Fiction 2012

Cathedral of Cotton — Liz Gaffney

Emmalee crawls into her hideaway. It is made of soft stuff stolen from about the house. A shower rod is the highest beam of her cathedral of blankets and pillows. She took the rod down. All. By. Herself. Lying on her back. Dyed fabrics, stitched together into a quilt, soft and squishy as the tummy of a rabbit. A nest. Little bird size. A girl pretending to be feathered, at least. Warm. Emmalee unfocuses her tawny eyes. Teeny bulbs on green wire wrapped around the rod blur into circles of light. Mmm. Mmmm. Mmmmm. She hums a soft song. Dad sang it to her once, but she forgot the words. Dad isn’t here anymore.

A costume. She needs a costume, to go with her fortress. What to be? Can’t be just anything. Not a princess, they can’t do anything except wait. Animals are no good. No furry things in the trunk of fabric in her closet. Silver stuff, though. Emmalee will be a star. Wrap. Twist. Knot. There. A shiny shiny dress. But the hair. Her brown hair looks boring. To the basement. In a cardboard box under the stairs are Christmas things. And tinsel. The dead bugs under the stairs are icky, though. She goes down. Must be brave for beauty. Puts on dad’s boots. They come up to her scabby knees. Creeeeeeeeak. Door hinges. The box. Flap. Flip. Open. Silver strands weave all over in the collection of balls and stars. Emmalee chooses a handful. And two stars for good measure. Fishing line loop attached to each ornament. Hook over tops of smallish ears. Boots off. Upstairs. To the kitchen.

Momma is making supper. Thud. Squelch. Pfft. Thud. Mashed potatoes. That’ll work. Emmalee likes those. Gotta have butter though. Emmalee asks Momma if she can do something, please. Momma agrees without turning away from the mash. Sure, Baby. What? Braid these in my hair? Momma looks. A grin and a chuckle. Emmalee holds the tinsel up in her sticky fist. Come on, Sugar.

Bathroom. Emmalee sits on the toilet lid, facing the tank. Plink. Plink. Plink. She fiddles with the flusher. Momma knots her daughter’s hair into a long rope. Tinsel weaves in and out, poking out here and there. Band. Done. Wait. Momma looks in the back of the closet full of soaps and makeups. An aerosol can. Here! Kissshhh. Gold glitter clings to every strand of Emmalee’s mousey locks. Done. Really. Pretty. Emmalee hugs Momma. Flies away. To the hideaway. Heaven, where the stars live.

A giant book lives in the coffee table, under the glass part. She needs it. It has pictures of the universe. Ugh. It’s on the floor. Okay. Emmalee’s hands on the book, feet on the carpet, butt in the air. She runs and slides it down the hall. Right into the fortress. Toes trip on the bottom of her shiny makeshift gown. Whump. Ow. Landed on the book instead of the quilt Momma made. Emmalee stands up in front of her mirror. Nothing looks hurt. Everything looks shiny and pretty. Must be okay. Back to the book.

Printed photos of nebulas and storms on Jupiter are nice. They make Emmalee sleepy, page after page after page. Mmmmm. She hums her song again. Lays down. A bear under her head. Eyes close.

All things in the dreamworld are perfect.

God plays his drums. Lightening streaks the sky outside the small girl’s window. Emmalee likes storms, but this one is loud. Waking. It’s late. Hungry. She rubs her eyes and sits up. A big red mark pressed in her cheek from a fold in the nest of blankets. Glitter covers everything. From hair. Emmalee wants supper. Up. To the kitchen. Where is Momma. Where is supper. Where is.

Momma. Momma? Momma! She looks all over the house. Bathrooms are empty. Bedroom. Guest room. Basement. Nothing. Momma isn’t here. Oh no. Panic. Her heart pounds. Emergency? Emmalee isn’t sure. The teachers said to only call for help if someone is hurt or there’s a fire or something really bad happens. There’s nobody hurt. There’s no fire. But is this really bad? Oh god, she can’t be sure. Hide.

Thunder pounds like the sound of a boulder rolling down a mountain. Emmalee sits with her knees tucked under her chin inside her cotton sanctuary. She squeezes her eyes tight. Refusing to believe it. Momma wouldn’t leave her. No. Maybe she went to buy milk. Yeah. That’s gotta be where. Emmalee decides to wait. Wait for the familiar groany squeak of the door. Rumble. Oh yeah. Still hungry. Emmalee musters up more courage than it took to face the dead bugs under the stairs. She runs through the empty house to the pantry. Cereal. Tuck under arm. Run back to safety. She sits in the hideaway picking the star-shaped marshmallows out of the box. It’s distracting. Comforting. Good for waiting. Her tooth hurts. Sugar fills the cavity in her back bottom molar. Darn. Now she’s thirsty.

Emmalee gets the teeth-brushing cup from the bathroom near her room. Water. It tastes hard, like iron. The well isn’t good water, but the bottles are way down in the garage. Drink fridge. She doesn’t like going there. How long has it been? Not sure. Emmalee can’t tell time very well yet. Especially the stupid clock without the numbers in her room. Sure it has a bird that pops out and sings, but what good is that if she can’t tell the time? Okay. Time to look for Momma again. If the car is here, Momma is here. To the garage.

She plucks up her bravery again. Wraps a navy blue blanket around her shoulders and over her head. Alright. Small feet fly to the garage door. Open. Car is there. Okay. Creep around the house. Look in all the hiding places. She has to be here. But. She isn’t. Back to the fortress. Oh no. oh no ohno ohno. What to do. The neighbors live close. Not too far to walk in the rain. They can help.

Emmalee puts on her rubber boots. They have polka dots on them. Little white ones on cornflower blue. Coat. Umbrella, like a color wheel. Thunder and lightning. Dad once told her it’s the angels dancing. The small girl summons the heart of a lion. She opens the front door. To go get Mr. and Mrs. Lawlor. They can help find Momma. Closing the door behind her. Turn. Looking out into the storm. Oh. Wow. It is beautiful and terrifying all at once.

Hi there, Baby. Where you going?

Momma! She sat serenely in a big wicker chair on the porch, watching the rain. Here all along. Run. Drop the umbrella. Up into her arms and on her lap. Emmalee explains how she thought she was gone and where she was headed. Aw. Sweetheart. I’d never leave you. She looked so peaceful, a star sleeping in a small homemade heaven. Couldn’t wake her, not even for potatoes with butter.

Mother and child rock back and forth. Soft sleeves and blankets keep the warmth in. Love you. Squeeze. Kiss. Sniff. Love you too.

One thought on “Cathedral of Cotton — Liz Gaffney

  1. Pingback: Current Issue: Volume 42, Number 2 — Fiction Issue, Spring 2012 « Coe Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s