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Today there’s another weird bug in the shower. Mom and I have been killing them for weeks. The centipedeish ones are helpless. She splashes those once and they’re lifted easily off their many legs, off the side of the green porcelain tub and down the drain.
Today it’s a spindly spidery one, the kind with a tiny body and legs like strands of hair. This one has a stinger. The spindly-legged ones can float and this one sort of prances around the drain for a bit but then she drops a cupful of water on top of it.
I’m watching her, sitting on the closed toilet seat.
She lets the water run over the crime scene for a minute, watching the spot where the bug was, clenching her jaw, convinced that the bug has left a poison residue that she might absorb through the soles of her feet.
She tells me that she thinks there’s an army of them under the bathroom but that they come out one at a time because these are the scouts.
“No one who ventures up that drain ever returns…” she narrates in a deep voice while she shampoos her hair.
The sky is white. I’ve taken a book out here with me and I’m waiting for the storm, breathing in the air like adrenaline and letting the wind flip the pages of my book to what ever chapter it wants. I read that page until it flips to a new one and I’m piecing together a message that the wind must want me to know. My fingers are red and hard to bend but I’m going to wait here until the wind blows so hard that my heart speeds even though I’m not afraid and the first snowflakes melt and make bubbles of ink in the text of my book.
Mom is sitting in the middle of the almost empty living room, in the middle of the white shag carpet. There is a half empty coffee mug beside her, ten minutes ago it was triple espresso.
“Your eyes are twitching.” I tell her.
“I know,” she says, “I'm working on it.”
We hear the kitchen door open and close. Mom says nothing but tightens her grip on the carpet.
“Maggie, he’s dead,” says my aunt Louisa, appearing at my shoulder.
She brushes past me into the room. I stay in the doorway.
“Who’s dead?” Mom asks calmly, eyes closed.
“Donny he was… What are you doing?”
“She’s trying to overheat her brain.” I explain, “She drank all that coffee and if she can get her eyes to stop twitching…”
“How did he die?” Mom interrupts without opening her eyes.
“He was old.” Louisa says absently, she’s trying to leave.
“But how did he die?”
“He was sick.” My aunt is always trying to leave. She is only ever here when she’s between other places.
Mom’s leg starts bouncing against the carpet. She closes her eyes. I turn away and go to the kitchen.
My aunt follows a few minutes later. She sits down across the tiny table and begins, absentmindedly to sip from the white coffee mug she’s apparently just confiscated from my mom. She crosses one leg over the other and the foot on top starts bouncing.
“Who died?” I ask her.
“Who’s Donny?” past tense, I think.
“He was at Grandma’s, your mom hung him above the bathtub.” I know she means hanging in a cage but I think about a tiny bird hanging by a tiny noose, tiny feet twitching.
“You should try to get her out of the house.”
“She needs to do things.”
“She does things.” I think about the bugs.
Louisa raises her eyebrows. She takes a sip of Mom’s coffee.
“So you’re going out tonight?” she asks, probably noticing my makeup.
“Will there be boys there?”
Louisa likes to think that she’s the cool aunt who I could tell things to.
“You can tell me anything” I remember her swearing, the day she noticed that I had shaved my legs.
“Yeah there’ll be boys.”
She starts to respond then stands up suddenly.
“What was in that coffee!” She’s opening and closing her palms probably in time with her racing heart.
She grabs her black shiny bag and red scarf from the back of her chair. She hasn’t taken off her coat. I watch her black shoes and the tiny piece of black stockinged leg. I realized I have no idea what kind of outfits Louisa wears. She never takes off her coat.
“Bye.” I say. She put the red scarf around her neck and throws one side over her shoulder.
“Have fun.” She reaches for the doorknob, which was right behind her in the tiny kitchen.
There are red chili pepper lights blinking out of sink with the beat of the music. I try to make the two pulses line up and feel like I’m holding two repelling magnets together. There’s a boy leaning against the yellow wall. I lean against it too, too close to him. He swallows, looks over his shoulder for a rescue. I smile and put my hands on his cheeks. I kiss him, it lasts only a minute then I pull away.
After Louisa leaves I go back to the living room. I stand in the doorway and watch Mom warring with her twitching eyes. She’s sitting up perfectly straight. Her little hands are white and she’s twined her fingers into the rug and is holding on as though the whole picture is upside down and she and the rug are flat against the ceiling.
“I’ve been feeling a little guilty,” I say, “about killing the bugs.”
She doesn’t answer.
“Mom? Wanna go somewhere?”
“Maybe tomorrow you can shower alone? They never come back once you drown them. I think it’s probably okay.”
He’s staring at me, staring like tasting. He puts his hands on the wall on either side of my head. I like it here, between him and the wall. How long I can stay before I have to kiss him again, before he loses interest? His eyes blink black and red with the lights. I duck quickly under his arm, find the bathroom and press my face right up to the mirror.
“Donny’s dead.” Mom says, eyes closed. “He hung himself in the shower.”
“You hung him in the shower.” I tell her.
“But don’t you see him in a little bird noose when you think about it?” Her leg starts twitching again.
“No.” I say, “He was in his cage.”
She opens her eyes for a minute and looks at me.
“Yeah I know.” She says
“I’m going to a party.” I say
“Will there be boys there?”
“You know, they’re probably scared of you.” She says.
“You should kiss them. Don’t wait for them to…”
I find someone’s coat in the pile near the door and put it on, it’s too big. Outside the snow is frozen like ice. Behind me, near the ground, the basement windows throb with the red lights and the bass from the stereo. Whoever’s cell phone is in my pocket buzzes once. I slip across the surface of the snow, pretending that the lawn is a lake. I step and slide as lightly as I can, trying not to fall through.