I am glad my daughters see me cry and launch themselves against the bathroom door. They bang and shout things like they want to see me whole, or something I can’t quite hear, and I do falter for a minute: Am I being fair, do they have a point? In my culture if we make it to the bathroom alone, alive, we are just glad, too glad, that for a second, we are not out there amidst the clamour.
My culture is not their culture.
I am not trying to hurry them toward mine, or to teach them that mine is better. I am not even pretending that it’s great to be here among the grown and glad and lonely. I will simply try to show them, in an honest, smiling way, that I am now able to lock a bathroom door between us and feel only gladness.
I am glad that my daughters see me cry and hurl small spears into their father’s heart which they stand outside with me and bang and shout things like we want to see him smile or something equally chilling and then he doesn’t falter he is gone and we are all glad.
And now I am gladly on the kitchen floor and my daughter who is not a baby, tall enough to reach the handle of the fridge, asks me do I want milk? Because that’s just what I’d ask her if she was lying down looking so very glad about life in general.
I have no shame, only gladness, so I say yes and watch as she leans all her weight backwards into her soft heels on the stone floor, hanging from that handle, both hands, until something pops and I look on with some curiosity (because I also have no backbone and can barely sit at the best of times) and thank god it’s the magnetic seal and not her shoulders or a tiny hernia.
Somehow she has kept her balance and now she reaches her whole arm in, standing on one tiptoe just like I do every day, keeping her crawling baby sister’s face back with the marvel of one pink sole, then brings me the bottle which is white and cool and if I sit up I can just about reach a glass from the side which I can see was used for beer last night. The dried up foam, like some beautiful tidal scum is nothing to me because I am trying to show them that I would never drink straight from a bottle however glad I get.
I cannot drive in this country without feeling as though I will kill at least us if not vital others. I could even mow down their father on his bicycle and so I watch the road, I do, and while I do I try to regulate this feeling of high gladness which throws me off all over again. At the train crossing I push my seat all the way forward so that my ribs touch the steering wheel and I can’t breathe or bend my knees any higher and my ankles flex all wrong on the pedals I am trying not to press and steering is almost nothing to do with elbows which no longer work as wings. It is driving on this side of the road that dismantles me, sparks my gladness over and again with wrong-way roundabouts. Lights and horns trail behind me like one long electric tail of gladness and those cars will never understand me so I smile in the mirror at my older daughter who is three and very kind and I’m glad it’s a dishonest smile because now she knows that this is not my culture. She tells me she prefers it when I drive because she gets more legroom and although that is code to let me know she knows what’s going on with all my wings and gladness, it is also true.
Winner of the fiction competition of A SmokeLong Summer 23