Three Tapes – Sarah Askins
Starts with you bursting forth into this sterile world in tantrums and wails. Wiped clean, measured, your feet never touch the linoleum. You’re carried over to the arms of your panting mother who holds your redness near her and forgets the past thirty hours. Of course, you won’t remember any of this except when your parents drag out the VHS tapes and force you to watch the black specked horror show. Mother shoots back her cocktail and covers her eyes.
Fade out to darkness then fade in, you see your father bounce you around in his arms. Someone else holds the black Cyclops eye that followed all of your moves—a doctor, nurse, Grandpa Earl. You don’t know, and your parents never say. You watched as Father pulled out cigars, and a red nail-polished hand accepted from behind the camera. He smiled, and red fingernails passed the camera to Grandpa Dino. You never see her face just the sounds of her heels clinking like champagne toasts walking out the door. Mother stared out the window. Her smile faded into exhaustion.
The tape halts and jerks to Mother sitting in a wheelchair, you nestled in her arms. One set of grandparents pushed her outside while the other set directed the whole scene from behind the lens.
Begins with you discovering your toes and shoes. You flopped on fatty bottom, grabbed the couch, pulled up and pushed off. Ankles buckled, but you refused to fall. Wobble, wobble, step, plop. Then, you grabbed the end table with its yellowing doily and the the lamp tumbled down and grazed your left cheek. Mother shrieked at the small drop of blood, and Father kept filming.
You know what comes next. Mother pauses the tape before you hear her finish stop taping you–. Father clears his throat, gets up from the sofa, grunts something about a phone call. He goes to the guest room and purrs baritone behind the locked door. Mother sips her gin and tonic and mumbles a “that’s nice dear.”
Stare at the frozen picture. Red hair pulled into a ponytail, spit up stains down her green flannel shirt, lines between her eyes pressed perpendicular. Damn, motherhood makes you ugly, you think to yourself as Mother pours another cocktail. She fast-forwards past her swearing fit.
You bite down a giggle as you watch your mother flip your father the bird . The only action visible between the gray and black lines speeding past on the screen. Stop, resume watching. Mother places her pill bottle next to her glass and swallows a few. You want me to get Father, you ask. She never answers.
Brings your first day of school. You see the old house with the dogwood tree next to the driveway. Your father stood outside waiting for you to walk out in your new denim jumper, crisp white shirt with ruffles. Even from the outside, you could hear Mother cursing at your slowness. Get the fuck out here, Father screamed right as the bus driver passed your house. You skulked outside. Arms grasped around the polyester pink leg of Mother. Shit, you missed the bus, Father said tape still rolling. You ran fast to escape mother’s raised hand. Braids slapped your face until the driver stopped to let Timothy Patrick MacMillan on, and you scooted in behind him. Another dark pause, the tape shifts to the dining room.
Mother asked how your first day went, and you tried to stall till Father came home. If we wait for him, then you won’t get to tell me, she said between sips of her cocktail. You explained how Ms. Hicks is really super nice to you, and your classroom pet arrives next week. Mother nodded and sipped as you talked about how mean Abigail stuck her tongue out at you and Daisy gave you a best friend charm. How come Ms. Hicks said she held me as a baby? You asked, and Mother choked on the half-swallowed gin but never answered. She smiled and talked about packing your lunch for the next day, bath time, and the next story to read.
The tape clicks and stops. Want to watch the next one? You ask as you hear the glass shatter on the hardwoods. Glass and ice and her sleeping pills everywhere, Mother slumps over the end of the sofa. Check her pulse and try to decide if you should disturb your Father.
Sarah Askins is a writer and poet living in Chatham County, North Carolina. She earned her MA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in English. Her flash fiction pieces have appeared in Writing Tomorrow Magazine and Black Mirror Magazine, and she is currently working on a short story collection and poetry chapbook. She blogs about poetry, the writing life, and her Springer Spaniels at SarahAskins.com. When she isn’t blogging or writing, she can be found on Twitter: @SarahBostAskins or Facebook: sarahaskinspoetwriter.