Shhh.

You named her: Rashida, after her father, in hopes that this would inspire him to linger. He said he liked the “Shhh!” in the middle: We’ll need that. You laughed, heartened. Maybe a namesake was all it took to tether him.

This laughter came before you knew that he was a spore adrift. Before, you’d felt accomplished when you’d cupped your hands and caught him; then one day, you kissed him and saw him float away.

She’s five now. Sometimes when you peek into the darkness of her bedroom and your narrowed eyes find her, a warm cashew-colored lump, snuffling softly under a fluffy pink comforter, you frown.

Today, Rashida needs you, needs you like you needed Rashid. Her hair is a complicated clod, matted mostly to the left side of her head. Somewhere, beneath the tendrils you’ll likely have to use scissors to untangle, there’s a ring of elastic you once thought would be useful.

“Mommy!” she squeals like the pig that she is. “You watchin’?!” Her fat feet thunder across the thin carpet. If you were soberer, you’d worry about the neighbors downstairs, the Asians who seem so prim and reserved and whose feet likely never make noises as loud as your daughter’s.

But now, curled on your couch, nursing your third rum-laced coke, you really don’t care. Alyssa Milano is brandishing a pistol on the Lifetime network. You cackle at her Jersey accent and begin to forget that Rashida has made your living room a miniature of the post-Katrina Astrodome.

She’s dragged her plastic rocking horse to a spot by the front door and ground potato chips under its runners. With a bat from her whiffle-ball set, she’s whacked several Happy Meal toys ten feet, in all directions. Their plastic appendages have scattered and landed half-hidden, like mines. A sticky red splat seeps into the cracks between your kitchen’s linoleum tiles, the emission of a drink box she spent fifteen minutes squeezing after lunch and, wedged under the rickety leg of your coffee table, is the trapped, flaccid arm of a naked Black Barbie–the only thing her father brought up to the hospital the day after she was born.

“You watchin’?!” Rashida presses again, pushing her weight onto her toes and reaching her crayon-wielding hand high above her bobbling head. She’s poised to draw electric blue curlicues on your rented, eggshell wall. You take a long sip and turn away. The small squeak of wax against paint lets you know she’s begun her work. Your eyes roll back and you feel submerged in a pool of liquor, which makes your grin. The grin lets slip a stream of drool.

When you come to, Alyssa Milano is gone and your apartment has been swallowed up in blackness. You pull a few strands of your hair from your mouth; it’s longer and oilier than you expect. Manic rushes of rain smash wildly against your building. Something furry and warm is nuzzling against your bare ankles and feet. You panic: you don’t have pets. Has something feral found its way under your door or through the windows that should’ve been closed before the windy torrents and thunder?

You want to move; you are very still.

A pressure damp and round presses, wet and warm against your ankle. You feel fur, hear a sigh, a smack (of lips, of snout?). Your heart seizes in the dark and, with all the might you can muster, you kick.

For seconds, there is silence as the animal sails backward, then a thud as it hits the ground. Relief slumps your shoulders, and your chest loosens. Then you hear her wail.

You’re almost sad; it was only Rashida, kissing you, quiet for once, in the face of real bedlam. Ragged, wounded sobs gurgle out of her now; you can hear her scrambling. Soon she’ll be on her feet. You reach out, where you think you’ll find her, somewhere by your ankles. You’ll pull her to you until she settles, at least. “Shhh,” you’ll coo till she’s fine.

A sharp burst of pain shoots into your palm. You can almost hear your skin breaking.

“You little bitch!”

You hop up from the couch too quickly and can’t decide whether to hold the side of your head to stop its wobbling or rub at the toothmarks punched into your hand.

But before you’re focused enough to hear them, Rashida’s footsteps are far left, up the narrow hall, toward the bedrooms. Her wails remind you of a raccoon you hit one night last summer. Your windows were down and you could hear its alternating screeches and whimpers for nearly a mile.

A chute of lightning touches down right outside your front windows. For a second, the house is almost as bright as it was before the outage, and you see her, rounding into the bathroom. She’s cornered. You get to the doorframe and reach into it just as she’s swinging it forward, then recoil before it slams shut.

Your hand slides along the immobile metal knob.

“Open this door right now, Rashida. I’m not playing with you!”

The threat sounds slobbery, toothless. You realize you’re slurring and blush.

What would Rashid have done if he were here? He’d probably have bitten her back.

“You come out of there right now!” you shriek, stamping your foot for emphasis.

Rashida’s sobs are petering. First, you figure it’s the rain getting louder. It’s the thunder rising, the wind clawing and gathering howls.

Then the high whinnying of the pipes breaks through and the bile pushing up your chest starts to curdle into a lump, nearly blocking your breath.

“Rashida?” you whisper. “Sweetie, open the door for Mommy.”

Your dulcet tone suddenly shifts your voice into strange, unfamiliar octaves. The vomitous splashes of water crashing into your tub grow heavier, scarier. You scream and kick, throw your shoulder into the door, but the old, weighty wood is stalwart, like a bouncer at the rope of a club.

You keep trying, until your head begins to throb and your mind clears. Then, you know: he wouldn’t have been here. He’d have seen all your late-night frowns. He’d have hated you, taken her, left.

The door swings, finally, forward and you fall before the tub, where your daughter floats.

8 thoughts on “Shhh.

  1. This laughter came before you knew that he was a spore adrift. Before, you’d felt accomplished when you’d cupped your hands and caught him; then one day, you kissed him and saw him float away.

    Loved that, something about ‘spore adrift’ was beautiful, sad and funny. The details of the havoc inflicted on a house by a toddler unattended was spot on. Good stuff.

  2. WOW. the ending… i know it’s just fiction but there’s this pang of sadness i feel for the entire saga of these tattered lives. good writing stacia.

  3. Sib, very expressive & engaging writing style, yet the terrible throbbing lump in my throat at reading such an ending horrifies my being! Personally, things such as this have no business being written about, it’s to shocking! to sensational. to deeply disturbing. unless of course it’s real… but even then , that’s the kind of pain one suffers and shares with no one. j

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