The girl sits in the lukewarm bathwater alone. All she feels is wet.
Dinner was terrible: a canned glop of glistening mucus they called chow mein. There was something solid in it, lettuce or cabbage or slug. It was the same color as mucus, with the same slimy, salty flavor. It was hard to tell. The crunchy, burnt twiglets sprinkled on top hadn’t helped. It was all snot, and now, she was sitting in lukewarm water, alone and wet.
She popped the cap of the shampoo open and squirted a dollop on her hand. Absentmindedly, she rubbed it into her scalp and pulled the bubbles toward the ends of her hair.
Dinner was the same every night, starting with grace (Dear Lord, thank you for this meal, thank you for the people sharing it, amen), and then, something quick from a can or a box. Sometimes, it was cooked on the stove; sometimes, it came from the massive brown microwave with the turn dial that counted down to a ding. Microwave dinners were extra fast. They did a lot during the day. Dinner had to be fast.
Chow mein was a stove dinner, even though it came from a can.
She had transferred what she could into her napkin. The plan was to sneak it into the bathroom to flush it down the toilet. She had asked to be excused to go to the bathroom to pee. Dad had caught her. A large, snot-leaking napkin was too obvious not to get caught. She couldn’t sneak it to Barney, always begging for food under the table. Even the dog had too much taste to eat that slop.
She had been a disappointment. Food was not to be wasted. She knew she was in trouble, so it didn’t matter that this was not food--it was the same cloudy mucus that leaked from her nostrils when she cried.
She sat back down quietly and forced a forkful of glop down. Best not to chew too much. It was worse when it stayed in her mouth for too long. It tickled that place at the back of her throat that made her stomach slam shut and try to eject the contents. Best to swallow it whole. She would have to sit at the table for five more big bites, until the chow mein was gone. Food was not to be wasted. Mom and Dad had worked hard all day, and that was dinner. Eat it.
And now, she sat in lukewarm bathwater alone, thinking about chow mein.
Dad wouldn’t make her eat snot—not Dad here, her real Dad. He would have real dinner. Maybe after real dinner, they would do something fun. She did fun things with her real Dad, but he lived in Florida. She did fun things with her real Dad, like make up silly rhymes and songs. If she lived with her real Dad, she wouldn’t have to do stupid stuff like gag on chow mein. She would never get to live with her real Dad. It would be chow mein and disappointment forever.
She dunked her head in the lukewarm bathwater to rinse away the bubbles. They melted in the bathtub. She lifted her head up again and sat. Normally, she’d feel chilly sitting here, wet, doing nothing. Tonight, she sat and felt wet and not much else.
She stared at the yellow shine of the baby shampoo in the clear bottle. It glistened like chow mein. She wasn’t a baby. She was eight and three-quarters years old. An eight and three-quarters-year old girl didn’t need baby shampoo. She should be able to use the shampoo in the green bottle. She could take a bath by herself. She wasn’t a baby.
NO TEARS, the red circle on the bottle said. That’d be nice. No tears. No chow mein. No missing her real Dad. No disappointment. That’d be nice.
Shampoo was poison, right? It glistened like chow mein, and that was definitely poison. NO TEARS. Sitting in the lukewarm bathwater alone, she thought about poison. Would it be fast? When she watched those Agatha Christie shows on TV with Mom, poison made them twitch and make faces, but it was fast. Drink the poison, and then, no tears.
She unscrewed the cap and set it on the side of the bathtub. This would work. She waited a second. She couldn’t hear anyone at the door. Good. That’d be embarrassing if they caught her drinking poison. No sound except a little slap of lukewarm bathwater on her back. Good.
She tilted the bottle toward her mouth and stopped. What if it was gloppy like chow mein? She thought about chow mein. She thought about baby shampoo. Baby shampoo had to be more like water, even though it was thick. It melted. Chow mein didn’t melt. It was sitting in the pit of her stomach, along with the feeling she had disappointed everyone. Baby shampoo would be better than chow mein.
She tilted the bottle toward her mouth and drank. It tasted like the bitter soap they made her hold in her mouth when she used bad words. This must be effective poison because it tasted awful. Probably only a little bit was needed. She screwed the top back on and set the bottle on the side of the bathtub. She waited to die.
She sat in the lukewarm bathwater alone.
No twitching. No strange faces.
She’d have to eat whatever they had for dinner tomorrow night. Maybe it would be macaroni and cheese. She liked macaroni and cheese. She let the lukewarm bathwater circle down the drain, waiting until it all emptied out of the tub. She stood up and grabbed the blue towel that was as big as she was. She wiped the drips of water from her face. She squeezed the water from her hair.
Time to put on some clothes. Time to brush teeth. Time for bed.