Robins splash in a birdbath…without a care in the world. A breeze draws the earthy scent into the classroom, inviting me to leap into summer. Mr. Jennings points to the SMART Board and directs our eyes across a diagram of water dissolving rock as he drones on…
“Rain mixes with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as it travels. This forms an acidic solution that dissolves calcite, the main mineral of karst rocks, where most caves form…”
I wish I was climbing out of my cave, not just hearing about one.
“This acidic water drips through cracks and fractures and creates tunnels and passageways like an underground plumbing system.”
My own life has enough cracks and fractures to crumble into dust if I let it. What if I followed the tunnel that led to my dream instead? I’d be in New York City, designing graphic arts.
“Ally, are you with us?” I nod. “Then please tell us how stalactites are formed.”
“By a drip,” I answer, wishing I did my homework. Thank God the bell rings, so I won’t have to say more.
Michelle grabs my arm as we leave. “Want to come to the mall with us after school?”
“Can’t, sorry. Got to watch Tommy.”
“You say that every day, girl... okay, next time. You’re not supposed to be your mom at seventeen.”
She doesn't get it.
I like school. The order, routine, and even rules. Normal kids, mostly normal adults. Not like home.
I toss the mail on the table, even the letter from the School of Visual Arts. I can’t read it now.
Tommy is running the water again. I’m surprised he didn’t flood the bathroom; the sink is filled half an inch from the top. I open the drain. “Hey, buddy.”
“Hi.” He stays in his water trance. At thirteen, he already towers over me, so he kneels on the worn rug to be eyelevel with the faucet. His eyes are close enough to the water to get sprayed and wet his lashes. Sometimes he turns it almost off to watch it drip. Sometimes he counts the drips as they splatter in the sink. Sometimes he catches the drips in a bowl until it fills; then he dumps it and starts again…for hours.
“Where’s Mom?” He doesn’t answer, but I know.
I collect the empty glasses and wine bottle from the den. I drape a blanket over her on the couch, shut off the TV, and kiss her forehead. “Please don’t give up on us like Dad did,” I whisper and pray.
The air conditioner is rattling and spewing lukewarm air. I kick it, but nothing changes. I shut it off and get an ice cube. I lie back on my bed and hold the ice an inch above my face. My eyes have to cross to look at it. I stare at the water beading around the surface. Some light filters through the edges. Droplets drip down my cheeks and pool at my neck. For just a moment, I see what my brother sees. Only the water.
But I get restless after three minutes of water watching and get up to fry two grilled cheeses, maybe three if I can wake Mom.
She is still sleeping when I tell Tommy to go brush his teeth for bed. He loves brushing his teeth; the problem is getting him to stop without throwing a fit.
Finally, I curl up under my covers and peel back the envelope.
“Congratulations…” I smell the envelope to make sure I’m not dreaming.
But in the morning, I rip it up and walk Tommy to school. He drinks from his water bottle I packed for him and pours some on his hand. “Don’t waste it. You’ll be thirsty later.” He pours it until it’s empty. “Oh well.”
When I get home Mom is at the table, holding a tissue to her nose. Fear runs through my veins for a second until she smiles. “Come here, Ally.” She holds an envelope.
“Is something wrong?” In a normal family, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her awake.
“You didn’t tell me you got into SVA.”
“It doesn’t matter. It costs a fortune, and Tommy...”
“This letter says you have a full scholarship. You deserve to go.”
I blink back tears and read the letter and the Christian rehab pamphlet she shows me.
For the first time, I see an opening to my cave. I take Tommy outside, and we splash through the puddles.
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