One Last Pirouette
I’m in line at the dry cleaners waiting to see if Ximena can wash the bloodstains from Mya’s pink tutu. My phone vibrates in the palm of my hand and I think about answering, but permit my pre-recorded voice to do all the talking. The detective – whose name I can’t remember but always sounds like he’s in the middle of a hiccup – never has the answers I need. If he’s not the one leaving me a message, it’s probably the woman who never stops sweating, trying to organize another Black Lives Matter protest, with my baby’s name plastered on posters and sung in chants she’ll never hear. Either way, both of them just want me to list all the facts I can remember from that day, leaving my throat dry.
My eyes catch the x’s marking the lost days on Ximena’s calendar hanging below the old television leaning on the edge of its stand. X’s marking every day my baby’s not here. I let my eyes follow this trail until I see the circle my baby drew months ago in purple crayon, the center of a flower with green petals, after Ximena promised to come to her recital.
I look away when I hear Ximena’s footsteps from the back. She appears between dangling plastic-wrapped clothes, and all I can think about are corpses. How all these clothes are here, hanging and unclaimed because their owners don’t need them. Plastic hiding them away like the body bag zipped along my baby’s center. Numbered outlines of who their owners are, same as the news reports marking where bullet shells fell around my baby’s body.
Lester Holt appears on the television, going over everything happening in the world. I see how many teeth I can count before his lips close to sound out the next word. I don’t want Ximena thinking I’ve just been standing here ignoring my phone, that I don’t have anything better to do now that I don’t know what to call myself.
Then, I hear it.
Mya Louise Collings, daughter of a single mother, shot, and my baby’s face is all over the television screen. I don’t know what comes out of my mouth, maybe a yelp or a cry. Ximena is leaning over the counter speaking Spanish to me, which keeps my ears clinging to every word. It’s nice, listening to something I don’t recognize coming from the mouth of the only person I can talk to.
A new reporter, one I don’t recognize, is going through the motions, leaving out that my Mya was in the middle of a pirouette before a bullet pierced her skull. I know because, when I found her, her arms were still raised around her head, fingertips still meeting in the middle.
On the television, the faces of neighbors who’ve never said two words to me start sharing their sorrows over the death of my daughter. That poor child, so young. That little girl was always smiling. You hate to think it could happen. All of them never noticing Slim in the shot, shaking his head and spitting whatever his teeth dig from underneath his fingernails on the dirt behind them.
Stoophead Slim, Mya’s nickname for him after she heard me calling him stupid and throwing my good house slipper at his head, is on his regular perch two stoops down from mine, talking out the side of his mouth. He doesn’t give much up to the reporter, only says he heard the shots. I try to tell Ximena the whole story, but before I can she’s holding my hand and nodding. Like she knows Slim was the one who broke the door down, saw me cradling my child’s body, and had enough sense to grab my phone from my purse and call the cops. That Slim stepped in when no one else did while the little body in my arms became cold and firm.
Mya had been practicing her pirouettes. Sent me out of the room so I wouldn’t see. No spoilers Mommy, was the last thing she said.
Stoophead Slim is replaced by news of rising gas prices. Ximena understands the words I don’t need to say. I can tell by the way her tongue clicks after flicking the roof of her mouth, and she says something else in Spanish. I know from her tone and the way her free hand is moving she’s cussing that reporter out.
She never lets me go, even while she’s looking for the remote, she’s still holding my hand.
“How long—” I still can’t say before my baby’s blood stain is gone.
“There was a lot. Too much.” Ximena keeps her eyes on the television. “Maybe you—”
I tighten my grip on her hand to get her to stop. To keep myself standing. Mya was in the middle of a pirouette. Practicing to be perfect.
Ximena’s thumb is swiping away all my tears and, though I try to lower my head, she keeps it raised and facing her.
“I will fix.” She lets go of my hand and disappears into the back.
My eyes shift from the television back to the calendar and I try to remember all the dates that mattered in the rhythms Ximena used to swipe those x’s on days that are gone. I remember meeting the man I loved for a day, peeing on a pregnancy test in the subway, telling my mother I was pregnant, holding her when she cried. Giving birth to Mya. Mya learning to crawl, run, walk. Her first ballet class. My mother dying. Explaining what death means to my child. Mya’s sixth birthday.
And today, a purple circle with green petals, my baby’s last drawing.
“Ximena?” No matter how many times I cry for her, my voice keeps stretching past the hanging clothes, my mind filling with all the little girls getting ready to spin on stage while I’m here, clinging to what’s left.
Sunshine through the blinds mimics hall lights peeking through Girl’s cracked bedroom door. The scent of cigarettes. The pop of Big Red chewing gum. Footsteps that make her floorboards cry.
A soft caress from the hand of her father’s best friend while he lowers himself in the crook of her bent knees hidden under her covers.
His fingernails scratch her like sweet ant legs, tipping past the elastic of her pajama pants. Don’t it feel good girl?
She swallows all the tears, chokes on every noise, making her body tremble under her covers. He takes Girl on long walks when her Daddy is sober, through the woods and spits Big Red in spots he later tells her he’d bury her body. Wads like the one he leaves behind when he kisses her stomach.
Sunshine through the blinds gets Girl’s nose itching with the rememberings of burning bacon and the lemon her Mama squirts in Girl’s eyes, her Mama claiming she’s trying to add a little kick to her tea. At least, Girl likes to believe every time her Mama stings her eyes is an accident but knows memories can shift and turn into pleasant bits to hide away.
One thing Girl knows for sure: her Mama left three years ago, when Girl was six, between putting the bacon on the stove and kissing Girl’s forehead good morning.
In Girl’s rememberings, her Mama brushes curls slick with sleep sweat from Girl’s forehead. Lips press hard on Girl’s skin trying to reach bone. The crack of her Mama’s voice like trees breaking from the root when she promises Girl will understand someday.
How her Mama disappears in the smoke just before it sets off the alarm.
Girl’s Daddy is balled fist, spit flying fury as he chases after her Mama. Girl waves to her from the doorway, her Daddy clinging to the handle of the red pickup truck with rusted popped pimples saying You ain’t shit without me.
Murmuring You promised things would be different.
All while Girl keeps on waving, waiting for her Mama to wave back.
Sunshine through the blinds pricks Girl’s skin like stepping on her Daddy’s clipped toenails embedded in the hall carpet. Girl is nine and looks like her Mama. That’s what her Daddy shouts when she runs from flying beer cans.
What her Mama might say if she came back.
Since her Mama left, Girl is her Daddy’s Mama, cleaning up his mess just so he can make more mess. Puts jam on both sides of his toasts, learns to scramble eggs, but never how to crisp bacon.
They are sausage people now.
Sunshine through the blinds tastes like something Girl never wants. Something hot, making her taste buds rise in rebellion. Something familiar, that she can’t shake, like these days living with her Daddy in a routine she’s tired of repeating but doesn’t know how to stop.
Mornings are for cooking and trying to remember her Mama’s fading face while Girl stares at her reflection in the window. For pretending not to hear her Daddy cry for the woman he loves and the bitch that left.
Afternoons are for cleaning up the aftermath of her Daddy’s sorrows and tantrums.
Evenings are for chats about nothing. For beers, cigarettes, Big Red gum, and the smell of cinnamon before bed.
Nights are for her Daddy’s best friend and cricket songs. For lowered blinds, rememberings of her Mama’s kisses and aching arms waving goodbye.
For broken bodies waiting for that sunshine through the blinds.
K.B. Carle lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned her MFA from Spalding University’s Low-Residency program in Kentucky. Her stories have appeared in CHEAP POP, genre2, Jellyfish Review, Milk Candy Review, and elsewhere. She can be found online at http://kbcarle.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @kbcarle.