Authors: Ann Dee Ellis
Plus, Mrs. Dean doesn’t like her so I do.
Mom told all her students that she wasn’t teaching for a while.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, should I plan on bringing him next month?”
“I’m so sorry to bug you, but he loves these classes and we paid for three months in advance.”
No response from Mom.
“Are you okay?”
No response from Mom.
Mom was just standing at the front door and I was standing behind her, and Mrs. Willis, whose kid Seth had been taking lessons
for six months, was talking through the screen door. Mom wouldn’t let anyone in.
“Umm, well. So I guess we’ll just wait.”
“Do that,” Mom said.
“You have no idea?”
Mom was in her bathrobe and she was slumped.
I wanted to tell Mrs. Willis to shut up and leave.
But she still talked and Mom still slumped. “Is there anything I can do?”
Mrs. Willis looked past her at me — she sort of gave me a look like please help but I made my face stone like Mom’s.
“Some of the other moms have been wondering too.”
Mom walked away and I was left there standing with Mrs. Willis.
“Go away,” I said, and I shut the door.
Now, since the art room is mine for a while, I act like Mom and lock the door.
And I turn on her CDs.
With her music and her paintings and the smell of oil, I can almost imagine everything back how it was.
: watercolor on wall
COLBY AND THE SPYDER
I give Colby the sugar but then he doesn’t leave.
Instead we go outside and sit in the Spyder.
We only do it because Colby begs me.
I don’t like the Spyder so much.
Colby wants to be behind the wheel. “This is such a cool car.”
We came out the back door because Colby says the signs say no entrance, not no exit, which is true.
So we’re sitting there and he says, “Did your dad ever let you drive it?”
No one has really driven it since Dad bought it. It just sits.
“I’ve driven the Dean Machine.”
“Yeah. Tons of times.”
“Oh,” I say.
“And I could drive this thing too. I could smoke some pavement with this.”
I look at the rearview mirror while he’s talking. It’s black outside. And stars with just a sliver moon.
“How fast do you think this could go?” he asks, and he is massaging the steering wheel.
“I don’t know.” I wonder if Mom is in the shower.
“Fast,” he says.
Then we sit and Colby has his hands on the wheel and I have my hands in my lap.
Colby starts making vrooming noises like we’re driving.
I just sit.
Mom is inside taking a shower.
She’s back. Things are going to be back to normal, even with Colby.
A light goes on at Colby’s.
“I gotta go,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say.
Then he says, “Thanks for saying I don’t suck.”
And then he says, “I think McKinley Prep is going to be stupid.”
“Me too,” I say.
And then he does something weird.
He puts his hand on my head — like he’s my grandma or something.
I don’t know why but my stomach flips.
I look at him and he is looking at me. Weird-like.
“What?” I say.
He turns red again and says, “Nothing.” And then he gets out and runs home.
After Colby leaves, I stay in the Spyder.
In the dark, I feel like someone else.
Dad is coming home.
Mom is in the shower.
Colby put his hand on my head.
I am about to get out when I see a car pull into Norma’s.
It’s Norma’s red car.
I sink down in my seat.
Mr. Grobin goes around and helps Norma out of the car.
She’s wearing her yellow T-shirt and tie-dye stretch pants and she’s walking really slowly.
Part of me wants to run over there or yell or do something.
Instead I sit scrunched up in the Spyder.
She’s sick and she didn’t tell me.
She almost died.
I scrunch up even more.
Inside I put the marshmallow bag in the trash and try to wipe up the counter.
The shower isn’t on.
“Mom,” I yell.
“Mom, do you want your pills?”
Maybe she is in the shower drying off.
I get the sorbet and the pills and a cup of noni, which maybe is the reason she is feeling so good, and go to her room.
She isn’t there.
“Mom?” No answer but the light in her bathroom is on.
“Mom?” I knock on the door.
Nothing. I try the knob. It’s locked. “Mom?”
Knock again. “Mom?”
I put my ear to the door — I can hear something but I can’t tell what it is. Like a buzzing sound.
“Mom? What are you doing?”
She doesn’t answer.
“Mom, open the door.”
“Please, Mom. Open the door.”
Please no please no please no.
I pound on the door. “Mom! Open the door!” Pound and pound and pound on the door.
“Mom, please. Please open the door.” I pound and pound and pound until my fist is red and my throat hurts from yelling.
I slide to the ground and accidentally knock the sorbet and pills and noni over. The black noni spirals on the white carpet
and the sorbet falls in a big green pile.
I am breathing deep and watching the noni slowly spread and touch the sorbet. Then the two are together — pushing against
I’m thinking they would mix but instead they push at each other and make spikes — like they’re fighting for space.
I put my finger where they touch and trace them together into a spiral — a noni and sorbet spiral around and around and around
At the funeral, Dad spoke.
He wore his pink shirt and the tie he wore when he was recognized by his network — his lucky tie that cost over 200 dollars.
He got a haircut and new shoes and he looked like he was supposed to.
He tried to have Mom do her hair. “You’ll feel better.”
But Mom just sat in front of the mirror and wouldn’t move.
Dad’s eyes were tired.
“Roxie, please. We have to leave in fifteen minutes.”
I was sitting on the toilet, watching her get ready.
Since it happened, I didn’t like to be alone. I followed Mom wherever she went. I slept on the floor in her room. I ate when
she ate. I did what she did.
She never said I couldn’t. She never said she was mad.
So I sat on the toilet, my hair a mess too.
“Mazzy, get up and get going,” Dad said. His body almost took up the entire doorway. I never realized how big he was.
I looked at Mom. She didn’t move, just sat looking blankly at the mirror.
The day before, Dad had gone out and got us both new clothes. He got Mom a silk gray shirt and a black skirt that was a little
too big even though he took one of her other skirts to size it.
It had been a week and Mom had already lost weight.
He got me a purple dress.
“Purple?” I said when he got back. He shrugged. “The lady said it’d be good for this kind of thing.”
The dress was bulky — too big everywhere. So Mom and me, we looked like sacks. Dad looked like a TV sports anchor with a shirt
my mom had picked out.
After I put on the dress, I was going to go to the kitchen to get some water but then I saw Dad with his head in his hands.
He was shaking.
I wasn’t thirsty anymore.
We sat in the front pew.
Dad sat at the stand because he was talking.
The casket was right there. Right in front of me and Mom. It looked like a doll box. Like one of Olivia’s doll beds.
The picture of Olivia at Newport beach sitting on top — the one we took the year before on our family vacation.
Next to Mom was Agnes and her five kids and then Ted her husband. They were the only family we had and they flew all the way
from Kansas, which cost them over a thousand dollars. They had to get a hotel too because there obviously wasn’t room at our
house and that was fine and everything, but Ted had a new job and it was not easy to get work off and to lose all that money.
“Oh,” said Mom.
I think Norma was there too.
I don’t remember if Mr. Grobin was there but I don’t think he was.
My old best friends.
And then a whole bunch of people from the church and from Mom’s art classes.
Dad’s people were there too. His boss named Jerry who told me once that my face was a pumpkin, some other sports guys and
three football players who played for the Skins. Dad was excited about that. “They didn’t need to come all that way.”
The whole church was full.
Dad had his TV voice when he gave his talk.
At the end he said this: “I love my wife. I love my daughters.” It was the first time his voice broke. He cleared his throat.
“This is what God intended. It was Olivia’s time. Even though we weren’t ready for it, my family will get through this.”
Everyone nodded. Cried. Whispered.
I just sat and so did Mom.
Afterward, we stood and shook people’s hands.
I didn’t know that was how funerals worked.
LIVIA WAS IN
: pencil on paper
Afterward at our house, people were everywhere.
Dad had hired a cleaning lady and got a caterer and we had too much food because people brought stuff anyway.
In the family room, I was sitting in the corner on the couch.
There were voices and ladies in black and fat men and people laughing and some kids running around. I sat and watched the
Then one pair of brown shoes with a buckle said, “Why not an open casket?”
The other pair, high heels, black, said, “Are you kidding? She was all smashed up. It was horrific.”
The other: “Really? It was that bad?”
Black shoes: “Umm, yeah. Believe me, there was no possibility of an open casket.”
I closed my eyes.
I put my hand on the door.
“Mom? Please open the door.”
I hear a muffled sound. Her voice.
Then I remember the screwdriver.
Once when Mom was in a lesson, Olivia had locked herself in the bathroom.
She wouldn’t open the door and Dad was at work and I couldn’t get Olivia out.
I didn’t want to tell Mom so I tried everything. A credit card like on TV, a butter knife, a hammer, a piece of paper.
Nothing worked and Olivia was crying. Finally, I got a screwdriver and put it in the lock and it twisted for about three minutes.
I pushed open the door and there was Olivia — tear-streaked face and her dark curls plastered to her head.
I never told Mom about that. I didn’t want her to know because I was really watching TV when I was supposed to be watching
I was always in charge of her and I was always messing up.
But at least this mess-up lets me get in to Mom.
When Mom was pregnant, she always peed.
One time at dinner, Mom had to go to the bathroom three times.
At the movies, four times.
Dad called her Miss Piss.
“Oh, there’s my Miss Piss.”
Mom would throw a pillow at him and I’d write Miss Piss in my notebook.
My teacher said, “What’s Miss Piss?”
“My mom. She pees all the time.”
Teacher looked at me funny. “Did you just say what I think you said?”
But I’d be coloring or doing my handwriting and not caring what she said.
We were all very happy because they had to do operations to get Mom pregnant, but it worked. Olivia was a miracle.
“You were a miracle too,” Dad said.
“Yeah,” he said. “You and Olivia are both our miracles.”