Meredith rinsed diapers. She lifted the back of her wrists to her eyes to interrupt the sting rising from the scalding water. Previous owners had replaced the basement stationary tub with a kitchen sink so Meredith swished the baby's dirty diapers against porcelain where Mrs. Gotterich had probably squeezed grapes for jellies, had ground meat for goetta. Bleach fumes and baby waste merging with thoughts of food turned her lightheaded, and Merry had a fluttery stomach anyway.
She lay down and set her cheek and her palms and her bare arms and legs—anything not covered by summer fabric—to the cold basement floor. The caustic smell had got in her nose, burned inside her head. She felt scoured out. As she lay there, absorbing solid earth, she read what someone had scrawled on the toy black board. Paul said, "What does a little boy want with a blackboard?", but Meredith and her sisters had loved, as girls, playing school in their cobwebby cellar. Bennie and that boy from behind the house, far beyond the tangled grape vines, had been whooping it up down here.
The words chalked uphill read: Sex is good. Sex is powr.
Misspelling forgiven since the boys were only in kindergarten, but good sex?
Merry felt eviscerated. Her mothering skills were nil, they trailed her into the deep no-good, and dragged her little Bennie through the filth of only-five-ness and into her failure.
She curled and brought her hands to her face, smelled the orange peel under her nails from breakfast. She put her fingers in her mouth and sucked on them. The washer endured its spin cycle, vibrating the floor as if the plumbing had burst. She would lie there, and lie there, until Paul threw open the basement door, calling for her. And what of Bennie, and the baby?
Meredith watered the concrete with her tears and her ugly, ashamed sweating. No one came, no one called, not even the baby cried from her upstairs crib. First steadying her weight on her knees, Merry stood, with the sink rim for help, squeezed out a soppy diaper with her bare hands, then swabbed the blackboard. The quickening in her womb, so familiar this third time, linked less to buoyant memories, anchored blind-eyed and cozy, to every nasty thing that wormed its way under ground.
Donna Vitucci raises funds for nonprofit clients in Cincinnati, OH. Her fiction has appeared in dozens of print and online journals, including Hawaii Review, Meridian, Front Porch Journal, Beloit Fiction Journal, Storyglossia, Insolent Rudder, Turnrow, Juked, Night Train, Smokelong Quarterly, Monkey Bicycle, Gargoyle, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Another Chicago Magazine.
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