By Michelle Reale
Gigi sleeps through the night. This is problematic. She swims with great white sharks, dances with starfish, wiggles a trunk of fin. All the while the sun illuminates her sparkling scales, blinding the sea creatures around her. Gigi drinks a lot of water that she sips from a glass with a candy striped straw that bends. She writes in her diary that she has a “special relationship to the sea.” Gigi wakes up in sopping sheets. Gigi is a prolific bed wetter. She has ways of dealing with this. It is all part of the plan.
Gigi’s mother, for the most part, is not like other mother’s. She has respected the fact that Gigi’s room belongs to her and so does not creep around like her friends’ mothers’ do in their rooms. Gigi does not smoke cigarettes. She is not hiding condoms, or birth control pills. She does not hoard magazines with bare chested boys who look sullen, but lovely, nonetheless. No, Gigi does none of those things. Gigi hides piss soaked sheets, dried stiff, balled up under her bed until she has the house to herself and she can wash them. Her small bedroom sometimes smells like ammonia. Sometimes like maple syrup. Gigi thinks the smell has come to “define her.” She has shared this with a few of her friends. They have demanded answers. They have wrinkled their noses and accused her of teasing, but she stood her ground. “It’s true,” she tells them, solemnly, with dignity, staring beyond them. They will realize now that she is special, like she has always believed she was. She realizes she may lose a few of these friends.
Gigi’s father is sympathetic towards his daughter, knows she is going through “something” and tells her he is always there “to talk,” if it should become necessary. He pats her gently on her back. Gigi longs to say “more please,” but is not good at asking land creatures for what she needs. When Gigi was a much younger girl her mother had taken to sleeping on the couch in front of the television. This left a space for Gigi in bed with her father. He slept in his underwear. She was lonely in her small room and was not allowed to keep the small light. It would have been a comfort. She would breathe into her father’s back, and ball her small fist to her mouth and hold her breath. Her father would wake and carry her back to bed. She always asked for a drink of water first. He always obliged.
When the principal at Gigi’s school called her mother, she could not have predicted how quickly everything would change. When her mother came into her room, she retched at the smell and opened the only window in the room, even though it was very cold outside. She cornered Gigi and began slapping her about the head. Words were said that Gigi will never forget. Her mother’s flaring nostrils and watery eyes were truly frightening. She threatened to wrap Gigi in diapers. Tell her friends. Make her sleep on the floor. She found Gigi’s diary on the unmade bed with the stained mattress. She was quiet only while she was reading. Her mother threw the diary against the wall, walked to the landing and yelled to her husband. “Houston, we’ve got a problem!” He took a long time to ascend the stairs.
Gigi’s mother decided to let the sheets hang out of the window, like a banner of shame. The mattress was propped on the front porch to air. Gigi’s father was sympathetic, but said “I have problems of my own, little girl.” Gigi’s new room does not have a lot of furniture, and she doesn’t get much sleep. There is always someone who wants to talk to her. Their smiling faces are eerie in their sameness. They are cheerful without reason. They ask her to talk about her feelings. She likes to record her conversations with the sea creatures as a testament to better living. They tell her not to be afraid: Swim toward the light! They were her true family. They console her and tell her that others don’t understand now, but oh, someday they will. When she is submerged, someday, she will be their emissary.
Gigi isn’t sure, but thinks it is a long time since she has seen her mother. Gigi knows both her parents are quite busy. Their world is so much more difficult than the one she lives in. She wants them to know she has no bad feelings toward them and wishes them only good things. She wonders about so many things. For instance, what has become of her sheets? Who will console her father in the night? Gigi is so very tired now and very thirsty. She drinks a glass of water, so cold and so bracing, her eyes begin to tear. She wipes her mouth will the back of her hand, then swipes at her eyes. The water continues to flow. She does not call this crying, though others might. It is not. The wetness is merely the prelude to a beautiful aquatic world, which she is eager to slip into. She kisses the tip of a starfish arm. It smiles back and tickles her under her chin. The sea creatures swim and swirl around her, welcome her back. “Don’t leave us!” they chant. And this time she won’t. She is sure her parents will understand that she won’t be coming back. She thinks they may have understood this a long time ago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle Reale is an academic librarian working in a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her fiction has appeared in Verbsap, Dogzplot, elimae JMWW, Monkeybicycle, Blood Orange Review, Apt, Pequin and others.