So, he’s finally found a job, and he comes home to me and the baby the first Friday he gets paid wearing this huge shiny hat that he’s tied under his chin in a leather knot that looks tangled and permanent. I ask him where the groceries and diapers are, and he takes a long shuddery breath before he throws a chair across the room. He puts his clenched fists over his eyes and tries to flatten the noise he says is always in his head and I know he’s thinking, look what you made me do, you bitch, so I ignore the baby crying and ask him in the soft voice he likes what’s with the hat. It’s oilskin, he says. It doesn’t let anything in. Anything like what, I ask, and he says like seawater or ocean squalls. I remind him that we live in Tennessee and this time he smacks me and says that river fishermen use them too, and he got it cheap from this guy who knows a guy. He says we don’t need groceries now that we can catch our own fish and he wipes gray sweat off his forehead and scrapes his hands across his jeans. I look into his eyes, and they tell me what he spent money on besides the hat. What are you looking at, he yells, and I tell him that I like fish and maybe the baby will, too, and I’ve got just the recipe and I’m gonna go and tell her about it. I dress her in layers of clothes and grab a few things of my own, but my hands are shaking, and I drop a couple of tops on the floor and kick them under the bed, out of sight. I change into a pair of slippers so I can tiptoe out the back door with my daughter in my arms. We go to my sister’s place. When she sees me, she gasps and puts her hand to her mouth and tells me she’s gonna get some ice. This time is different, I say. And I mean it. I will exchange my flesh for oilskin. This time is different, I tell her again. My sister is quiet. She holds my daughter so I can manage the cold pack. It’s okay, she whispers, it’s okay, she says, and rocks my daughter against the tide.
A Best of the Net nominee, Carolyn R. Russell’s poetry, essays, and short stories have been featured in numerous publications. She has also authored four books. Carolyn lives on and writes from Boston’s North Shore. More at http://carolynrrussell.com/