Big Girl Now

June 27, 2010
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Sami is seven years old today. She’s a big girl now. That’s what her mother says, anyway. “You’re a big girl now, Sami!” she says, after Sami blows out her seven candles. The wax from the big one in the middle of the cake drips onto the red frosting, and I wonder if since Sami is a big girl now she will be allowed to eat as much cake as she wants. Mommy says I’ll be able to when I turn seven. She says I’ll have a big party too, with an even bigger Moonwalk bouncer than I had for my sixth birthday, and a snow cone machine and a rock climbing wall. Daddy frowned and looked away, but he’s always like that—he’s never happy when he thinks Mommy spoils me.
Yellow camera lights flash and hurt my eyes as we all sing happy birthday, reflecting off the pyramid of shiny colored presents piled at the end of the kitchen table. Then Sami’s mother makes a long cut through the heart of the cake, and starts handing out pieces. I scoop a red glob of frosting off with my tongue.
“Clary,” I hear Sami’s dad say from behind me, and I turn, my finger in my mouth as I lick off sticky frosting. I hastily wipe it on a confetti patterned napkin. “You’re mother’s waiting in the mudroom. Sorry sweetie, but she says it’s time for you to go.”
I frown. I don’t want to leave yet! And why Mommy? I thought Daddy was supposed to be picking me up, much later? Then I understand. Daddy must have told her to do it; I know that they were going to be somewhere together while I was at the party. Daddy told me they were talking to someone who could help them work out their disagreements.
“Hurry along, Clary,” Sami’s dad says, patting my back. “Your mom looked like she was in a hurry.”
I get up reluctantly from my chair and shuffle over to where my coat is hanging on a hook by the dog’s dish, and Sami’s dad helps me put my arms through the holes. Then with a last regretful look back at Sami and the presents and the brightly lit kitchen, I follow him to the door.
Mommy looks relieved when she sees me, and I’m glad that I can make her happy. But her face quickly creases into lines of worry, and she takes my arm and marches me out into the night without even a goodbye to Sami’s dad.
“We’re taking a little trip,” Mommy says as she opens my door. There’s something wrong with her voice; it sounds as though she’s had a bad cold. She fights impatiently with my seat belt, brushing my hands away, until it makes contact with a sharp click.
“A trip where?” I wonder, but my question is drowned by the slam of the door. I jump, and tuck my hands and feet in closer. Mommy shuts her own door, jangling her keys with irritation until she finds the right one, and then jams it into the car just as I see a flash of headlights in the mirror. I crane my neck, squinting through the darkness.
“Hey, that’s Daddy!” I say suddenly, feeling relieved; this new, harried Mommy is starting to make me nervous. “Maybe he didn’t know you were picking me up.” I watch as Daddy stops his car and climbs out. “D’you think?”
That’s when I look back at Mommy, and I fall silent. Her face has gone red, and she’s glaring at the mirror as though it has been really mean to her.
Then without a word, she stamps down and the car shoots forward.
“Stop!” I shriek, my stomach in my mouth; but Mommy ignores me, going faster and faster, peeling out of the driveway and off down a black road. Tree shadows flash past in great gallops. I tear my gaze from the window and clutch the sides of my leather seat. “Stop!” I cry again, but Mommy only pushes the car faster, and then she turns to look at me—
The expression on her face makes me feel cold all over, like I’ve been drenched with a bucket of ice water. Her face is red with fury; her eyes are narrowed into black slits, and her clawed hands grip the steering wheel so hard that I think it might break. It’s as though she’s wearing a mask, a horrible, grotesque mask that is covering the face of my mother. I shrink into my seat and close my eyes.
Then suddenly I feel the car jerk to a stop. Mommy flings open the door and slams it so hard the whole car shakes. I sit frozen for a moment in the quiet, and then peek over the edge of the window. There’s another car a little ways away on the edge of the long, dark road, and Mommy’s silhouette is striding to meet someone—Daddy! I struggle with the door handle for a moment, and then tumble out of the car onto the grassy ground. Scrambling towards them, I nearly trip on a root barely illuminated by the moonlight.
“You were going to take her away!” Mommy is yelling, and I freeze, struck again by the mask of anger still covering her face. Was this really Mommy? “You think you can do that to me? You think—“
“Clary!” Daddy says, taking a step toward me, but the women with the mask blocks his path.
“Oh, I don’t think so!” she screams, and an image of the wild animals at the zoo flashes before my eyes. “I don’t think so! I don’t think so!”
My vision blurs, and a muffling blanket descends heavily, silently over me. I’m cold.

What is wrong with you?
I don’t think so!
You’re not taking her like this! Look at yourself!
You think you can take everything away from me, everything, everything! Quiet, Clary!
You think you can take my house from me? Fine, but you’re not having Clary…!
What the hell is wrong with you? Let go of her!
You’re not doing this to me! Be quiet, Clary!
Let go of her now! Victoria!

I said, shut up, Clary!

There’s a vibrating of a car under me; my hands clutch the soft fabric, curl around the smooth face of a seat belt. My face is stinging.
“Clary,” the voice says again, and the car swerves over to the side of the road. Feather duster trees sway back and forth, back and forth outside the window, reaching up as though to touch the stars. Daddy jerks the keys from the car and pulls me over into his lap, his arms folding around me.
“It’s okay,” whispers Daddy. “It’s okay. Mommy…won’t do that ever again. I promise.”
Mommy? Or the women with the mask? Their two faces blur together my mind, entwined into one.
The mask won’t come off.

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