|Photo Credit: Morguefile by phaewilk|
Today's post is a response to the GBE2 prompt: The Seven Deadlies: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth, Greed, Lust
Four year-old Alexander looked up at his mother, his face possessed of grim determination and refusal.
"I need you to clean your room," repeated the mother. She said it with the voice of a woman draping manipulation in cloths of nicey-nicey. The manipulation showed through. Alexander felt his feet on the floor become heavy, as if they might bore through the old linoleum. He could not move them if he would. And he wouldn't. There was too much mess in that room.
Alexander soon found himself shut up in that room, penned by nicey-nicey meanness. Toys were on the bed, on the floor, hanging from the latches of windowsills. The mother was outside. He was in here with chaos larger than his own slight body. She could sweet-sweet all she wanted. She was trying to be cruel.
Lily sat at the living room table, trying for the moment to forget the frustration of contending with Alexander. She sipped a cup of coffee and listened to birds chirping in the trees. That child, she sometimes thought, was put here on this earth to make sure that she never felt she knew what she was doing. A little monster with hair kissed by sunbeams, who took delight in babies and the activities of tiny insects. She was young and he was her first child. He would not buy into her ethical teachings–her "parenting." He was the prince of his own small nation. What was he doing in there? This was what she was supposed to do, she hoped. She had tried empathy yesterday to no avail. Today she would try tough love.
"You will stay in there until you have put your things away," she'd told him.
She thought it was OK to say that as long as you didn't sound mad. She sipped once more and bit her nail. Silence boomed from Alexander's room. Several more minutes passed, filled for Lily with a procession of doubts and taunts against the background of quiet and birdsong. Finally, the door creaked open. Alexander stood in the doorway and his fair face was smeared with black.
"Ink," he said stupidly.
She leaped up and looked into his room, to find a stamp pad open on the floor. Ink covered his unfinished pine chest bed, his dresser drawers, the window frame, the floorboards.
"Black," said Alexander.
Turning, Lily felt her limbs fall out of her control. Something possessed her. That thing stomped into the kitchen and collected a garbage bag. It swept Alexander's toys into the bag.
"I am going to give these toys to a little boy who knows how to behave," the thing said.
Lily was horrified at this thing. How dare it talk to her child in this way? She was paralyzed and watched helplessly from within the body of the monster. Toy after toy after toy was shoved into the bag. Alexander stood blankly defiant and then began fighting with her to retrieve the toys. She was stronger than Alexander. He could cow her with his disobedience, with his stubborn disinterest in being good, but she was bigger and she was stronger. His body fell away from the bag as easily as a cast off shoe. He began to sob. Lily felt her heart break, but her limbs kept throwing toys in the bag, her lips kept making cruel remarks.
The mother was a thing possessed. He had wanted to push her, had known just how, but somehow he had flipped a switch in her. The nicey-nicey was all gone. He searched and couldn't
it find it anywhere. He had never known before how much he counted on this niceness in his mother. She was a whirling giant possessed of limbs like tree branches. She stole his things. When, with great embarrassment, the tears came, she did not stop. She did not stop and hold him. The mother was gone. He cried harder.
She lifted Alexander hard and put him in the bathtub. The shower came on and it was cold. She didn't make it warm. It was always warm in the bathtub. This cold water made him shrivel up, smaller even than he was. With hard, uncaring hands, the mother rubbed at his face, removing ink. She rubbed until he was sure he would bleed. He cried some more. He cried for missing the nicey-nicey mother who yesterday had tried to make him wonder what it might feel like to be an ant whom Alexander crushed. He shivered hard until sleep took him.
Lily sat at the edge of the bathtub, holding both Alexander's head and the shower hose and saw that he had fallen asleep. Control returned to her body and shame flooded her senses. She was a child abuser. All these years of careful reading of child psychology, all these years modeling empathy. It ends like this.
"Here I am," she thought "blasting my own child with cold water. Here I am telling him he is bad. I am a monster."
Tears rolled down Lily's cheeks. Gently, she rested Alexander's head on the side of the bathtub. She retrieved his towel–the one with his name and pictures of insects on it–and covered him up. Gingerly, she lifted him out of the bathroom. He was so small, so tiny for his age. She laid him down on her bed, his wet hair making a halo of damp on her husband's pillow. Smears of black ink were still visible on his cheeks, after all that scrubbing. She curled up next to him, wiping tears away from her eyes. She must never let herself become so angry again. She would not be that kind of mother.
She would stave off wrath with education, fight it off with empathy. She would build a wall of understanding so high that wrath could never reach her. She would never feel or act like this again. Of that, she could be sure.