light fixture above me.  I stare:
broken pipe?  Leak from the roof?  Miracle?
No.  Bobby is upstairs in his mother’s shower,
playing Mutant Ninja Turtles while Roxanna
keeps a ‘date’ on the phone.  In the dark.
I don’t remember dropping the mop.  Don’t
remember the stairs.  Just my fist
on the bedroom door, my palm pounding,
my fist, my palm – where is your son?  where
is Bobby?  And then, the shower:  drain
plugged with a washcloth, Ninja Turtles swimming
in the warm water, water line on the glass
door approaching two feet high.  Bobby,
laughing, splashing.  Roxanna pulls open
the shower door, small tidal wave gushes
like water breaking.  She grabs her son
and screams What are you doing?

It takes every towel in the house to dry
that floor.  I throw them in the wash.  I take out
five bags of garbage.  All the time thinking, CPS.
I remember my mother’s binges, her vomit,
my dead sister, my loneliness. I remember foster care.
I remember my husband saying, If you leave me
for a woman, you’ll never see these kids again.
How many ways can mothers lose children?  
How many times can children lose their mothers?

I go home, bathe my daughter, my son.
Read them stories.  Put them to bed.  All night,
I think about Roxanna's hands
gripping Bobby's thin white arms.  Think
to myself, hang on.  Hang on.

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