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Only Women Bleed MAG
If I marry him, Imarry 20 husbands worth of torture."
Rosanne took another puff of hercigar. She drew out the smoke rings and blew them up, up to the cheap ceilingplastered with peeling sea-green paint.
The smoke disappeared as itsfingers reached toward the top, leaving a trail of dust.
"It can't bethat bad." I cautiously moved one of my leather pumps on the crackedlinoleum floor and prayed nothing would crawl into my shoes.
She laughed,a sound that seemed like it had just broken out. It died away into a hackingcough. She bent over and started turning red.
I pounded her back."You okay?"
She straightened and brushed me away. "I'mfine, fine."
"You can get out of it, you know. Not everything'sgone bad."
She looked at me levelly, then swept her hand languidlyaround the room. "Tell me this isn't bad."
I looked around. Theplace hadn't changed much since I was a kid, yet it wasn't the same room anymore,with the now-familiar pieces of broken glass reeking of whiskey. The well-worncracks became jagged daggers that held blood. Rosanne's blood.
I glancedat Rosanne, who had been watching me look at the room. She turned her face away,but it was too late. I had seen how her whole face sagged when I couldn't sweepaway the curtain of disapproval I was certain had fallen over myface.
Rosanne bowed her head, her stringy, graying hair trailing down herchest.
"Don't marry him," I said earnestly. "Come to L.A.with me. You can stay with me and Sean and the kids until-"
"Until you find me a retirement home, you mean?" Shestubbed out her cigar and stared at my chin, not meeting my eyes. "I don'tneed your charity.''
"I don't want you to live here. Not likethis. With him. Especially since I have -"
She interrupted again."You think that just because you have money and a man you can waltz in hereand make everything right." Her eyes glazed over, something tobacco couldn'thold back. "I'm marrying him. So I can stand on my own. Without yourhelp."
A leaden silence enveloped the room. Rosanne still wasn'tmeeting my eyes. I stood, hearing a snapping sound from the backs of my knees.The floorboards creaked. It felt like I had been here for ages.
I watchedmy mother start another cigar. She would close her eyes, and her chest wouldrise. As she exhaled, her entire body seemed to loosen, and when she opened hereyes, they seemed more vacant than before.
I tried to imagine her wearinga white wedding gown made for models, hiding a body shrouded with bruises andscratches from her dearly beloved. With an overjoyed smile on her glowingEstée Lauder face. Beaming with happiness and saying "Ido."
I wanted to feel my hand on hercrater-cloaked face, to know that there was still blood coursing through herveins and that this woman was still my mother. But the distance between us seemedto widen with every second her eyes darted around my face - to the floor, herfeet, the scratched pictures on the wall.
Instead, I said, "Youshouldn't be smoking."
She continued puffing away.
I walked tothe one window in her apartment, blurred with food stains. Sitting on thewindowsill was the snow dome I had given her when I was eight. I traced thescratches with my finger.
The sound of cracking fingers ricocheted off thewalls.
I turned to face her again. "Why are you doing this toyourself?"
She straightened and gave my forehead an unblinking stare."I told you. The money. I need to get back on track."
"Youdon't have to marry him to get back on track. This isn't the'50s."
"I'm going to die in the next decade. It might as well bethe '50s." Her voice was dead. Its flatness rang loud in my ears. Therewasn't anything else to say.
I buttoned my wool jacket. "It's late. Ihave to pick up Elyssa."
When I stepped out of the doorway, she wasstaring at the snow dome.
* * *
Mommy's hairlooked almost golden. The sunlight streaming in through the fogged windows bathedher hair with dancing dust. Then it shook, making ripples. Flashes of glintingbrown glass sparkled in her hands. Mommy was drinking her magic drink again. Thisusually meant she was sad.
I closed the door behind me. It made a softthump. Mommy turned her back, so that the brown wouldn't show.
"Whatis it?" The t's were slurred, blurred together by the smell of alcoholhanging in the air.
"I've got a present."
Her backtwitched. "Presents cost a whole lotta fu - a whole lotta money. Peopledon't get you presents unless they get one, too. Now we gotta shell out a lottamoney for some mother f***er who don't give a s**t about you." She took aswig from the bottle and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Whenever Mommy used thef-word, it usually meant Daddy was being mean again.
I fingered thesnow dome in my backpack. "No one gave me anything. I have something foryou."
She stiffened. "Yeah? What is it?" She twistedaround, her face in the shadows of her hair.
I handed her the snow dome.She took it gingerly as if it were a bomb.
"Why'd you give to this tome? It's not my birthday."
"I thought it lookednice."
"And it's not Christmas. And even if it were, there'snever any snow. You shouldn't have spent money on this. It's completely useless,you know."
I didn't say anything. She brushed her hair back. A smilebroke free from her frowning face.
"Go do your homework." Sheplaced the snow dome on the windowsill. "It'll look okay here.
* * *
She called me a month later. "Roger and I gotmarried last week."
The phone had rung after I put the kids to sleep.I had to run for it before they woke up. "You did?"
"I'mback from my honeymoon," she continued.
"You should come and see me." Her voice broke alittle. "If you have nothing else to do, that is."
"Sure.Where are you?"
"I moved in with him. Just a couple miles fromyou."
I jotted down the address. "Okay, got it.Rosanne?"
I wrapped the telephone cordaround my fingers. "How are you?" I winced at my lack of subtlety.
She cackled. "Hasn't laid a hand on me, if that's what you werewondering. Actually, everything's been going great. He bought me a new microwavefrom a garage sale his friend was having."
"That's nice ofhim."
"So how does next week sound?"
I ran throughthe week: Monday, overtime. Tuesday, dinner with Sean and his boss. Wednesday,Elyssa's piano recital. Thursday, empty.
"I'll bring Elyssa by afterschool."
We said our good-byes and hung up. I stared at thephone.
Married. It was like a bad TV rerun. I thought about this whilelying in bed. Sean asked me why my cheeks were wet even though I waslaughing.
* * *
Rosanne taught me everythingI know about being a woman.
I had never been good at school. So a smilespread wide over my face when Miss Choi returned my spelling test with a red"A" scrawled on it.
I ran home from school. Although Mommy hadnever been affectionate, she had to be happy about this.
I swung open thedoor. "Guess what?"
Then I heard the sound of glass shattering.And a realization slapped me in the face. My father had come home. I whirledaround and ran up the stairs to my room. I buried my head under my pillow andtried not to hear. But they were so loud, no amount of pillows could shut themout.
"F***ing whore." My dad's voice, although muffled throughmy pillow, was still dripping with alcohol.
I heard a thumpingnoise.
"... not supposed to be here ..." Mommy's voice was afaint whine.
"Who is he? I'll beat you black and blue if you don'ttell me."
"David, there's no one.
Then a body slamming onto the ground.
I pushed the pillow, drenched with the salt of my sweat,harder around my ears. My head was throbbing. Tears were carved into my checks.The darkness of the pillow was peaceful. The scratchy cotton of my pillow closedaround me. Mommy's and Daddy's voices faded into a dull lullaby. The pounding inmy head became rhythmic. The voices, the pillow, the pounding bledtogether.
Then, I felt a coarse hand on my shoulder. It could only beMommy. I squeezed my eyes shut and pretended I was asleep.
"I knowyou're awake."
I said nothing.
"I - I just want you toknow that -" her voice broke. Then she cleared her throat. "That's thelast time he'll do that."
I lifted the pillow. It was still the shapeof my head. Cold air whipped around my face.
Her hand moved to myforehead. "I'm your mother. I'll always be. No matter what happens, I'malways yours."
I turned my head to her.
It was even worse thanthe last time. There were jagged lines that ran down her face, encrusted withblood. Her cheeks were rubbed raw, her eyes two white dots lost in blackwhirlpools.
Her eyes quickly dropped.
"Everything is alright.As long as we have each other, it'll be okay." But all I could see was theblood on her face.
She was mine. So it was my blood. I turned back aroundand pulled the pillow back over my head. That was not the face of awoman.
"You said that last time, Mommy. You said that you gotstronger after last time."
"I know, but -"
"Yousaid that you wouldn't let Daddy hit you anymore.
"You promised he wouldn't."
"You said you'd rather die than have Daddy make you bleedagain."
But I could no longer feel sympathy."You said that you were a woman, and that women don't bleed likethat."
"Please." Her voice was choked. "Please try tounderstand."
"You're mine. But I don't want you to be mine. Notlike that."
She touched my head again. Her hand was warm. Andwet.
I heard a sigh. By the time I lifted my pillow from my head, she wasgone.
* * *
Roger's apartment was in aneighborhood where the streets were littered with bent trash cans, and there wasthe smell of alley rats. The buildings were decaying, roof tiles swinging freely.People hurried around, hands over their eyes or ears, with fingers poking throughshorn gloves. I felt a heaviness grasping my chest. This was a whole differentworld.
The warmth of Elyssa's hand had slipped from mine. I whipped myhead around; she had crumbled onto the cracked concrete. I almost fell myselfrunning to her. "What happened?"
She reached for my hand. I tookhers and pulled her up. "I tripped. It really hurts, Mom."
Ibent down and pulled up her corduroy pants. Her knee wasbleeding.
"It's alright, Elyssa. You only skinned yourknee."
"But it really hurts!"
"When we get toGrandma's, we'll find a Band-Aid."
I tried to stifle a smile. Elyssacould be so dramatic. "Now let's go. Grandma's waiting forus."
"I can't walk." But she followed me.
Roger'sapartment looked exactly like all the others. The bricks were chipped and thecolor of teeth that hadn't been brushed in years. The windows were a dirty green,the same color of the stench of old socks hung in the air.
I rang thedoorbell. Then I jumped back. A burly shape hustled past me and down the stairs.It had to be Roger.
The sound of glass broke around me, like the tinklingof bells. "Get the hell outta here!"
I lookeddown at Elyssa. She seemed unfazed.
"Is this where Grandmalives?"
"Elyssa? Is that you?"
Rosanne appeared inthe doorway. There was no alcohol in her hands, but this made my stomach tighteneven more. She was pungent with its smell, the heavy sweetness I've alwaysassociated with her.
There was also a long scratch running down her neck.It glistened red. She saw me looking at it. I raised my eyebrows.
Shelowered her eyes.
Elyssa ran into Rosanne's arms. Maybe she was oblivious,maybe she didn't care. I was too busy running my eyes over the rest of the placeto worry much.
It was a two-room apartment. The larger room was the livingroom. A decrepit TV sat in the corner. A striped sofa was in front of it, andsmashed beer cans were scattered everywhere. A refrigerator sat in the tiledportion the room with a Formica table. The curtains were nice though, flowery andsheer.
Elyssa took a step back from Rosanne and grinned. "Grandma,you're bleeding!" she said. "I am, too! Did you fall down on something,too?"
Rosanne moved her hair so that it lay over the scratch. "Ifell on a piece of glass, sweetie." She looked at me and said,"Really."
"But still! We're the same!"
I knew Ishouldn't say anything, but I couldn't help it. "Grandma's used to bleeding,Elyssa," I told her.
Rosanne said nothing.
"Even thoughgirls aren't supposed to bleed."
"Why not?" Elyssasaid.
"They're strong. At least, they're supposed tobe."
"I really did cut myself on the glass, you know,"Rosanne said.
"I wasn't talking about the glass."
Shesaid, "I guess you're wondering where that microwave is.
"Thecurtains are nice."
Rosanne swept her hand around the room."Big, huh?"
"Grandma, your old house was bigger."Elyssa ran toward the TV, stepping over crumpled magazines and cigarettebutts.
Rosanne's smile froze, and faded into a frown. She walked to therefrigerator, took out a Budweiser and opened it. "It's not that bad."She swallowed. "Want one?" she asked.
"So, where was Roger going? I saw himleaving."
"He broke something of mine. Don't have any candy,Elyssa."
"And he left?"
"I told him he shouldleave. For now."
"What did he break?" I asked again.
"Something I liked."
Rosanne turned to Elyssa. "Want to watch some cartoons?There." She pointed to the remote on top of the TV.
"What did hebreak?" I asked. Elyssa raced to the television, snatched the remote, andthe screen flickered.
"I don't want to talk aboutit."
"You don't feel like doing anythinganymore."
She finally met my eyes. Usually when she smiled, thecorners of her eyes would wrinkle. But now her eyes were vacant. They darted tothe left. I followed them. I saw glinting pieces of glass on the floor, almosthidden by the legs of the sofa.
"No, don't go ..."
But Iwas already on the floor. I picked up the pieces one by one and held them in myhand. They were shards of the snow globe.
I rose slowly. She was avoidingmy eyes again.
Then she spoke. "It fell. It was right there, Icouldn't avoid it."
"I thought you said Roger brokeit."
"I did. I was feeling, I was feeling a little ...dizzy"
Finally, she met my eyes. The shame shone bright. I didn'thave to say that she was the one who was yelling at him when we came. That itwasn't she who "accidentally" broke it.
"You've had toomuch to drink," I said instead.
"Yeah ... I have." Shealready knew I knew.
"You need to sleep."
"Yeah ...I do. "
I left Elyssa sitting in front of the TV as I followed her tothe bedroom. It was a companion to the rest of the apartment, with peelingwallpaper. The windows, however, were surprisingly clean. Light spilled in,immersing the room in a warm glow.
Rosanne climbed into the bed. Itgroaned loudly as the springs creaked. But Rosanne seemed oblivious, turning herface toward the window. I pulled the blanket up around her.
I watched her,the strands of her hair trailing down her chest rising and falling with herbreathing. Her graying brown hair was gold in the sun.
Elyssa crept in.Her small face peered up. "Is Grandma okay now?"
"I'm going to watch some more television." As sheturned, her sneakers squeaked on the floor. I couldn't help but notice her brownhair also shimmering gold in the warm rays.
Then I watched my motherbreathe. She wasn't okay. She wasn't going to be okay. Her wrinkles werepermanent. I ran my finger lightly over her forehead, feeling the lines engravedon her forehead.
A bottle of whiskey was on her nightstand.Typical.
She moaned. Her eyes fluttered open. She turned her head andreached for the bottle. I watched her struggling to reach it. I remembered allthose times I told her that alcohol was terrible for her.
I took thebottle in my hands, and after a moment held it out to her. She moaned again andreached for it with her yellowing, paper-thin hands. She squeezed it so tight herknuckles turned white.
"All mine," she murmured. "Allmine."
I turned off the light. She wasn't mine any longer.