Two Rivers Meet, Rebecca Turnbull

Maná booms from the CD player, making the walls quake and water drip from the showerhead. Mom throws the towel over my head, drying my hair, my cheeks – still heavy with baby fat. “My little angel, you’re getting so big,” she says, voice unsteady. She jumps when a slam reverberates through the bathroom. It sounds like the front door closing.

“Is Daddy okay?” I ask her. She sits on the toilet seat, wraps me in the towel, and pulls me into her lap. She’s shaking. Like the walls. Is the music making her do that?

“It’s nothing, baby. Don’t worry.” Mom presses her face into the top of my head. We stay there until my fingers are no longer pruney.

I shake Dad as he lounges on the couch, squealing, “Do it again! Do it again!” He smiles at me, makes a duck with his hand and quacks, then he tickles me, keeps tickling me until I’m wheezing with tears in my eyes, lungs stinging, head spinning, heart swelling as his cackles and my giggles fill my ears and a smile splits my face in two. He stops his onslaught to set his beer on the table. 

Mom creeps into the house with me and my siblings on her heels. Blood stains the kitchen floor, turning from quarters to dimes. The flowers in the backyard sprawl across the ground, soil like hands crawling towards their broken pots. In my sister’s bathroom, her shattered window lets in a draft. There’s a dent in the wall across from it and a brick on the floor. Mom mops the kitchen with swollen eyes and hunched shoulders, threatening to fold in on herself. We can hear the TV on upstairs. I find holes along the side of the front door where nails used to be. This place I call home no longer feels like it. 

My dad comes in from the backyard with Mom’s favorite – ribs. She pulls out the baked potatoes from the oven for me to inspect. She asks which one I’d like. I point to the smallest one. She gives me the biggest one. We squeeze our chairs around the island so we can all fit, shoulder to shoulder, elbow space in each others face. “Ew! Stop chewing with your mouth open, nasty!” My little sister laughs while I’m shouting across the cacophony of voices how my day was. Mom inhales her ribs, stopping only to add to the conversation. My older sister and little brother try to smear barbecue sauce on each other. My dad finishes his drink. Two parts Tequila. One part Squirt.

The driver’s side door flings open. “Move,” he says, “Move out of the fucking way!” I stammer, words stuck to my tongue. What do I say? What should I do? He lurches forward, features distorted by the light above the door. The alcohol poisons his breath and burns my nose. His words slur into one rushed sigh. You can’t drive home like that. I won’t let you drive my family anywhere like that. Say it. Say it. But I don’t. It’s cold outside, yet my body burns from my father’s insults and vicious gaze. For a moment, I try to convince myself that’s not him, but his voice rings through my ears, and his is the only one that makes my tongue taste like blood and weighs my limbs down with fear. Across the street, there is a beautiful line of houses. I wonder if they can see my family falling apart.

Outside, smoke wavers and blows into my eyes while Mom wobbles like the dying bonfire, a beer bottle in hand. My aunt whispers to her, “When are you going to leave him? You’re done with him, right? You need to leave that motherfuckers ass soon,” and so on, and so on. Mom sighs, her voice crackling like the logs in the flames as she replies, “I know, I know. You’re right. I think-” Another sigh. “I think I’m finally done.” It’s a line I’ve heard enough times to memorize the stress she gives to her i’s, the drop in pitch for ‘fall,’ but this time is different. She breathes the line like a revelation, baptizing herself. Maybe it was destined to happen. The embers at the bottom of the pit pulsate, beating rhythmically. In the morning, my jacket will reek of smoke. I don’t mind. I like the warmth it provides me even if it sometimes burns me. 

About the Author

Vanesa Ruvalcaba · University of California Riverside

Vanesa Ruvalcaba is a junior Creative Writing major at UC Riverside. “Paloma” first appeared in Matchbox Magazine.

About the Artist

Rebecca Turnbull · Marshall University

Rebecca Turnbull received her BA in journalism from Marshall University in 2018. She currently attends law school at The Ohio State University. Her photography and writing have previously been published in Thoreau’s Rooster. “Two Rivers Meet” first appeared in Et Cetera.

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