She says dumb shit like that out of her mouth. Her mouth is wet. She calls me Rose.
She has three sons. The youngest, Sammy, is too small to count. His hair is so light it’s almost transparent: blonde head, blonde eyebrows, blonde hair all over his pale skin. He’s like an egg, only really steady if you rest him on his bottom, but then his arms and legs unfurl and he’s chasing after something. Next is Ryan; he’s ok. In the sun his hair glows like a flame but he gets mad when I call him Red. Mostly he gets excited when Paul and I pay any attention to him, but he says he’s mad. Paul is the oldest. His hair is dark like mine.
It’s the first really hot day of summer and Paul and I run through the alley to his backyard. The slip and slide is already set up but Ryan is nowhere to be seen, there is only Sammy sitting on the grass waving his arms around.
“Ryan?” Paul calls as we walk into the kitchen from the back.
“Right here!” Ryan is drinking a tall glass of pink liquid.
“You shouldn’t leave Sammy out there by himself.”
“I just came inside to get a drink; anyway, Mom is home.”
Paul grabs the drink out of Ryan’s hand and finishes, “Well come on then.” We all peel our shirts off and go outside, Ryan shoving Paul and me shoving Ryan.
The yard is pretty level, so we take turns running for momentum and then jumping to slide across the yellow plastic on our bellies. Soon we’re all on the slide together, pushing and pulling each other back and forth. Even Sammy, delighted that everyone is in the same place, crawls onto the slide and scoots around.
I hear the backdoor slam and guess she has come outside, but she doesn’t say anything. The sun is so bright, the yellow of the slide is all I see. Paul begins to drag Sammy by his arms so I grab Ryan by the feet. He lets me drag him for a bit but then quickly brings his knees to his chest and I fall down.
I hear her stir by the door. When she’s not speaking her mouth makes a straight line and her eyes make a parallel one, only the lines of her eyes are broken by her nose. When she’s about to speak the dark slits between her eyelids widen and the lines of her mouth multiply, radiating out from a middle point drawn in so tight that her lips telescope into her body. They quiver there until there is enough speech to break the seal, then they curl around it, pink and glistening. When they are fully outstretched her lips protrude several inches from her face and begin to peel back towards her nose and jaw, revealing a dark circle lined with teeth; then she throws back her head and her eyes turn back into two lines.
We all stop and I scramble upright. Everyone’s looking at me so I shrug and walk to the backdoor.
“Come inside,” she says.
In the kitchen my wet shorts drip onto the floor. She picks my t-shirt off the back of a chair and holds it out to me. “Rose, the boys are getting older—so are you. A girl doesn’t take her shirt off with the boys. Put this on and don’t let them see your chest anymore.”
I take my t-shirt and go to the bathroom to change; really I just want to get away from her mouth. In the bathroom I pull my dry shirt on and stand with my jean shorts heavy and wet. The shirt sticks to my chest and I pull it off. There is a window in the bathroom that faces the backyard, it’s open and lets in a breeze. I draw the blinds up a few inches, just enough to see to outside.
She has pulled a lawn chair to the front of the slip and slide; now there is no way to run onto it. Ryan is letting Sammy try and chase him around the yard but Paul stares at his mother. I run my hand over my chest, which doesn’t look any different than theirs, and my cheeks burn.
“Where is Rosalyn?”
“I don’t know, maybe she went home.”
Paul comes into the kitchen and I hold my breath, but Ryan follows him with Sammy and soon I hear the sound of the TV turn on in the living room. The sun shifts in the backyard, casting shadows over the slip and slide, and my jeans grow cold on my thighs.
The line of her mouth has grown slack; I’ve never seen an opening there unless she’s making words or expelling them. She’s so close I can hear her begin to snore. Softly I open the bathroom door and tiptoe outside. The water is off now and the slip and slide has grown dry; I walk to the far end and sit down, watching her across the yellow runway. The plastic feels cold now that the sun is behind the trees. I run my hand across its surface and find a large bump; funny we didn’t feel this when we were sliding. I peel back the plastic and pull out a rock with a sharp side; I run the tip across the bright yellow. It makes a line that immediately disappears so I do it again, hard and fast, and I make a tear. I pull the tear apart with my fingers and then crawl under the slip and slide, lining the hole up with my mouth. The grass is wet under my back and the slip and slide sticky. I push my lips through the plastic and move my mouth around like I’m speaking, like I’m her. The slip and slide begins to move, bringing the hole sliding across my body. I reach down and catch it with my fingers just as it passes beyond my belly, and use my other arm to pull my head out from under the plastic. She has the end of the slip and slide between her teeth. Her eyes are open as wide as her mouth once was, and they are staring right at me. Her head rears back and I feel a tug. I pull back on the hole with both my hands and it rips wider. Quickly I duck under the plastic and stick my head through the hole. My body faces away from her and I begin to walk in that direction. The plastic pulls my neck back but I thrust forward and suddenly the slip and slide gives and I’m running with it behind me like a cape. Once in the alley I slow down and let the yellow plastic fall onto my back. Smoothing the front across my chest I lift my head high and walk with careful steps all the way home.