What I remember is the shell-pink nail polish. Even as I looked at it, her pinky finger dangling with that frosty color, I wondered, Why this? Why am I noticing this?
It’s strange how your mind can split into so many different bits and pieces, slivers of it sending a thousand different messages. Scream. Run. Or Careful, careful, don’t startle the bear. Other parts recall a television show about worst-case scenarios that tell you Don’t make eye contact, play dead, even as your lungs send a distress signal and your brain reminds you to Breathe.
Now a part insists She’s dead. Look at the blood. Another insists She can’t be. Another laughs at the absurdity and assures you Don’t worry, none of this is real.
And then there’s the part that registers shell-pink nail polish. Delicate and pretty and coating her nails perfectly, making them look like seashells. You can hardly take your eyes off it, even as another part takes in
her dangling pinky,
the look on her face,
how her body is sprawled out,
the pink of the pool water,
and the bear . . .
She asked me if I wanted to sit out near the pool with her and I didn’t. I told her it was too hot, and besides it was the last two weeks of school and I had end-of-year exams to study for. But she didn’t even let me finish before she started shaking her head and talking over me. God, Dani. Have some fucking fun for once, would you? she said as she splashed some vodka into her lemonade.
But I did have exams. And it was too hot. It was always too hot. And even if it wasn’t officially summer yet, it was always summer in Florida, the sun was always blinding, and we, me and her, we were always like this. I couldn’t think of a worse way to spend the afternoon than with my mother, telling me all the ways I was stunted or terrible or not like her.
I looked at her from the corner of my eye, taking in another of her barely there bikinis and too-tan skin.
“You’re going to get skin cancer,” I told her because I couldn’t help myself.
She laughed, shook her head. “Well, we all die of something, Dani. Who the hell cares if it’s skin cancer or something else.” She took a sip of her drink, then flipped her long blond hair with hardly a glance in my direction, the way she always did when she was done with me. When she couldn’t care less what I said next.
I don’t know why I hated her. Or I do know, but the reasons, they don’t translate to words. All I know is she made it hard to breathe, and a tightness would shoot across my chest, from one shoulder to another, and press down on me. And somehow I hated myself. Just because I was her daughter. Her terrible daughter, as she liked to remind me.
I watched her open the sliding glass door that led to the pool and the patio and then close it behind her. I watched her untie her top and lie down on her stomach, taking her time to get comfortable even though the yard wasn’t fenced in. Even though the neighbors on either side could look out and see her and often did. She knew it, too. She reveled in it.
I watched her. I watched every move she made. And I thought, I’ll never be like you.
I waited to see if you would look at me. But you closed your eyes.
One of my tests she always failed.
So I went to my room, that empty, self-satisfied feeling enveloping me in a cloud of self-hatred. Because, oh, how you made me hate myself. You made me want to cover up from head to toe, wish to be anything but your daughter. I flopped on my bed, pulling out from under me notes and study guides that were now useless because my head was too full with you. With anger and rage for you. With how you shoved your way into my every thought when all I wanted was to get away from you.
I plugged in my headphones. Turned the music up so loud it hurt my head and left no room for you. Turned it up so I could be anywhere but there. Turned it up so I’d forget about school and you half-dressed in the backyard for all the world to see.
I guess that’s why I didn’t hear you screaming.