The linoleum under the eating table is cool on my belly. I roll on my side and jiggle my hands way above my head. Snow is on the windowsill, but the sun comes way across the floor to me warm on my arm. Maybe I can touch the big silver leg of the table from here. I am getting bigger. Everybody says that I am getting bigger. It looks like I can touch it. Hard as I can, I stretch and stretch, but it’s too far. Maybe if I roll back, flat on my belly and close my eyes, I will be longer. I roll back and those floor squares are really big in my eyes. I run my fingers around the edges and I whisper: one, two, three, four. I like to count. I do it lots of times. I can count really far and I know this is a square. I know circles, too. I whisper the colors of the speckles: red, black, yellow, white. I want to tell my Mommy, but she’s on her bed. It is better for Mommy not to notice me. It is better to be invisible.
I wish I could tell my Mommy numbers and colors today and she would smile and hear me and tell me she is proud ‘cause I know things. I hope today if she notices me, she sees me good and not bad. I remember sometimes she hugs me all up in her warm soft body and I am afraid to move or breath or make a sound. I want it to last and last. Mommy’s smiley times make my heart big and make me feel warm all over. I think I could fly or sing or do anything! But I can’t. I have to be very careful. I have to watch Mommy. If I get too excited, or I move too much, or I spill my “inside happy” out my mouth too much, then I make her come away from that place where she smiles. Then it’s gone as quick as it came. I don’t want Mommy to notice me too much. I really, really try not to be wild and naughty. But I am a selfish little girl and I forget.
When my Mommy was gone at the hospital, I stayed with Mary up the stairs. Mary and Brack are some kind of family to my Daddy. Daddy gives them money for us to live here. Mommy yells about money lots of times and she wants to move away from here. I am selfish. I love Mary and I don’t want to move away. Mary smiles every day. I can sit on Mary’s lap most times when I ask. She even picks me up and hugs me when I don’t ask. Mary has a little boy who’s bigger than me. Bradley is four years old. I am two forever and ever and I want to be four. Mary doesn’t get mad or slap me when I pull on her clothes to ask her things. Mary says, “ You have to wait until spring, but that’s not far away at all.” I told Mary it’s forever and ever, long and long time ago, since Santa Claus and it be spring really, really soon, right? Mary laughed loud with her mouth open. “It’s only been a couple of weeks since Christmas”, she told me. She picked me up and showed me papers on her wall with squares and numbers and pictures of cars on every page. I like to ride in cars. She pointed to a square and said softly, “There’s your birthday.” Mary has my birthday on her wall. Only my birthday. She did not say she had that baby’s birthday on her wall. It must be our secret. She whispered my birthday on her wall. She didn’t tell me not to tell, but to be careful, I will not tell. I did not want her to put me down. Mary smells nice. I wish I could go up the stairs to Mary right now. Mommy is right. I am a selfish little girl.
I remember to close my eyes and try to reach the table leg. I even try to make my fingers longer, but it is out of reach by a hand. Bradley could reach it. Bradley is mean to me. But I can be brave to him ‘cause I like Mary. She’s the one who told me about that baby. Mommy had it in her arms when she came home a lot of days ago. Mary told me, “They’ll make a big fuss over it, but don’t you ever forget that they love you just the same.” That was a lie. Grownups tell lies. They tell lies lots of times. They think I am not big enough to know they lie, but I know lots of times. They lie to pretend sad things are happy. They lie to pretend things gone. They lie to fool me. Sometimes they sound like they believe lies when they say them and forget they’re not the truth. Mary lies too, and that makes me sad. It does not surprise me, but it makes me sad.
My Mommy and Daddy do not love me just the same. Mommy always pays attention too much or not at all. She sees me good or she sees me bad when she notices me. Smiley times she sees me good and tells me how smart I am. She reads to me for long and long times. If she is really in a good mood she will tell me what the big words mean and I can ask questions and she doesn’t ever get mad about that. She reads her books to me until she is tired or I get too wiggly and wild and make her come away from that place she goes when she reads to me. I watch her eyes when she comes back. Mommy may notice me and see me bad, or she may still be busy in her head and just shoo me away. I always hope she doesn’t notice me. I hate it when she sees me bad. When she sees me bad, she thinks of ways to make me be good. But I never learn. It does not work and I am bad again. I don’t mind being in my room all day, ‘cause I forget to “Think about what you did and how bad you are” and I just play and play really, really quiet so Mommy doesn’t hear.
I play really, really good by myself. If I forget to listen for her feet, she might fly the door open and catch me playing. Mommy doesn’t like me to play when I am trying to learn to be good. But sometimes she walks in like I was never bad and she never talks about it. Maybe she is fooling me, but I don’t care. I like it when she forgets I was bad. But I don’t like to be in my little, brown chair in the corner of the eating room. I am glad Mommy doesn’t have the time to watch me and watch me every second in the corner. I do not like Mommy watching me and I can’t see her eyes, so I turn around to watch her. Mommy gets so tired of turning me around in my chair and having to push me back down in place, so then she grabs my arm and drags me to my room and yells and yells about me and slams the door. I don’t mind. I like my room better than the chair. But I don’t like being in that dark closet forever and ever. There’s nothing to do in there ‘cause I can’t see. I just smell and touch the coats and boots full of winter and try to see under the door for Mommy’s feet. I fall asleep in there lots of times and Mommy doesn’t like that ‘cause I am not learning not to be bad. Since that baby came, I am bad and bad. Daddy did not used to notice me much, but now he notices me bad more times. Mommy tells him the wrong things I do. Sometimes she lies, but I never tell Daddy about the closet. I am quiet and quiet as I can be. It is better when they don’t see me, especially Mommy. They do not love me just the same. They see me badder now. Mommy has not read her books to me forever and ever.
Mary did not lie about the big fuss. That baby must be a really good one. Lots of grownups come over to hold it and talk to it. It can’t talk. It’s a boy baby, but it’s too little to move much. Mommy and Daddy are all soft and happy with it, especially when people are here. Mommy is always nicer when people are around. She is nicer when daddy is home. She is nicer to that baby.
Maybe Mary is just nicer to me ‘cause I am “company” at her house, even if I am little. My Mommy does not treat other kids like company at her house, unless grownups are here. Mary holds me and talks nice to me and there are no grownups there. Maybe it is ‘cause I am a little girl and Bradley is a boy and boys are meaner. Maybe Mary wishes she had a little girl. I do not want Mary to know I am bad, so I am extra careful. I don’t think Mary lies as much as my Mommy does. I am not sure, but I like Mary better than my Mommy, anyway. I am really a bad girl. I am a selfish girl. Mommy will really, really be mad if she knows I like Mary best. She will tell Mary how bad I am and make up more bad things to be sure. My eyes pop open. My skin gets jitters all over thinking how mad she’d be. I sit up quickly and look over at her bedroom door.
The door is open big enough for me to get through without touching it. I walk slowly towards the door running my fingers along the wallpaper. Even though I know I am better off invisible, it makes me nervous to be alone for so long. Mommy is usually busy doing things and I watch her. Even if she is having a sad day and sits in the big chair all day and never sees me, I can still watch her. I really like those days that she can’t see me for long and long. I can sing or twirl or bounce on my bed or talk loud to my dollies while we have tea with my real tea set with the pink roses on. Invisible time is nice and nice. Most times I forget to watch her, though, and it startles me when she sees me all of a sudden. I never know if she sees me bad or good until it’s too late. If I don’t watch her eyes, I don’t know what kind of a day it is. If I don’t watch her I can’t see if the day is changing.
By the time I arrive at her bedroom door, I am sure she’s going to startle me. She could fly through the door, zero her eyes on me and pronounce me bad. She could pop out all soft and happy with that baby. I do not know how Mommy is until I see her. I know she does not know what I think when I am invisible, but I am not sure what she knows when she pins me down with her eyes. Will she know what I thought new today? Will she know I talked in my head and said I like Mary better than her? I stand in the doorway and rock silently from foot to foot, swaying, thinking. I suck my thumb, even though that’s bad, but Mommy can’t see me from here. I listen.
The bed is over in the corner away from the door. I hear breathing. After a while, I pull my thumb out and grab on to the door frame. Leaning my head into the room very slowly, I see Mommy sleeping on the bed. My eyes take a while to see in the dark of the room. She is lying on her side with her arm curled under her head. On the softest feet I come up one step at a time. My eyes never leave her face. I am all the way up to the bed and she has not moved. I wait and listen to the breath of her, to hear if she is awake or fooling me. I watch her eyelids. The eyes are not moving. I know if they slide from side to side under there, then she’s almost awake. The breath is slow and faint and calm. My Mommy is sleeping. I suck my thumb again and rock from side to side.
I know that baby is there, even if I have not looked at it. I can hear it breathing.
This time I look at it all by myself. Everyone shoos me away or they hold it up for me to look, don’t touch. They are afraid I will hurt it. They tell me I could hurt it even if I did not mean to. Mommy has a part of her top off and one of the big, soft, cushy parts of her has that baby on it. That baby has its mouth hanging on to her. It smells funny. The hands are curled into little fists. I hold my hand near, but don’t touch. My hand is way bigger. Its eyes are closed, but it is not sleeping. It is making sucking noises and jerks every so often. When it sucks I can see the side of its tongue. Red. The tongue is red. The lips are red. It has little eyelashes and the eyes roll around under the lids. Its head is tipped and I can see up its nose on my tip toes by the side of the roll-away. Inside its nose is red, too. I could look at it long and long. I wonder if they are lying that it will grow up to be a boy as big as Bradley. I wonder if it will be mean to me, like Bradley. It doesn’t look mean. It could change. Mommy changes all the time. I wish it would open its eyes. I would feel better if I could see its eyes. It reminds me of doggies. I want to pet it.
I love doggies. I never hurt doggies. Will I hurt that baby? Why do they say I will hurt that baby? I must be really, really bad. I won’t hurt it now. I know I do not want to hurt it now. Maybe I will hurt it later when it is bigger and mean like Bradley? I am glad it is not a girl. Sometimes Mommy calls me her best girl and she dresses me up in pretty dresses and shiny shoes with straps. She puts my hair up in pin curls. I like my hair curly, but I do not like when she combs it out. Mommy pulls and it hurts and she tells me not to be a baby. I like when she tells grownups how good and smart I am and how, “She talked before she could walk”. It looks so nice up there with Mommy. I want to climb up on the bed and be in that soft, warm place with them. I want Mommy to worry somebody is going to hurt me. That baby gets Mommy nice and smiley lots of times. Maybe I can climb up on the corner of the bed and not wake Mommy. I move slowly and carefully. If I can just get over on the corner of the bed, I will be still and still. I will not move. I will not go by the baby, so I can’t hurt it not on purpose. I will listen to them breathe. I will feel the warmth of them. As I crawl up slowly, I jiggle the bed and Mommy cracks her eye open. Her hand comes out and swiftly pushes me off the side of the bed. Arms and legs flying, I crash on to the hardwood floor and scramble to my feet. I stand up straight with my arms down at my sides and look upon her eye.
“You can’t be up here. You’ll wake the baby,” Mommy whisper yelled through her teeth. “Now, go away.”
I was frozen to the spot. I was waiting for her to drag me someplace by my arm.
“I am so tired. Just leave me alone”, she hissed.
I felt my eyes water, but I know better than to cry. I back up a couple of steps, watching her. I wait. I listen.
“That’s right. You’re such a good girl. You color so nice. Why don’t you go color? Or take a nap or something, okay?” Mommy talked smiley time words. It sounded like a lie, but I didn’t care. I never cared why Mommy sounded nicer. She did not come after me off the bed.
“Something quiet, okay? That’s my good girl. Go on, now.”
I back up slowly, keeping my eyes on her. She settles back into the bed, keeping her eye on me until I scoot out the door.
I spread out a color book on the linoleum under the eating table and dig my fingers in Grandpa’s old cigar box. It smells like Grandpa and crayons. Crayons never get old; they always smell like new ones. Nothing smells like crayons. Blue streaks across the page. I feel wild and happy. No yank on the arm. No chair facing the corner. Yellow streaks across the page. No closet. No mad eyes. Green streaks across the page. First I was bad, then I am good, just like that. Orange streaks across the page. Mommy was too tired to come after me. That never stopped her before. Red streaks across the page. Mommy is very busy with that baby. I stop, up on my elbows. Red. I roll the crayon in my fingers. That baby’s name is Blaine. He has red lips and a red tongue and red inside his nose. If I could, I would sing and twirl around in circles and laugh with my mouth open. That baby must be a really, really good one.