The Three Little GirlsA Sea of Brassy Day There was a chlorinated sea once upon a time. A turquoise pool infused with slants of golden sunlight. The strokes of a little girl’s browned flesh flapped against the water, lap after lap; a foamy background to the day. Her curly head moved to the left to breathe, to the right to breathe, and to the left again, like some nursery rhyme yet unwritten. Another little girl a year younger but a little chubbier, lay buried in bubbles, battling in the Jacuzzi against dragons of steam. The little girl’s toes sworded through the water as she held onto the edge of the pool floating on her back. The third little girl, the youngest, floated across that same water making animals from clouds in a bubble above her head. Her long dark hair fanned out, an ode to Ophelia in her watery grave. Their father, dear father, sizzled thick steaks on the grill, a cigarette in one hand a spatula in the other, smoke filling the air. The florescent yellow potato salad and
rolls sat quietly on the scarred picnic table, paper plates and the plastic tub of
margarine keeping them company. The three little girls, for some reason, at the same moment, all took a deep breath and inhaled Kool menthol cigarettes mixed with charred flesh, a deeply satisfying dysfunctional potion. Just then their mother, dear mother suddenly appeared in a Chinese red smock soiled with bits of greasy foo young and shrimp. Her eyes tabulated magically, with one look, the empty Budweiser cans. The mother frowned then her eyes moved to the three little girls. Ordering them out of their sea of fun; to lie one after the other on blue and white faded striped bath towels; lying, drying baking. Three little girls with waiting tummies growling for rib eyes steaks and mustardy onion infested potato salad that even now they taste and savor. Once upon a time this azul rectangular sea would hold the middle girl, the chubby sister, during the day and soothe her at night. Just knowing it lay outside her window gave the little girl; all the three little girls most likely, courage to face the dawning night. This simple body of water gave the girls the strength to survive the nights of shadows making puppet monsters on the ceiling and closet door, nights reeking of rising words in a Holly Hobby oven of hate. The three little girls never knew when their slumber would be transformed into dense forests of fear, when their father, dear father, would wander away from home into bars. Then, only then, would those three little girls be thrown into a nightmare of hiding on the roof or running underneath tears of stars. Sometimes, more than once, they would flee to the park, but a block away… Yet this land could not be the same as the one they lived in during the day; it could not be. They were somewhere else, a Nightmare Never Neverland. The girls would stay in the pool in the glittering day as long as they could. Under the covers in the darkening night they would try to do the same; trying to remember the pool was out there. Trying to remember, that tomorrow no matter what happened, they would all be there in the land of turquoise sea, in the sun, alive and well.
John Wayne’s last film The Shootist was on the television. The three little girls played Monopoly in the living room as their dear father watched television smoking cigarette after cigarette as “The Duke” played a dying man with cancer. Maybe is a hideous word, ugly in its hope. There were no maybes for the girls as the night dawned dark and heavy with tension curtaining the house with every throw of the dice. The girls fought over a move in the game. The older sister cheated, the middle girl threw the board. The youngest sat there calmly as the two bickered, made up, and the game resumed. It was Saturday night and cleaning time for their dear mother. She washed clothes, picked up the mess left by cyclones of childhood, and cussed the entire time. The three little girls paid it no mind, they knew danger, but it had not yet appeared. The father’s show ended. Now it was night. Darkness settled over the land as did the flight in the father’s soul. “I’ll be right back girls,” the father slurred, “I need cigarettes and more Budweiser. I’ll bring you each back a present. I shall get you a Payday, you a Big Hunk and you a Twix.” He patted each girl’s head as he walked slowly out the door. “Daddy hurry home ok,” said the youngest. The father walked out into the night. His night filled with plenty of maybes. Maybe I’ll just stop for one drink at The Palomino, one game of pool. The mother heard the blue Ford pick up truck’s engine as she moved the clothes into the dryer. She walked into the house with a plastic basket filled with clothes. “Stop playing that game. Help me fold these clothes,” the mom ordered. The girls silently began folding the clothes their sibling bickering done. They were one now. A climate of fear pervaded the house. “Where did your dad go,” the mother asked. She was already different, the metamorphosis had begun.
“He went to go get beer and cigarettes,” the eldest answered, “and he will be right back, he said so.” There was no answer from the mom. The minutes ticked by each longer than the last. Five minutes turned into ten minutes, ten minutes to eleven, to twelve, to thirty. The Monopoly game was put away as were the clothes. The three girls took their baths. Still the father did not reappear. Thirty minutes became an hour. The hand of the clock shoved and pushed the mom’s rage higher, now cuss words were dangerous blows. They fled from them, from the TV, into the middle twin’s room as it was the furthest away from their once dear mother who changed, with warning even, into the darkest of witches. One whose wild curly hair and words made them cringe.
They sat in the middle girl’s room and looked at the pool reflecting on the day. “We had so much fun today. We should go to sleep,” the eldest girl said. The words made sense logically but words of logic did not rule this dark land.
“I want to look at the pool,” said the youngest, I don’t want to go to sleep. We might have to get up.” They sat on the bed quiet, the door closed against the spells of rage and the curses against them and their dear father…Then, the roar of the witch’s car. How long did they have? How many minutes would it take the witch to drive from their home to the bar and back? What if he was at a different bar? How long to the next bar? Experts they were at grabbing blankets, pillows and jackets. Out into the night they went hoping no one would see their shame. What fairytale law had they broken to take away their kingdom and transport them to this one? Their footsteps were almost silent. They knew way to the park. They knew their way back it was only over the corner to the right. The park was their night fortress. The park was their mother now that the witch had taken oven their dear mother’s form. They made it in five minutes, and lay inside the Stinky Pee King of Cheese. They lay together, feet in sneakers, with their pajama bottoms poking out of their jackets. The eldest and middle girls had on Wonder Woman pajamas. They loved The Justice League. The youngest girl’s Snow White long nightgown shone in the moonlight. A long time they slept, awakened by the calls of the witch out the car screaming for them. “Not yet, he’s not home yet. I can tell by the sound of her voice,” whispered the youngest. The three little girls fell back into a non-deep sleep for what seemed like days, the longest of nights. The middle girl, the chubby one, dreamt of the sea outside her window. In her dream she and her sisters swam in slants of golden sunlight surrounded by the azul waves created by the strokes of their arms in unison stroke after stroke.The Darkest Night Fled Suddenly As Did The Witch. “Girls come home. Girls come home. Girls come home,” called a voice. The dear mother returned with the retrieval of the drunken father found finally in the bar of The Palomino “Come get him. He was fast asleep on the toilet, good thing I clean the restrooms before locking up.” The owner had called the house at 2 am just when the witch was throwing out all of the father’s clothes on the front lawn. “Girls come home. Girls come home…” No more words best left to the devil. The three little girls were no longer hated. They were loved and even though it was night they could once again feel the sun’s rays upon them. They came willingly into the car. They walked like puppets, strings pulled by the mother’s fingers; into the house where on the table lay a Payday, a Big Hunk and a Twix.
Water Does Not Kill Witches The sound of their mother’s swearing perforates the Saturday morning peace. Words pierce the morning air. The three little girls; Ophelia, Jenny and Lee, all sit watching morning cartoons still in their pajamas and socks. Right behind them their father William makes his famous peanut butter Mickey Mouse pancakes, eggs and thick crispy bacon. Ophelia walks behind her daddy and steals a piece of the bacon fat, her favorite. “Ophelia, stop, wait til I’m done. You’re going to finish the bacon before anyone gets any,” says her dad. “Please let me just have the fatty part daddy, please, I love your bacon,” says Ophelia. “Here, don’t tell your sisters,” the dad hands Ophelia a small mound of fat he had already put to the side, just for her. William now pours the bacon grease onto another skillet. The grease is poured from a greasy coffee can. It adds even more flavor to the pancakes and eggs. No matter what people say William believes the older the grease, the better the taste and none of his family ever got food poisoning. He used to eat grease and bread during the depression so he developed a taste for the taste of bread coated in butter, grease or any other source of fat. William’s girth spoke of his passion for fattening food. As he did most of the cooking his girls also learned to love juicy hamburgers with mayo and pickles and sweet day old donuts from the corner Yum Yums. William ‘s jeans look like they could use a washing. Stains mark his once white t-shirt and his hair is askew; but he is grinning and almost dancing as he creates his culinary masterpiece, in his mind at least. Light green/ blue eyes (depending on the moment) twinkling, and face crinkled as cooking breakfast makes him feel like the world’s best dad. Ever since he had children his greatest joy was feeding them. He always made sure to have plenty of food in the house as when he was a kid in Great Falls, Montana food was so scarce he had to go live in an orphanage for a few years. He pushes those thoughts aside as his side of the family is all-dead. Both his mother and father died of alcoholism and William has no one but this family, now. Jenny and Lee are still watching television when their mom Maria comes in from outside. Ophelia is behind her father in the kitchen with warm bacon fat in her mouth. Their mom Maria walks in yelling, “The car overheated., that f------ car has overheated again!” She throws the milk on the counter making all the girls jump. Lee immediately goes to her room. Jenny sits by the television, still and waiting. Ophelia is stuck in the kitchen and there is no path around her mother. She tries to never ever hear the words. It is hard to block the sounds out. She feels their grip and the bacon grease bloats her mouth and she wants to throw up now. It is always heavy when her mom gets angry, so heavy and at this very moment Ophelia hates her mother but doesn’t say a word, she just stands there but man does she wish. She wishes her mother would just go away. This is when Ophelia realizes that there is no God at least in this home and the Jesus hanging on the wall is a mockery as turning the other cheek in this home was for them and their father a prison. The tirade continues and Jenny steps in following her mom’s requests. Jenny fills up a bucket with water and follows her mom outside. “Mom, I got the water. What are you doing,” Jenny asks, ”Oh, you’re going to cool down the car. Are we still going to see grandpa today?” Jenny is the master of using conversation to steer away the rage from their mother. Ophelia cannot do this. Her eyes and tone of voice always give her away. She knows her mom feels her own rage and reacts accordingly. Their dad’s shoulders are slumped and there is no more dancing but he finishes cooking. “Girls, sit down and eat, where’s Lee,” he asks? Lee mysteriously appears as if she was like the cartoon hero they were watching, Plastic Man, who seeps into the cracks in times of difficulty. She is calm and serene as if she was napping quietly all the while. Her long dark black hair, pale skin and pink ruffled pajamas make her look more like a doll than a four year old little girl. Ophelia eats even though she is not hungry. She does this often. The weight of food dulls her own anger at the witch she calls mother. They sit down and Ophelia wants her Jenny to come inside and eat with them. It is quiet now and their father struggles to fill in the time of waiting. “Girls, when I was your age, all I got to eat was bread and grease. We used to just get a piece of bread with grease on top and some milk. That was our breakfast. I remember I used to dip my bread in the milk,” William jokes and dunks his pancake in his coffee and eats it making the two remaining girls giggle. “Your funny daddy. You lie a lot, “ says Lee. Jenny walks in confidently. She sits down and her skinny frame begins to devour a pancake, two pieces of bacon and an egg, the grease hugging the yolk. “Mom’s fine now. She’s going to cool down the car and then she says later we can go to Carl’s Jr.’s. Ophelia has a mouth full of bacon and eggs but her mind is drawn to lunch now, she begins to plan her meal in her head even though lunch is hours away. I’m going to get a Western Bacon cheeseburger, French fries and a coke. Now there is a different sound that once again interrupts that time of relative joy. “Awwwwww, girls, Will…” This is worse than the swear words, worse than rage, now there is the sound of physical pain. Her mom runs in holding her face. “Help, the water burned my face. Help me girls, Will, help me. It hurts so bad. My face is burned, call the paramedics please…Will…” Her mom is crying and screaming in pain. Ophelia sees her mother’s burned face. It seems a little melted. She wonders, already knowing the answer, if water does kill witches. In “The Wizard of Oz” Dorothy defeats the evil green witch by throwing water on her. But her mom is no witch, she is her mo Ophelia cries and feels guilty for wishing this pain upon her mother. Jenny is calling 9-1-1, Lee holds onto her mom quietly and William sooths his wife. Ophelia watches as everyone except her comforts her mom. Her dad holds her mom now almost like a child. Comforting her and telling Maria how much he loves her. This goes on until a few minutes later the ambulance arrives. Ophelia gets to open the door to the men in bright yellow. She watches as the paramedics examine her mother. Numb, Ophelia walks back into the kitchen, grabs another piece of bacon and goes back into her room to read stories where witches are witches and little girls are heroes. Chapter 3Door to Door
By Jacqueline Mantz Rodriguez These were the days of Halloween trick or treating. There was no other place to get candy back then but door to door. Jen’s, my one year older sister, black leotard and tights hug her skinny frame. I am almost identical in costume except for black mouse ears. Lee, our youngest sister, looks like she could be put in an Easter basket. She struts along, following Jen in her pale pink leotard, tights and of course furry rabbit ears. “Ophelia, you make a great mouse. You want some cheese,” Jen says. They giggle, Jen and Lee, I do not. I have a stomach ache, I’m not sure if it is the Snickers I stole or something else? It is already four p.m. and neither of our parents are home yet. Usually my mother bought our costumes at the Goodwill but this year there was nothing but clowns and devils.
“Mom, can’t we just be animals this year using leotards. You can paint our faces and we can each be a different animal, Jen said.
How did she get this idea? Once again Juanita was smarter and quicker.
“I get to be a bunny, Annie called out.
“I’m a cat, said Juanita.
“I’ll be a dog, I said.However it was not to be. There were no matching leotards to go with the dog ears which were brown.
“Ophelia, be a mouse, said Juanita. “
I don’t want to be a mouse,” I said.
”Ophelia, just get what you can. I need to go to work in an hour.”
My mom worked as a waitress at a restaurant called Yangtzee’s. She had picked up two extra shifts to make the necessary tips to buy our costumes.
I looked at the black ears of the mouse. Mickey was kinda cool but I hated looking so much like Jen. (My whole life I have wanted to be someone different, someone like myself.)
So here I am on Halloween stuck as a black mouse, call me Minnie. I go to the cupboard and grab another Snickers and we run to the door when we see our dad’s face in the window. I always feel special with my dad. We all crowd around him and model our costumes. He hugs and kisses us on our heads. I smell the familiar scent of cigarettes and beer on his breath. He is not drunk though, probably just had a couple with his moving buddies.
“Go get ready daddy,” says Annie. My dad dresses up too. This year my mom had bought my dad a plastic 8 ball costume from Kmart.
“Where is your mom? She needs to paint my face. I thought she would beat me. I could of had another beer.”
My mom walks in at that moment. She is already in her costume as at work the owner let the waitresses dress up. My mom is a witch. Her dress is black, she’s wearing a pointy hat and her face is green.
My dad has a couple more Coors while my mom paints his face. My mom stays behind to give out candy. My dad is a truck driver by trade so his hands are steady as he drives slowly North up Euclid to Upland, CA. This is where the rich live, in my mind at the time anyone who lived in a two story house with tree lined streets was wealthy.
We hear the sirens first and then the blue and red lights fill the rear view mirror.
“Daddy, you owe us...Shhhhh”
My dad pulls over into the Stater Brothers parking lot. He sits quietly smoking a cigarette as a police officer comes to the window.
“Your taillights out sir,” the police officer says, “I need your license and registration…”. The next thing they have my dad out of the truck. I see him talking to the police with his hands raised to them pleadingly. He points to us and we wave and stick our heads out of the truck. It is dark by the time my mom arrives. My dad has a ticket but he shakes the police officers hands as they allow my mom to load us all my dad included into her Ford Thunderbird.
“That 502 is going to cost us a month’s rent,” my mom says calmly, “Good thing that police officer knew me from the restaurant. He let us park the truck.”
“Girls, I’m sorry,” my dad says. He has his arm on my mom’s shoulders. She is in survival mode and saves the fury for later. “You can have all my candy I have stashed at home,” says daddy.
Us girls eat miniature Snickers, M&Ms & Babe Ruth’s from the bright orange tub that was once meant for trick or treaters. We hear our parents raised voices. We try to concentrate on the chocolate in our mouths and shut out the fury fears.