by Barr Bielinski Read author interview December 19, 2011
It’s like my alarm clock now—Liddy in the bathroom throwing up. I shout for her to shut the door.
She has a plate of toast with her when she gets back in bed and she feeds me a slice, butter side down so I get it against my tongue.
“It’s Douglas day,” she says. “He’s gonna be here.”
“So what. He’s not here now.” I roll in against the side of her. She sets the plate on top of the fishbowl and we spoon.
When she finally keeps her appointment I’ll miss our morning snack in bed. She’s gotta keep it this time. She’s already at the point they’ll give her a hard time. I doze and wake up with toast still in my mouth.
“Don’t forget about the fish,” she tells me. I look past her at the top of the dresser where the fishbowl is. The water’s too cloudy to see inside. The new fish is in a pint container sloshing to let us know it’s alive.
He’s Liddy’s kid, Douglas, and it’s his fish. It’s the only thing he talks to. Not Liddy. Not me. He won’t even look at me. When the social worker brings him for his visits, while she’s going all Gestapo eyes on us, the kid pats the fishbowl and says, “Hi, Batman. Hi, boy,” and he shakes in food—which is pretty much the fish’s last meal. We don’t end up feeding it when the kid’s not here. Liddy buys a new fish when they schedule the next in-home visit.
It’s my job to flush the dead one and rinse out the bowl. Liddy used to, but now one whiff and all the pink goes out of her face and she throws up.
A car comes up the block. Liddy pulls back the edge of the shade and looks. “It’s not them.” She rolls us a bone. On days when her kid comes Liddy doesn’t do anything else—just a little weed—until it’s almost time for the social worker to come back and take him out of here.
Liddy gets the kid to pee in a Ziploc baggie for her drug tests. She saves it in the fridge, then runs hot water over it so it’s the right temperature when she drains it into the sample cup and hands it to the social worker.
Since Liddy’s passing the drug tests all the social worker has to complain about is the kid eating Fruit Loops for dinner and watching R movies. Liddy doesn’t take her shit. “Hello, it’s the only thing he’ll eat, Did you read the box? It’s vitamins. Something wrong with vitamins?” I told Liddy to say that and she pretty much did.
Liddy missed the last appointment for her procedure because she overslept. The night before we got wasted and I told her I wanted to keep it. We woke up with baby names scrawled in Sharpie all up and down her walls. The ones I wrote you could read. Adam and Wes and names like that. Liddy had written Bruce in huge letters next to the bathroom door. The rest of her names got messy. The last one was just a bunch of triangles and slashes that dropped off at the baseboard.
“Is that even anything?” I told her.
“It says Wayne.” She kissed the side of my face. “I think it’s Wayne.”
“Nobody names their kid Wayne.” I closed my eyes. “Listen, we’re not gonna need any names.”
We hear another car and this one stops in front. We take a last toke and Liddy flushes what’s left.
“Batman,” she says. “Don’t forget.”
I take the fishbowl past her into the bathroom and dump it. “Rest in peace, Batman #12.” I wait for the tank to refill from flushing the pot.
Liddy’s swishing mouthwash while she warms the baggie of pee under the tap. She looks in the toilet and says, “It’s alive.”
She’s right. The old fish is down there bumping its nose off every side of the toilet. “That hot shit,” I say. The hiss of water filling the toilet tank finishes. They bang on the apartment door and I push down the flusher.
The fish wiggles against getting caught in the swirl, which doesn’t work out too well for it. It spins backwards toward the hole. Liddy drops the pee and shoots her hands into the toilet.
“What the fuck!” I’m jumping back with toilet water and pee splattering my pant legs. “Do you see what you did?”
Liddy’s screwed. The pee that’s not on me is all over the floor. She doesn’t even try to grab up the baggie. She’s got her hands jammed down in the toilet bowl. The social worker’s pounding on the door. Liddy scoops the last of the water before it runs out of the toilet. “I got it. I saved it.”
“For what?” I say. “You don’t need two.”
The social worker’s calling, “Lydia. Lydia.” The bathroom stinks from the muck in the fishbowl and from pee and the pot.
“It’s tickling me.” Liddy watches the fish flap around on her hands. It’s smothering in the air.
“Liddy, flush it. It’s better off in the sewer than in your hands.”
“You have to hold it. You have to feel this.” She reaches up to me with the fish and the pink’s all gone from her face. “Put out your hands.” She retches. I let her hand me the fish.
The social worker shouts, “Open this door!” and Liddy heaves into the toilet. The kid’s pee soaks through my socks. The fish lurches against my knuckles. It trembles. Then it’s still.
About the Author:
Barr Bielinski is a member of Grub Street Writers in Boston. Her stories have appeared in Blink-Ink and Boston Literary Magazine. She has a piece forthcoming at Infinity's Kitchen.
About the Artist:
Simon Kugel lives in Boulder, Colorado. He studied drawing at Tyler School of Art, and he really likes doodling weird stuff.