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The International Writers Magazine: Living Now

• Nada Holland
I just told Thirteen Year Old to Shut The F*** Up.

Roses in bath

(He’s at the age where he cannot help but answer back, a slow-death-by-riposte. Like water drop torture.)
It’s not yet 8 AM. Tuesday, February 16th—two days after Valentine’s Day (no roses, no phone calls, no cards). The safest place for me this morning is in the bath.
I’ve added ‘rose soak’. Bubbles are ghostly and white in the dark.

Thirteen Year Old needs to wee. He opens the door, unzips his onesie and sits down on the loo.
Here we are: me under a mound of ‘soak’, my son gently tinkling beside me.
I am brokenhearted. This ‘rose’ foam is a meagre balm.
He sighs in the half-dark. The door is still part open. He knows I want no lights. He sits in his bare chest, the onesie draped around his knees. His child’s torso is perfect and brown.
I smile.
We are doing alright.

I have a baby sister. More than twice his age. It’s her I had hoped to hear from, this Sunday, Valentine’s Day. Her, I’d hoped to speak to on the phone.
But I’ve left her country.
I also once had a husband. My son’s dad. Him I left too. Him, I did speak to, though, on Valentine’s Day, two days ago. He was at my sister’s apartment. I’d asked him to go. He’d brought his mobile for her to ring me. (I’d also asked him to buzz the neighbour, if she did not answer her bell. Or to stand in the street, and shout up at her window. If nothing worked, to get buzzed into the first gate by the neighbour, as stated, then go up her landing and bang her door.)

But he rang to say that she had opened her door, but still would not talk to me on his phone.

My son zips up his onesie. Gets up, makes for the hall. Bends over, scoops up a handful of foam.
‘Don’t do that,’ I snap. And feel guilty. ‘If you want to play with the bubbles, sit on the lid of the loo. Roll up your sleeves.’
He sits down, obedient. Rolls up his sleeves, sticks his bare arms in.
‘Oh, hop in then,’ I say.
He slips out of his onesie, a chocolate cub. Into the tub. ‘Can I make an elephant on the wall?’
‘You may do what you like’, I lie back to make room. ‘The foam is all yours.’

On the tiles, a white little elephant appears. It has foamy white ears, a foamy little trunk.

When my sister was little, we lived in a tropical climate. She was tiny and white, porcelain skinned. When we first arrived, my mother had left her in the sun. The next day, little Mary had second-degree burns.

‘Turn round,’ I tell Thirteen Year Old. ‘I’ll scrub your shoulders.’
He turns, and I wash his small, chocolate back. Rose soak on your shoulders.., I hum. ..Rose soak on your back.. I drizzle little droplets of rose soak water in his neck.

So Mary would not come to the phone this Sunday. ‘Hungover’. She’d opened the door for my ex, said she was hammered, closed the door and went straight back to bed.

I’m in the other country, with my son. Can’t bang her door myself. Can’t call her on her knock-off Nokia, which she won’t answer anyway. Cannot, in fact, do a thing, but from afar watch my baby sister slip away.

Thirteen Year Old in the tub, sensing my silence, cannot help but talk back. ‘Just think back to happy times with your sister, mum.’
He’s death by chocolate-rose-soak.

I think of Mary as a baby, in our tropical home. I’d get in from school, to find her sleeping on the cool concrete of the patio, bronzed, chubby, bare on the floor. The sweetest little bundle of dreams, perfect and self contained in the two o’clock heat.

As the afternoon’d wear on, and she’d grow hot all over again, I’d fetch out a pail. I’d banged holes into an old tin with a nail, and as she would stand out among the pebbles in our courtyard, I’d scoop up tin-fulls of water. She’d stand there with her eyes closed, her tiny silk strands all plastered wet on her head, little toes on the pebbles, in complete surrender, while my tin slowly drip-dropped and drenched her.

Thirteen Year Old is still playing with bubbles. I’m still dripping soak on his back.
..Rose soak on your shoulders.., I hum. ..Rose soak on your neck..
Nada © Nada Holland Feb 2015

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