Inside her Belly
– Fierce Fiction by Mary Jo Garrido –
I lay down on the couch ushered by my anguish, my nocturnal terrors, my unending melancholy. His voice pulls me into my head. The clock ticks, backwards. I’m four again.
The twilight inside this wardrobe is the colour of fear. Here’s where bad little girls are kept. I curl up beneath the hems of her old dresses, my face damp with tears, with rage, with sweat and terror. It’s useless to keep calling her; she won’t come. I close my eyes to pretend I’m sleeping, but the smell of mothballs and withered cologne makes me nauseous.
Mommy and Daddy went to the hospital with the new grandpa because my little brother is going to be born. They won’t come back until tomorrow. They said this grandma is like Mommy, that she’ll take care of me. But Mommy doesn’t lock me in a wardrobe. Neither did Gramma-Sue before going away with Grampa-Joe. I liked their house, but Daddy said they moved to a place we can’t go visit.
A few days ago, we arrived from Canada to these other grandparents. Daddy was born in this city and he wants to move here. But I don’t like this house.
“What are you doing awake? Children talk when hens pee,” this grandma said when I asked who her friend was. He’s naughty. I saw him bite her mouth when she opened the door to him and this grandma touched him where his pants close. When she saw me looking, the line between her eyes got deeper and then she told me about the hens. She told her friend to wait for her in the living room and put her hand on my head to make me walk. We went into the hallway, and she sank her nails right through my hair into my head. When I complained, she did it even harder and then pushed me into this wardrobe, squeezing my arm.
“Sleep now!” she said.
I told her I wanted Mommy. She laughed and repeated what I said with a face that made me shake. She closed the wardrobe door and bolted it even when I told her I’m afraid of the dark.
The afternoon we arrived at this house, only the new grandpa greeted us; his name is Pocho, but Daddy calls him “Dad” and I call him Belo-Pocho. His eyes look like caramel and he has the best smile even though his teeth are yellow. He said I was even prettier than in the pictures. This grandma was resting in her bedroom because she had a headache. She doesn’t like to be called Gramma, or Abuela, or Bela, or any other name that smells old, she told me. She’s beautiful; her eyes are blue but they’re scary. She told me to call her by her name, like Mommy and Daddy do, but I can’t say it right and it makes her angry: Blenda… (her eyes shrank); Brenda (she said); Brrrrenda (I tried hard, but I said it wrong again the next time). Daddy told her that I’m only four, that I’ll learn how to say it soon.
This morning when we were having breakfast, this grandma was staring at me. I pretended I was looking at the coloured little balls of fruit cereal that were floating and dyeing the milk in my bowl. Mommy and Daddy had left already for the hospital with Belo-Pocho.
“What big ears you have!” she said and cackled so loud I had to look up at her.
My ears felt heavy.
“And what a terrible big nose you have!” This time she smiled, but a half-smile, lifting only one corner of her lips.
My nose swelled until it turned red and round like a clown’s, the type people laugh at because they are ugly and clumsy. I couldn’t breathe well.
“And what big eyes you have! You look like a scared owl,” she said. “I don’t know who you take after that was so ugly.” She cackled again and stood up.
My face felt hot. If Belo-Pocho was there, he would have told her I am pretty, prettier than in the pictures.
I don’t know how long I’ve been curled up on the floor of this wardrobe. My fear breathes through this silence that stinks like the other things this grandma locks in here (whatever is useless, she told me.) To scare my fear away, I draw pretty things with the shadows: fluffy kittens, butterflies, Mommy’s lips… I think of my little brother sleeping inside her. I close my eyes and go inside her belly too. I hear Mommy singing while I cuddle him and fall sleep, floating.
A punch on the wooden door wakes me up. This grandma unlatches the bolt.
“Come on, girl!” she says and opens the door. Her hair is messy and the red on her lips is smudged. I’ve never seen her like this; she always looks like she’s going to a party. She’s wearing a black robe tied loosely at her waist; I can almost see her breasts, rounder than Mommy’s. “To your room now!”
She pulls me out of the wardrobe. When I start walking towards the door she yells:
“Dammed, big-nose owl, you peed in here!”
She pushes me back into the wardrobe and says I will sleep here so that I learn, and to clean the urine with whatever, my tongue or my pajamas, but when she’s back in the morning she wants it clean. She bolts the door again.
I know crying is useless. I let the wardrobe and its shadows swallow me, and curl up into a ball —or into a snack? — I remember the story. This belly is different; it swallows ugly little girls that come visit this grandma.
Tears drown me as I fall into a bottomless tunnel that stinks of her breath.
The doctor’s voice pulls me back to his office; his eyes are gleaming with answers.
I have a children’s story crushing my soul. Unpublished. Only for bad little girls.
About the Author – Mary Jo Garrido
Mary Jo Garrido is a Dominican-Canadian fiction author who lives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Raconteur literary magazine both in print and online, and was awarded first place in their March 2020 flash fiction contest. She studied Psychology, had a career in Human Resources, and since she can remember, has an unending passion for fiction and poetry. She’s currently writing a collection of short stories as her final project for the Creative Writing certificate at the University of Toronto.
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