The nights our parents are yelling, we make a fort in our room.
I climb down the bunk-bed ladder with my camping flashlight in hand. You tug at our red Captain Marvel blankets until they fall at our feet. We spread your blanket on the floor, so you can suck on the corner when you’re not sucking your thumb. I drape my blanket over desk chairs, so when we’re safely underneath all the Captain Marvels marvel down at us. Our laser-bolt sky sags in the middle, but muffles the sounds. We play with toy soldiers, an army of plastic men whose arms will never break.
The nights mom’s left eye is swollen and red, we whisper in our room. We color in our books. You scribble in dark lines. Then you tear out the pages, crumpling and scattering them all across the floor. I draw with greens and browns, the colors of our camouflage-striped pajamas. I tell you crayons don’t come with erasers, no way to take back mistakes. I know you’re too young to understand, but I have to teach you to stay within the lines.
The nights mom’s left eye turns a shade of purple, she lets us play video games in the living room. We shoot the bad guys, over and over and over again. But they keep coming back. You rack up 100 points. I rack up 3,000. You think I’m so brave. You think I’m the winner. I go back to our room and write more in my journal. Then I tear out the pages, crumpling and scattering them all across the floor.
The nights mom’s left eye fades to green, I read you a story. You like the one about Jack and the Beanstalk because you like the magic beans. Afterwards, I pretend I’m a magician. I hold a Boy Scout handkerchief over a toy soldier and pretend to make him disappear. “It’s magic,” I say. And you believe me when I tell you anything is possible, over and over and over again.
The nights mom’s left eye becomes faint yellow, we watch cartoons past our bedtime. We both like the Bugs Bunny show. You like it when I say, “Eh, what’s up Doc?” and “Carrots are divine...You get a dozen for a dime, it’s maaaa-gic!” I like it when you try to say, “Be vewwy, vewwy quiet…I’m hunting wabbits!” And we both run around chasing each other until we wave our hands up in the air like Porky Pig and say, “Da Da That’s All Folks.”
The nights mom’s left eye is back to beige, I say, “See, I told you those colors would disappear.” “Like magic,” you say, and you wave your hands around saying, “Da Da That’s All Folks,” like that’s the end. I nod to camouflage the truth.
The nights my parents are yelling, we make a fort in our room.
Originally published in The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society