This is a work of fiction.
Great big tears start to roll down Dad’s cheeks and fall onto the table. I should probably say something to him, but what? He looks so totally miserable, and I want to comfort him, but how? It probably has something to do with Mona, and I know less about babies than he does. I guess all I can do is try to be there for him.
“Hey Dad, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here.” He doesn’t answer, but nods and gestures at my plate. I pick up my fork again and continue to eat. I don’t want to appear to be in a hurry to get the heck out of there, which I am, so I try not to rush. Dad’s still sitting there, and still sort of crying, although the rain has slowed to a drizzle. I offer him a glass of water, which he accepts, and then I go back to my room.
I’ve never seen Dad cry before. I want to stop thinking about how his face looked and how his tears fell onto the table. I need a distraction, but there’s nobody to talk to, and I don’t have anything to say. Besides, my best friend, Jason, is in Europe right now, taking a year off before he goes to college. That’s something else I don’t want to think about, and until I get my new computer, I can’t do much about it anyhow. I can’t listen to music because of Mona, so what’s left for me to do? I’m tired, but if I lie down, I’ll sleep until whatever time Mona cries tonight, and then what? I’ll be up, still with nothing to do.
I sigh and look around my room. I see my broken laptop and decide that I’d rather not look at it anymore. It’s too big to fit in the top drawer of my desk, which is designed for paperclips, pencils, and a stapler, so I open the big bottom drawer.
Why is it so full?
I sigh again. I’m going to have to clean my room, or at least this drawer.
I look at the big box that’s taking up most of the space. It’s the set of watercolors Mom and Dad bought for me when I graduated from high school. Underneath it, there’s a package of premium quality watercolor paper. I was so focused on applying to a good college, I didn’t even think about painting, and haven’t since. Besides, drawing’s only a hobby, and college will land me a real job. I put the art supplies on the desk and the laptop in the drawer, and then I open the box of watercolors. These ones come in tubes, and I’ll need to mix the paste with water before I can do anything else. My chest buzzes with excitement as I look at the array of colors the set includes. It’s not quite top-grade stuff, but very close, and it’ll keep me occupied so I don’t have to think about lockdown, Mona, or Dad crying big, silent tears.
I paint all evening and don’t stop until almost midnight. I clean up my desk and fall into bed.
At five, Mona’s crying wakes me up, but I turn over and fall back to sleep.
At nine, I get up and go into the kitchen. The fridge is still empty, so I open the freezer and cook myself a meal similar to the one I had yesterday, except I have fish sticks instead of chicken.
Just as I’m finishing, Dad comes into the kitchen. He looks ten years older than he should, but his eyes are dry. It doesn’t look like he’s having a good morning, so I don’t insult him by saying it.
Instead, I say, “Hi Dad. Would you like me to make you something for breakfast?” He shakes his head.
“Victoria’s coming at one.”
I want to ask him what’s bothering him, but at the same time, I really don’t want to know, so I just nod and he walks out of the kitchen.
I spend the morning cleaning the kitchen and rest of the house as much as I can.
At 12:45, I’m in my room, setting up for an afternoon of painting.
I look up from my landscape and see that it’s 2:30. Strange that I haven’t heard the doorbell. I must have been on another planet. This is definitely the distraction I need.
At 3:15, the bell rings. Mona starts to cry, and I hear Dad saying that he’ll get it.
“Is that Mona I hear?” Victoria says.
“Yes,” Dad says. “She started to cry when she heard the bell.”
“What’s that smell?”
“Your house smells. What is it?”
“Um, I don’t know. I don’t smell anything bad.”
How can she smell anything what that mask on? Or maybe she’s taken it off.
“Well, whatever it is could make Mona sick. Let’s walk around and figure it out.”
Not again. Please, don’t let her come in here.
I listen to them going into the kitchen.
“Ah, there’s the culprit.”
“What?” Dad says.
“This cleaning fluid you’re using. I didn’t smell it yesterday, so you must have done this after I left. The vapors could trigger anaphylaxis in Mona.”
“What does that mean?”
“You must throw this out immediately and never buy it again. What rooms did you clean using this?”
“I didn’t clean anything after you left.” Dad sounds really stressed. “Billy was cleaning this morning, but I think just the kitchen and the bathroom.”
“Where’s your bleach?”
“I guess we’re out.”
“Yes, that appears to be the case. Go and buy some and wash everything down with it. That will neutralize this repugnant stuff. Tell Billy not to clean things. Your wife should be doing that.”
Why won’t she say “Karen,” Mom’s first name?
“We’re doing the best we can,” Dad says, his voice cracking like a thirteen-year-old’s.
Keep it together, Dad. Don’t let her see you sweat.
“Well, you’ll just have to do better. Now, I need to go and examine Mona.”
I can’t paint while she’s here. Her very presence will poison my creativity, and I don’t want whoever might see my work to feel how bad she is. She’d make it smell worse than any kind of cleaner.
At 5:52, she finally leaves. I hear her say she’ll be back the next day at one to check on Mona. I hope she’ll be on time and only stay for five minutes.
Dad doesn’t want to eat, and Mom doesn’t come out of their room, so I eat alone, which suits me just fine. My nerves are frayed from listening to Victoria criticizing my family, and then to the heavy, unnatural silence that hangs in the air while she’s doing whatever she does in the other bedroom. When Dad’s in there, I can hear him and Mom talking, but when she’s there, I don’t hear a thing. I get the feeling Dad doesn’t go in with them, but I don’t know for sure.
I spend the evening and all night painting. I can’t seem to stop, and knowing that I’ll have to when Victoria comes drives me to paint for as long as I can.
At nine, I’m too tired to keep my eyes open, and I make myself stop. I drink some water and go to bed.
The sound of the bell wakes me up, and I leap out of bed. It’s 11:22 a.m.
Wow, she’s early.