Shirley hated the taste of soap, and she hated the smell of cigarettes.
“If you didn’t tell lies, you wouldn’t get the soap,” her mother reminded her when the girl complained.
Shirley would be instructed to hold the bar between her teeth for three full minutes. She would gag and drool and her drool would create amalgamated bubbles with the soap. The only positive aspect of the soap was that it smothered the smell of cigarettes that lined her mother’s clothing like stale satin.
The next time they were at the store, a very tall man with no eyebrows dropped an item into their cart when Shirley’s mother was not looking.
At the checkout, her mother questioned Shirley about the unintended purchase. When Shirley described what she had seen, her mother folded her arms and frowned. “Good thing ‘the man’ gave us soap. You will be tasting it soon enough.”
Shirley tried to protest, but her mother wouldn’t listen.
Later, as Shirley gripped the new bar between her teeth, she saw a horrible vision. She saw her father being held at gun point. “Dad’s in trouble,” she announced when her mother retrieved the soap from her mouth, “I saw it.”
“Keep up the lies and I will put this right back in,” her mother ordered, only she was putting the soap away and reaching for a cigarette.
Later that night, a call came explaining that Shirley’s father was in the hospital. Her mother paled and clasped Shirley’s shirt between shaking hands. “What you think you saw doesn’t matter now. We won’t speak of it again.” Her mother went to the hospital, leaving Shirley in the care of their neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, who promptly fell asleep in front of the television.
Left unattended, Shirley found the bar of soap and placed it between her teeth. She saw her mother sitting at her father’s side, gripping his hand and crying. Her mother was speaking, even though her father’s eyes were closed. She was saying, “Please don’t leave me….please don’t leave me alone with her.”
Once her father recovered, he was a changed man. He spent less time working and more time with Shirley. In her father’s company, Shirley rarely got into trouble. Her mouth was veritably soap-free with the exception of the time that she began speaking of the man with no eyebrows again. Her mother had instituted the soap punishment and Shirley experienced a vision of Mrs. Johnson sitting dead in her reclining chair in front of the television.
“What is it?” Her mother snapped, taking the soap from Shirley and noticing that the girl was more agitated than usual.
“I saw Mrs. Johnson. She was dead in her chair.”
Her mother snorted. “You’re insulted because she doesn’t want to play your foolish games with you, so you are making this up. I am sure she is fine.”
When the ambulance pulled up the following day, and Mrs. Johnson’s body was removed beneath a sheet, Shirley’s mother watched from her porch while having a cigarette. Shirley’s father decided to take Shirley away from the tragedy of Mrs. Johnson, much to her mother’s chagrin.
“Your father spoils you,” her mother scolded. “He is your parent, not your friend. He needs to be more of a disciplinarian.” Her mother began inviting herself on their excursions so she could “mold Shirley’s behavior.” Since they were often on the go for their outings, “molding” involved clandestine swats out of her father’s sight. Her mother couldn’t be expected to remember to bring the soap.
At a picnic, Shirley turned down her mother’s offer of pasta salad, saying she didn’t like it.
“Liar,” her mother’s anger rose quickly, and Shirley cowered, awaiting a sharp smack. Since her father was in view, her mother simply said, “I have seen you eat it before.”
Shirley was certain that in this instance, it was her mother who was not being truthful, but she knew better than to argue. She watched her mother consume a cigarette, knowing the woman would not forget that she had a punishment coming.
When they arrived home, her mother grabbed her arm and pulled her into the bathroom. “You know what lying girls get,” she said with vehemence and removed the soap from the cabinet. Once the bar was between her teeth, Shirley saw another vision. This time her vision was fueled by delirium, making it as confusing as it was horrific. She saw the tall man with no eyebrows approaching her mother. Her mother pursed her lips to exhale cigarette smoke and the man took that opportunity to turn into vapor and enter her mother’s mouth. Her mother wheezed, clutching her chest, gasping for air.
Shirley wasn’t sure what that meant, but she knew her mother was in trouble. Her eyes teared.
“Let me guess, you had another vision.” Her mother rolled her eyes. “We don’t talk about them. I don’t want to hear your lies.”
Shirley blinked back her tears and ran water in her mouth. Her mother looked at her accusingly. “Well did you? See anything?”
“No,” Shirley lied. She vowed to continue lying since she was not allowed to speak of her visions. Her lies became larger as her mother grew weaker. Eventually, Shirley no longer had to smell smoke or taste soap.
∼ Elaine Pascale
© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.