Curled in the southeast corner with thin skin sticking to faux-cheetah acrylic, she crams bits of my manuscript into cracked lips, spitting bits onto cement. An amber bulb, cobwebbed and sickly, swings overhead as she guzzles Merlot I serve her. She dials the phone with her crinkled digit. It’s me on the other end, the recipient of her list of demands. She is feeble. Helpless. Abandoned. I stand in front of her but she can’t see me, and continues to rattle off commands, her blue eyes crane-like and blank. I fix things as she shreds my manuscript. The washer, the dryer, the leak in the wall. Her broken Facebook account. The years of unanswered submissions. I forward her mail, manage her social as she lounges on the musty couch in her robe. I do it all. She is talking about suicide. How she left the car running in the garage. “No accidents,” she says. She is crawling into Virginia’s pockets. It’s romantic and a bit lesbian I must add. Virginia is at the 7-11. It’s good Virginia knows when to take a walk. Yesterday she was a purring kitten. Today she is a trapped bee, upside down in squalor, her wings damp and tiny legs wriggling. I begin to lose my sense of time. Is it 2020? 2021. She’ll publish my book, she says. My voice is necessary. She is my advocate.
Her husband dies. She curses him as he gasps his last breaths. Everyone leaves her. They take his body out and she writes me a note. And I carry bails of water to the back door. She can’t see me, but we are in the same room.
I hear the rain pounding and it leaks through the walls. Fortunately, she’s too drunk to make it to the lake, but through the window bars, I see Virginia lurching along the Ouse. She says I can be the daughter she never had. I tell her I don’t need another bad mother. Yes, this is harsh to say to a pale-eyed, prone crane, but she never hears what I say anyway. Her words slur beyond comprehension. She changes the titles of my poems. A week later, she claims they’re stupid and attributes them to me. The next day, she says I’m a genius and my words are important. She will publish my book. I will manage things for her. She’ll pay me in books. She is a champion of grief and lesbians. She is a heroine of the highest order.
Water continues to seep into the basement. My feet and legs are cold. The floor drain has stopped working. Two years have passed, and publications come and go. Not mine. I do things. I help writers. I fetch things. I say “yes.” And sometimes, “maybe that’s not a good idea.” Wading through the stench and slime, I catch my foot on an underwater chain. My ankle rips open and cracks as I pull it away. The drain opens and the water is sucked into the blackest of holes.