“Get out of my face you little bastard!” she screeched inches from Andy’s cherub cheeks, sprinkling them with her spit. With narrowed eyes, she pushed on his chest, and he plopped onto his behind. Tears spilled from his eyes and his bottom lip quivered. I glared at her and pulled him into the bathroom.
“Hurry up in there you little whore. He needs to be in bed before Steve and Dereck get here.” She slapped the door.
Letting out a held breath, I leaned against the door pressing it closed. I hated her. Yes, she was my mom, but I hated her. I felt bad about hating her, I mean, I should love her, right? What could I do at seven years old? I couldn’t leave or tell anyone. She said we would be in foster care, separated, and god knows what else. I wasn’t going to lose Andy. He needed me, and I needed him.
The running water drowned out mom’s continued raving about how worthless we were, and how she wouldn’t have to get high all the time if she didn’t have us. She told me she needed to escape her awful life. I lifted Andy into the warm water. A brown ring circled the tub. I scratched at it with my fingernail lost in my thoughts of how I could make mom’s life better.
“Sit down, so you don’t fall,” I told him. We pushed his rubber ducks around in the bubbles I had made with dish soap. Mom cries a lot, ever since we found dad hanging in the closet by a belt. I wish he were here. She didn’t get high so much then.
I pulled Andy out of the tub, dried him, and put a diaper on him.
Through the door, I heard Steven and Derek come into our one bedroom apartment. I opened the door just an inch. She snatched my shirt and yanked me toward her. My cheeks and forehead cracked against edge of the door and the doorframe.
“I don’t want to see your ugly face tonight,” she said through clenched teeth, pushing me back into the bathroom.
Mom and her friends were laughing and coughing out there while I read The Giving Tree to Andy in the corner of the bathroom. Heavy footsteps passed the door. Two more sets of steps followed a minute later. I stroked Andy’s hair and waited. No light came under the door. Their muffled voices came to my ears. I turned the doorknob and peeked out. Her door was closed.
Andy and I tiptoed down the hall to our mattress on the floor behind the couch. I cleared the old pizza box and McDonald’s wrappers off. A cloud of pee wafted through the air as Andy flopped onto our mattress splotched with yellow and black stains.
“You sing?” Andy asked.
“If you’re quiet, I’ll sing,” I told him. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was the only song that came to my mind.
Once Andy was asleep, I tiptoed down the hall. What are they doing in there? Their voices were getting louder. Mom was talking real fast. It was dark in the room, other than an occasional flicker of dancing light.
There was rustling on the other side of the door. I shuffled back down the hall tripping over a pile of clothes. Mom grabbed my arm and pressed her nails into my skin. I squeezed my eyes closed.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Trying to catch a peek of my man? You little slut,” Mom said, shaking my eyes open.
The fire in her eyes scared the heck out of me. That fire had burned me more than once.
“No mommy, I was going to the potty.” I looked at the floor. Her backhand caught me on the left side of my face and sent me crashing into the wall. I pulled my legs to my chest and tucked my chin into my knees. She kicked me in the ribs and slammed the door.
The sun rose casting a soft yellow glow through the front windows.
“Mommy, wake up,” Andy said, shaking mom’s bare shoulder. She didn’t stir. Her eyes didn’t flutter open sparkling with love. She didn’t even breathe anymore. I stood at the door of her bedroom. I knew before Andy touched her. Her lips were blue, and white powder dusted her nose. The oozing pus nodules ringed in red on her arms stared back at me like her red-rimmed eyes. Andy looked back at me, his diaper sagging between his knees.
“Come on Andy, she’s real tired. Let’s change you and go for a walk,” I said, waving him out of her room with my hand. He kissed her pale cold cheek. I pulled the door closed hoping the residual chemical smell wouldn’t follow us like the specter of my mother.
“Why won’t she wake?”
“She was up late last night little man.”
“With her friends?”
“Yeah,” I whispered wiping the tears from my face. I chipped dried oatmeal out of a bowl and set it on the table for Andy. I poured the last of the frosted flakes in the bowl.
As I turned the blue lid of the milk, a rotten stench ran into my face. I gagged and set it in the sink overflowing with dishes caked in week old rotting food.
“There’s no milk.” I handed him a blackened spoon. Mom used it to smoke a rock last night, but it was the cleanest spoon in the house.
Pulling out clothes from a knee-high pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the living room, I brought each piece to my nose. It’s all sour. All the socks are yellow and stiff. I tug one of mom’s t-shirts over Andy’s head and roll some socks over his toes.
“I need to call someone,” I said. “Let’s go.”
Taking his hand in mine, we walked in the morning sun dragging his dingy blanket behind us.