Jacqueline Mantz Rodriguez

The Three Little Girls

A Sea of Brassy Day

    There was a chlorinated sea once upon a time. A turquoise pool infused with slants of golden sunlight. The strokes of a little girl’s browned flesh flapped against the water, lap after lap; a foamy background to the day. Her curly head moved to the left to breathe, to the right to breathe, and to the left again, like some nursery rhyme yet unwritten. Another little girl almost a mirror replica of the first one except a little chubbier, lay buried in bubbles, battling in the Jacuzzi against dragons of steam. The little girl’s toes sworded through the water as she held onto the edge of the pool floating on her back. The third little girl, the youngest, floated across that same water making animals from clouds in a bubble above her head.  Her long dark hair fanned out, an ode to Ophelia in her watery grave.

    Their father, dear father, sizzled thick steaks on the grill, a cigarette in one hand a spatula in the other, smoke filling the air.  The florescent yellow potato salad and  
rolls sat quietly on the scarred picnic table, paper plates and the plastic tub of  
margarine keeping them company. The three little girls, for some reason, at the same moment, all took a deep breath and inhaled Kool menthol cigarettes mixed with charred flesh, a deeply satisfying dysfunctional potion.

    Just then their mother, dear mother suddenly appeared in a Chinese red smock soiled with bits of greasy foo young and shrimp.  Her eyes tabulated magically, with one look, the empty Budweiser cans. The mother frowned then her eyes moved to the three little girls. Ordering them out of their sea of fun; to lie one after the other on blue and white faded striped bath towels; lying, drying baking. Three little girls with waiting tummies growling for rib eyes steaks and mustardy onion infested potato salad that even now they taste and savor.

    Once upon a time this azul rectangular sea would hold the middle girl, the chubby twin, during the day and soothe her at night. Just knowing it lay outside her window gave the little girl; all the three little girls most likely, courage to face the dawning night. This simple body of water gave the girls the strength to survive the nights of shadows making puppet monsters on the ceiling and closet door, nights reeking of rising words in a Holly Hobby oven of hate.

    The three little girls never knew when their slumber would be transformed into dense forests of fear, when their father, dear father, would wander away from home into bars. Then, only then, would those three little girls be thrown into a nightmare of hiding on the roof or running underneath tears of stars. Sometimes, more than once, they would flee to the park, but a block away… Yet this land could not be the same as the one they lived in during the day; it could not be. They were somewhere else, a Nightmare Never Neverland.     The girls would stay in the pool in the glittering day as long as they could. Under the covers in the darkening night they would try to do the same; trying to remember the pool was out there. Trying to remember, that tomorrow no matter what happened, they would all be there in the land of turquoise sea, in the sun, alive and well. 

Dawning Night

John Wayne’s last film The Shootist was on the television.  The three little girls played Monopoly in the living room as their dear father watched television smoking cigarette after cigarette as “The Duke” played a dying man with cancer.  If the three little girls could time travel they would see their father ironically playing that same story out in thirty years, wheezing out his last breath, the dark magician of death waving the wand of pancreatic cancer to seal their father’s fate, two months after diagnosis. Maybe, if the wife had access to this crystal ball she would have been kinder, more loving and less sharp with words to her dear husband.  Maybe if the mother would have gazed back into that crystal ball she might have seen the damage she would cause the three little girls with her fits of chaotic rage.

nbsp;   Maybe is a hideous word, ugly in its hope.  There were no maybes as the night dawned dark and heavy with tension curtaining the house with every throw of the dice.  The twins fought over a move in the game. The older twin cheated, the younger twin threw the board.  The youngest sat there calmly as the two bickered, made up, and the game resumed.  It was Saturday night and cleaning time for their dear mother.  She washed clothes, picked up the mess left by cyclones of childhood, and cussed the entire time.  The three little girls paid it no mind, they knew danger, but it had not yet appeared. The father’s show ended.  Now it was night.  Darkness settled over the land as did the flight in the father’s soul.

     “I’ll be right back girls,” the father slurred, “I need cigarettes and more Budweiser. I’ll bring you each back a present. I shall get you a Payday, you a Big Hunk and you a Twix.” He patted each girl’s head as he walked slowly out the door.

     “Daddy hurry home ok,” said the youngest. The father walked out into the night.  The night filled with plenty of maybes. Maybe I’ll just stop for one drink at The Palomino, one game of pool. The mother heard the blue Ford pick up truck’s engine as she moved the clothes into the dryer. She walked into the house with a plastic basket filled with clothes. 

     “Stop playing that game.  Help me fold these clothes,” the mom ordered.  The girls silently began folding the clothes their sibling bickering done. They were one now. A climate of fear pervaded the house.

     “Where did your dad go,” the mother asked. She was already different, the metamorphosis had begun. 

     “He went to go get beer and cigarettes,” the eldest answered, “and he will be right back, he said so.” There was no answer from the mom. The minutes ticked by each longer than the last.  Five minutes turned into ten minutes, ten minutes to eleven, to twelve, to thirty.  The Monopoly game was put away as were the clothes.  The three girls took their baths.  Still the father did not reappear.  Thirty minutes became an hour.  The hand of the clock shoved and pushed the mom’s rage higher, now cuss words were dangerous blows.  They fled from them, from the TV, into the middle twin’s room as it was the furthest away from their once dear mother who changed, with warning even, into the darkest of witches.  One whose wild curly hair and words made them cringe.
They sat in the middle girl’s room and looked at the pool reflecting on the day. 

     “We had so much fun today. We should go to sleep,” the eldest girl said. The words made sense logically but words of logic did not rule this dark land.

     “I want to look at the pool,” said the youngest, I don’t want to go to sleep.  We might have to get up.” They sat on the bed quietly, the door closed against the spells of rage and the curses against them and their dear father…Then, the roar of the witch’s car.  How long did they have? How many minutes would it take the witch to drive from their home to the bar and back?  What if he was at a different bar? How long to the next bar? Experts they were at grabbing blankets, pillows and jackets.  Out into the night they went hoping no one would see their shame. What fairytale law had they broken to take away their kingdom and transport them to this one? Their footsteps were almost silent.  They knew way to the park.  They knew their way back it was only over the corner to the right.  The park was their night fortress. The park was their mother now that the witch had taken oven their dear mother’s form.

    They made it in five minutes, and lay inside the stinky pee king of cheese. They lay together, feet in sneakers, with their pajama bottoms poking out of their jackets. The twins had Wonder Woman pajamas on. They loved The Justice League.  The youngest girl’s Snow White long nightgown shone in the moonlight. A long time they slept, awakened by the calls of the witch out the car screaming for them. 

     “Not yet, he’s not home yet. I can tell by the sound of her voice,” whispered the youngest. The three little girls fell back into a non-deep sleep for what seemed like days, the longest of nights. The middle girl, the chubby twin, dreamt of the sea outside her window. In her dream she and her sisters swam in slants of golden sunlight surrounded by the azul waves created by the strokes of their arms in unison stroke after stroke.

The Darkest Night Fled Suddenly As Did The Witch. 

     “Girls come home. Girls come home. Girls come home,” called a voice. The dear mother returned with the retrieval of the drunken father found finally in the bar of The Palomino 

     “Come get him. He was fast asleep on the toilet, good thing I clean the restrooms before locking up.” The owner had called the house at 2 am just when the witch was throwing out all of the father’s clothes on the front lawn.

     “Girls come home. Girls come home…” No more words best left to the devil. The three little girls were no longer hated.  They were loved and even though it was night they could once again feel the sun’s rays upon them. They came willingly into the car. They walked like puppets, strings pulled by the mother’s fingers; into the house where on the table lay a Payday, a Big Hunk and a Twix.