Back to Sleep

Roselle is sixteen. She is my daughter. She is magnificent.

My husband, Martin, is not Roselle's father. Roselle's father lives in New Jersey and does not make a living.

Martin and I are having breakfast and I'm mad at him because he woke me up last night. I take tiny nibbles and push the food around on my plate, but he doesn't notice. I exhale, hard.

Martin puts down his newspaper. "What?" The way he says it, it doesn't sound like a question.

I hate being woken from a deep sleep. He knows this. Yet whenever he gets up during the night he makes more noise than he needs to. I think he doesn't like being alone. And now he is mad at me for being mad.

"Nothing," I answer.

He goes back to reading his paper.

"You woke me up last night," I finally say.

"Not me. I slept like a baby."

I know I didn't imagine it. I heard footsteps in the hall. The bathroom door slamming shut.

"Then who was making all that noise?" I ask.

Martin nods toward the room where Roselle is still asleep. But he's wrong. Roselle has tiny, silent feet. She shuts the bathroom door gently. You hear nothing but the discreet click of the latch catching.

"Roselle is quiet," I say.

Martin snorts and goes back to reading his paper.

I wonder if Roselle is unwell. I get up and dump my cold scrambled eggs into the garbage. Standing over it, I take one bite of toast and throw that away, too.

I tiptoe to the door of Roselle's room and hear nothing. I decide to let her sleep.

We live in an apartment and share one bathroom, so we have to be considerate. If I shower now, I'll be done before Roselle wakes up, before Martin finishes the paper. I go into the bathroom and find Martin's wet towel on the floor. I didn't realize he had already showered. Usually the noise wakes me.

I pick up the wet towel and bring it out to Martin.

"What's this?" I demand.

Martin looks up. "Towel, dear."

"Why was it on the floor?"

"You know what your problem is?" he says. "Your problem is you think someone has to be perfect for you to love them."

Martin takes a sip of his coffee. He's unaware that there's a crumb on his moustache. This embarrasses me and I look away.

"I just don't see what's so difficult about picking up a towel," I say.

"I must have taken leave of my senses," he says.

I turn and walk back toward the bathroom. As I pass Roselle's door, I hear a voice, whispering. It is not her whisper. It is a masculine whisper. I feel a clenching in my chest.

I look back at Martin, but he is behind the newspaper. I grab the doorknob to Roselle's room and swing it open.

A naked young man stands in the middle of her room. He covers his genitals with his hands but I can still see his black pubic hair and the tender white flesh above it. I try to make sense of the tableau, Roselle in bed, her bare shoulders showing from beneath the covers, an unclothed boy with an earring.

"Fuck," Roselle says.

The young man grabs his pants and holds them in front of himself. I slam the door shut and lean against it, my heart pounding. I hear frantic whispering inside.

"Martin," I say, "there's a boy in her room."

"See?" he says, as if this proves something.

"Martin," I repeat, "there's a boy in her room, naked."

"What do you want me to do? Shoot him?"

I open the door again. The boy is tucking in his shirt. Roselle is sitting on her bed in her shortie bathrobe. Her legs look charming.

"Mom," she says, "this is Lawrence."

"Get out of my house, Lawrence," I say.

"Mo-om," Roselle pleads.

"It's okay," Lawrence says to Roselle. He grabs his jacket off her white antique chair, the one I bought upstate, and kisses her on the cheek. "I'll call you later."

I stand in the hallway and watch Lawrence's back as he walks toward the door. I glance over at Martin, who is standing now, with his arms folded. I know what he is thinking. He is thinking, now you know that Roselle is not perfect.

"Get out of my house," I say again, this time through clenched teeth.

"It's not a house, it's an apartment," Lawrence says with adolescent scorn.

Before I know what I'm doing, I've jumped on Lawrence's back, punching, kicking, pulling. I hear Roselle scream and feel Martin's strong hands pull me off. I stare at Lawrence and see blood on his earlobe. Did I rip off his earring? Did I do that?

He sees where I'm looking and his hand goes up to touch it. He stares at the blood now on his fingertips.

"What the fuck?" he says.

This sets me off again and I tear away from Martin, but Roselle steps in front of me.

"Don't, Mom. I'm in love with him."

"You are?"

Roselle nods. It's that slow, lovely nod she has, so full of poignancy.

"Oh, baby," I say. "I didn't know!"

Roselle bites her lip and looks shy. I embrace her then and weep. She is my love. My baby. I feel tired suddenly and want to sleep. That's what I'll do now. Go back to sleep.

About the author:

Ellen Meister lives and writes in Long Island, New York. She has recently completed her first novel and is an e2ink award anthology nominee. Some of her other short stories can be seen online in Amarillo Bay and Haypenny.