Mama once told me, lies are like the ocean. They drown out the truth of tomorrow, filling your world with salt.
Morning comes. It punches through Katrina’s pall of clouds swirling in the sky. Light is chopped and crammed through ramshackle blinds. Dollar store pieces of shit haphazardly strewn across my window. Woefully, the gleam bounces off flecks of dust idling bored inside my room, teasing me to wake. With a groan, my feet find the floor cold, despite the Louisiana heat already on the rise.
Not a good sign.
No need to make a dash for the grocers to snatch up the last of the expired milk and days-old bread, but still, it’s not good. Or maybe I’m lying to myself.
I do that.
But the clash of glass plates, disheveled silverware, and bacon’s bouquet emanating from the hall are making my stomach think my throat’s been cut.
Wood floors creak as I sleek into the kitchen, a sad interpretation of a late seventies renovation job gone south. A string of mist, climbing from a pan of grease asizzle on the stove, gives hope to a full belly. But as I ingest the aroma, obscene faces of a ghost, some slain pig, press out from the smoke before melting into the apple-green paper lining the walls.
It leaves a stain, yellow and crusted.
The monster barks, his voice gravelly and curt. Hunched over, his gnarly fingers nurse morning’s hangover. “Will you hurry your ass up with the coffee! God damn head’s killing me!”
Mama drops her spatula and scurries across the linoleum. “Well, that happens when you drink, hun,” she says, licking her swollen lips. Shaking, she pours from the pot but misses. It lands on Monster’s hand, scalding it.
It too leaves a stain.
“Bitch!” he screams, jolting up from the chair.
The sound of his slap across her face tears through me. Waves of deeply rooted anger bloom, a silent storm I’ve harbored since the first time. The first time I lied to myself.
A clenched fist smashes against Monster’s face.
I’m surprised to see it’s mine.
He roars to new life—a sobered devil.
Pain. White and hot, scores through the space between my temples. I find the floor again. Or the floor finds me. I don’t know which, but it’s colder than candied iced tea.
We should’ve left.
The insides of my cheek rake against my teeth, and the fat fleshy levees shatter, drenching my tongue in copper.
I roll to my back. Monster’s shadow looms, a hurricane of hate.
He collapses onto me. His bourbon-laced spit stings my eyes, and his hands constrict around my throat.
Red splotches, black in the middle, swamp my vision. Lungs scream for air. And Monster laughs.
We should’ve left.
A clang of metal on skull, and I can see again. The kitchen’s doused in crimson. Monster’s anger melts into shock, and his crooked smile deadens. He falls limp beside me.
His phantom hold is slow to fade, so I kick away and claw at my neck. Mama and the skillet, both emptied, collapse. Her sobs come faster than the pelting rain beating against our windows.
Cradling Monster, Mama’s floral-laden nightgown sops up the gore spilling out from the back of his head. She cries his name, a macabre plea for mercy, and with hands cupped, shovels busted bone and putrid gray matter in a feeble attempt to contain the breach.
It’s no use. It’s a flood, and Monster’s at an end.
Chest tightens, quickened breaths come shallow. I reach for Mama, but the city sirens bark dire warnings. Winds howl, crushing the walls around us. The ocean, at our doorstep, rises. And waters tickle the tips of our toes with a sacrament of brine and blood.
“Mama, we need to go,” I tell her.
Dragging her, haunting confessions trail after. We scramble up into the attic to break through the roof. The rain slashes at my arms and back and face as the splintered wood rakes against my skin, pulling me back into the house.
A clatter downstairs shatters my resolve.
*A life abandoned? A murmur? Dishes? Or maybe—I’m lying to myself again. *
“Did you hear?” Mama asks, eyes wide.
Retreat stalls, wading through memories, sweet and tangy as molasses. Backyard barbeques under sun-ripened peaches, sultry Blues dance parties in the living room, and Mama and Monster asway in each other’s arms, loving.
A smack from the sea, and memories fade. No, not memories—lies.
Ignoring Mama’s plea, I pull away and climb atop the sandy shingles, feet vying for grip. Arms heavy with regret and too skinny for anything other than a paltry appeal, I wail against the tempest, Katrina. Her meaty, crocodile droplets camouflage the sorrow pouring down my cheeks.
Mama follows, driven forward by the rising sea. She looks to me, her bloodied stare a fervent petition. “We can’t just leave him. He’s your father!”
I squeeze her tight, allowing the thump thump thump of my heart to proclaim my truth. She finds it then, in my silence, and swallows the urge to hate me for it.
He’s not my father. He’s Monster and yes, yes, we can.
A small fishing boat, repurposed as a lifesaving Cutter, bounces against the storm gutters. They were hung to redirect rainwater away from our home’s foundation. The irony makes us laugh. If we don’t, we’d cry.
A man, pale-faced but kind, reaches for us. His calloused hands, strong and steady. “I got you,” he says, assuring. He pulls us into the boat and straps a foamy tangerine around our necks. The guard covers the shadowy fingers draped about like a family heirloom.
Father’s memento, his stain.
“You two hurt?” the man asks, eyeing the bruises rising like dough across our faces.
We turn away.
“Anyone else in the house?”
“Only a monster,” I tell him, eyes anchored against the impassioned sea, brimming with death—and salt.
No more lies. No more salt.