Nothing More Tragic
Lots of people came and left her house and Myrtle Ann didn’t know why. They weren’t happy like they usually were, but they all smiled and most of them patted Myrtle Ann’s head—except grandma—grandma hugged her and cried.
“We’ll survive,” grandma said, “no matter what, we will survive.”
Myrtle Ann hugged her grandma back. She didn’t understand what her grandma said to her, but she did understand that her grandma was upset, Myrtle Ann noticed that about people—when they were upset their pores got big and wide and stinky and grandma was like that now, a holding-hugging stinky open-pored hulk of a woman, hugging her, holding her.
Myrtle Ann filled her sand bucket to the top and hoisted it over her head. She loved the feel of the hot dry sand as it filtered through her hair and made soft tiny white mountains all around her. Her mom must have loved it, too, because she always gave Myrtle Ann a hot bath and washed her hair each time she came in from the backyard covered with sand. Those were the times Myrtle Ann remembered and loved: those very private times with mommy, when her daddy played with Bobby and Myrtle Ann had her mom all to herself.
Sand’s special, Myrtle Ann thought as she slowly poured another small pail all over her head. Sand’s fun! Myrtle Ann didn’t know the words to express her happiness, but she knew she loved to be the center of attention, she knew she loved being the queen of the Universe (that’s what Bobby had called her the day she dumped her plate of carrots on her head and sat up regally, smiling and laughing, as the carrots dripped and Bobby licked them from her face). Life was fun, nothing but fun, and Myrtle Ann wished her family could experience the same joy she did. She wished her mom could sit out back and play in the sand with her. Some times, she wished Bobby would join her, too, and the three of them would play while daddy was away.
Myrtle Ann had little concept of time—mostly she lived in the moment—but she knew she hadn’t seen Bobby since the sun went down and that’s when it happened, that’s when all the people started knocking on the front door and the phone rang and rang and rang and rang and the noise just wouldn’t stop and Myrtle Ann thought her head was going to throb and explode. That’s when Myrtle Ann’s mother took her upstairs and dumped her in her bed—that’s right, she dumped her, she didn’t cuddle her or hold her or nothing, she just tossed her in the bed like she was a bag of cat litter and that made Myrtle Ann so angry that she refused to cry. I want mommy to know I am the queen. Bobby knows but that’s not good enough, he’s just a kid like me. I want mommy to know I am her princess. I am her queen. Myrtle Ann wanted to think about herself and her problems but she couldn’t, those adults were downstairs and they were whispering and the one thing Myrtle Ann hated most was when people ignored her and whispered—whispered like cats hissing in the night—whispered so she had to turn her head back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, like a python licking the cold night air, trying to sense the clues. . . . trying to understand.
But then Myrtle Ann heard the doors opening and closing—oh so quietly—over and over again, especially Bobby’s door, the squeaky door, the one that went crunch late at night and gave Myrtle Ann goosebumps. That’s when Myrtle Ann though she heard the adults downstairs crying. And their crying was new to her because she had never heard adults cry before. They’re crying, crying like me, but why? Why?
Myrtle Ann had looked at her toes and played with her fingers last night while falling asleep. Myrtle Ann loved her toes; she loved sucking them, shoving them into her mouth, licking them, tasting them. Bobby can’t do this. Bobby can’t suck his toes. I’m special, I love my toes, Myrtle Ann had scratched the inside of her mouth with her toenail and she had cried late last night and her mommy had been there, holding her, loving her, but now mommy was away, and cat-litter Annie was alone in her cage wondering what the whispering was all about.. .
Myrtle Ann had slept well after that, but that’s when the ruckus started, that’s when mommy and daddy and Bobby and all of them started ignoring her and that’s when she noticed that everyone had red eyes, swollen faces, and they walked around like they were zombies. To make matters worse, almost no one looked directly at her. It was almost like they were deliberately ignoring her and even the people who did notice her only patted her on her head. I am not a cute little puppy dog, Myrtle Ann thought. I am the princess—Bobby’s princess. She cried, but no one came to her aid, so she cried some more. . . even louder.
Myrtle Ann’s mom stayed in bed all morning. She didn’t even prepare breakfast for Myrtle Ann and Myrtle Ann got cranky—she got red-faced scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs cranky. Myrtle Ann’s mom had always fixed breakfast and Myrtle Ann wondered why her mom wasn’t there now. Myrtle Ann wondered why her mom was being so mean to her.
Myrtle Ann’s dad gave her a bowl of corn flakes—it was okay, but it was the wrong cereal. Myrtle Ann didn’t like corn flakes. She couldn’t hold them in her fingers as easily as she could hold her Cheerios. The tiny pieces kept breaking and she had to slop them in the milk and form them into a ball in order to shove them in her mouth. Myrtle Ann cried. Then she screamed, but her daddy was too stupid to know what she wanted. Her mother always knew what Myrtle Ann’s cries meant. Myrtle Ann’s mother always knew how to please her baby girl, but Myrtle Ann’s daddy had no clue—no clue at all. Myrtle Ann didn’t like being left alone like this, alone and desolate. She didn’t know where her big brother, Bobby, was. She didn’t know why her mom was still in bed. She didn’t like her daddy feeding her. She wanted her mommy. She wanted things to be like they had been before she went to bed.
Mrs. Ferguson finally came downstairs. Like the others, she looked extraordinarily tired and weak. She looked like she had been crying all night—like she hadn’t had a moment’s rest all night. Myrtle Ann sensed that much. Myrtle Ann had had many evenings like that herself—she just never realized adults could feel the same way.
“Take Myrtle Ann upstairs and dress her,” Myrtle Ann’s mom told Myrtle Ann’s dad. “I can’t do it now. I just can’t do it! And for God’s sakes, close Bobby’s door. I see him in my dreams. I want my dreams to go away. I’m too tired to do anything else, please take Myrtle Ann out of here …” Myrtle Ann’s mother looked like she was going to cry and Myrtle Ann didn’t know why. Myrtle Ann knew she didn’t like to see her mother this way. She wanted things to be like Cheerio time, like sandbox time, like sandbox time, like sandbox time, not like corn flakes and milk time.
Myrtle Ann’s dad carried his daughter upstairs.
There’s nothing more tragic than when mommy makes daddy take care of me, Myrtle Ann thought, nothing more tragic at all.
Scot Walker is celebrating his sixtieth year as a published author with stories, essays, novels, poetry, and plays. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, but his first love is story writing.