Cold, cold! My feet go up and down in the bath water. Ellie’s way back, whining. Mummy doesn’t hear. Jump around a bit. “Cold!” I say. She does not hear. She throws a little white stick in the bin. Mum is sharp today. Quick blurry face.
“No!” Ellie has the blue sponge. “My sponge!” I shout. “MY!!” I try to shout it from her. She holds it over me. But I am wrigglier, and she hates water on her face, whereas I am a boy. I swish to Ellie’s end, splashing, her knee screams, she pushes me. I splash as big as I can, up to her head. Her bobbing, loud, red-mouth head.
Mummy pulls the stick back out. Squints at its blue tip. Throws it back in.
I didn’t make Mummy happy. I try to wee, I said “It coming!” but she did not squat with a story. Whoosh into the bath! It did come, then, but mummy didn’t see. No star.
I find my ducks. Ellie singing. I like this one. “I like this one,” I tell her, but she doesn’t hear. “Row, row, row your boat…” Ellie is loud, Ellie laughs when she sings. She will sing for me, sing for everyone. Sing when no one is listening and when it is cold. Her whole body sings too, which makes me laugh, especially her hands. Mummy not laughing. Daddy calling from the hall.
Shark coming! My ducks now in the icy sea. They go up and down. They dive. Dive under the water. I can’t keep them down. They come up. Where is little duck?
Daddy’s head comes in. Hello, Daddy! I am going to say. He throws in my nappy, my jams, mummy does not look up. I do not say Hello, Daddy.
“So?” he says. Mum looks. Ellie stops. Dad looking at Mum. I grab baby duck. “Oh, great. Great!” Dad hits the door hard. Sharp mum hits it back, shut. She looks at us, makes that noise in her throat like when I go all jelly legs. She kneels loud onto the floor, reaches in and grabs my arm. Ow! Wash wash. Pokes me everywhere with the flannel, rubbing hard, fast, angry.
I sing with Ellie. She rubs my back with the blue sponge. I do not grab. She is funny. We try to sing loudest each other. Her face red. “Gently down the streeeeeam…” Ellie washes the tiles with the blue sponge.
“No Ellie!” I shout. Blue sponge is for peoples. I go for it. She squeals.
“No, Jamie! Don’t snatch! Mummyyyy!” Not good.
“James, stop that,” Mummy says, my arm twists. Flannel jamming under my arm. Ellie should not have that sponge.
“Stop!” Almost got it.
“STOP IT RIGHT NOW!” She jumps me, I slip, I cry. Dad’s head pokes in, he pushes the door, hits mum’s knee, she slips, she pushes door on him. Ellie splash water over side of the bath. “Ellie, cut that out now!” Dad’s words bigger than mum’s. It’s shouting again. Tummy buzzing.
“I’m dealing with this!” Mummy pushes the door hard.
“Yeah, I can see that. Why not throw in another baby — or maybe two?” Daddy cross. What baby? The twins are in bed, I kiss them good night.
There is not enough room. Daddy steps on mummy. Work shoes black in bathroom. “It didn’t happen by itself, you know!” she cuts. He goes, hard.
Toothbrushes come. Mine smells. And it’s not mine. I wash it in the water, mummy shouts. Her hair wobbly. I love her hair. I say “I love your hair.” Can’t catch it today. Can’t smell it.
“What didn’t happen, mummy?” asks Ellie.
The toothbrush jabs, hurts. I thrash, splash Ellie, mummy, get this stick go out my mouth.
“Whose baby, mum?” Ellie brushes. She has better hands. She can do it, I try but I am not let do it. I am slow. I can’t see my teeth. Ellie googles her eyes over her brush. I look at my toothbrush. Mummy gives up. I’m good at not brushing my teeth.
“Nothing, sweetheart, don’t worry.” Mummy is never looking up. Her hands are fast. Whose towel? Mummy gets up, bent. “Ellie, up.”
“Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…” Ellie swims around me down the tub. Her hair has got wet. Oh, now the comb will make her hair cry and I won’t hear the story.
Mummy stops, eyes closed, towel. Then turns on fast. “Up!” she barks, reaches down pulls Ellie out. Wriggles and cries. “My ears, ow!!” Mummy rubs towel hard up and down Ellie’s head, tosses her nightie at her. “Go get dressed.” Mummy wipes her face with her arm.
“What happened, mum?” Ellie crying. Red eyes. Her tub side is clean. Blue sponge. I start my end. Shiny taps, mummy likes shiny taps.
“Now!” says mummy, scrambling up opens door, bumps into Daddy. Daddy takes Ellie. She cries louder on his shoulder. “What happened to the baby, Daddy?” They all push out door. My ducks dive.
I wait. Clean tub. I put sponge back. Pull plug. I put up the chain for mummy. It falls. I put it up again, it falls. The big sea slurps, pulling my ducks. I try to save them, I pull them from the slurp. I can’t. Too many. I say good-bye ducks. “Lie-fiss butt-er dream…” I sing. Bath cold on my feet.
Mummy comes. Picks me up all squeezed in towel. Tired face. Wet. Mummy cuddle. Warm, warm. My face in her hair. “I love your hair, mummy,” I tell. I kiss her hair. “I love you too, baby,” She says. Not smiling, but soft. She dries little duck with towel and gives me. “Daddy cuddle,” she says. Her face is wet. We go.
Paige Sinkler is a writer and photographer living in Guildford, England. After 20 years of writing for others, she is now studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She grew up in America, but has lived in England half her life, making it a challenge to write convincingly about either country. She blogs on ‘writing’ for Litro magazine, and has poems forthcoming in Obsessed with Pipework. Her other obsession can be sampled at www.paigesinkler.com.