Lube, by Jeannie Galeazzi.
Sabrina Hounder didn’t know what exactly cocoa butter was, except it sounded so extravagantly delicious that she herself was tempted to sneak a taste—proof, perhaps, that her weekly compulsive-overeaters support group was doing her less good than would, say, a daily support group for teen daughters of Clive and Melody Hounder—although she would never have downed a whole bottle of cocoa-butter moisturizer as her babysitting charge, nine-year-old Remington Bronstein, claimed to have just now done.
“You didn’t,” said Brina.
“Did, too,” said Remmie in his p.j.’s and black halo of curls; he puffed out his stomach at her, his lips smeared with lotion.
“Stupid!” Brina jumped up from the TV couch, upsetting the platter of churros (fried up fresh as a once-a-month treat by the Bronstein’s Guatemalan housekeeper, already gone for the night; the Hounders’ housekeeper was Filipino, and no one wanted to think about what she might cook up). On instinct, Brina hooked Remmie by the armpits and hauled him toward the bathroom through the Bronsteins’ white-on-white décor, an Arctic landscape that at any second might flip land-over-sky to confound her bearings. The bathroom, at least, was blue—everything down to the powder-blue swanboat of a toilet. Brina lifted the lid and seat and maneuvered the thrashing boy around in front of her. “Hold still,” she said, bracing him against her ample belly, easing him forward.
“What’re you doing?” shrieked Remmie. “Stop!”
“Open,” said Brina and—with an astonishing lack of squeamishness—wedged her fingers between the boy’s teeth and over his hot slimy tongue. Remmie gagged and bucked. Brina stroked his throat and felt his stomach jerk and slosh under her arm. Remmie retched up a sour-smelling fluid, milky droplets hitting the water and spiraling down into the bowl. While the boy coughed and spat, Brina stretched her arm over to the sink, her own mouth awash with brine, and rinsed her hand. “Again,” she said, and angled her fingers back down the boy’s stunned gullet, delving deeper. Another lurch, and a liquid-doughy glop (churros specked with nitrate-free hot dog and organic broccoli) came up and out in a viscous spray. When the heaves ran dry, Brina flushed the toilet and guided her limp charge over to the sink. The boy drooped over the basin, sputtering as Brina splashed his face. “Better?” she asked.
Remmie glared up at her, water dripping off his chin. “I’m telling!”
“Go right ahead,” said Brina, not checking her reflection in the mirror over the sink, her “flattering” short haircut and well-padded freckles. “You’ll only be telling on yourself, guzzling your mom’s overpriced hand cream.”
“I was joking! You could’ve checked. You’re the dumbest sitter I’ve ever had!” And Remmie ran bawling out of the bathroom, leaving Brina to clean up and think: He’s right.
Scrubbing the powder-blue toilet, Brina did feel dumb. And fat. Her dad was always ragging on her mom about Brina’s bulk while her mom cruised along, breezy and efficient, like a waiter not daring (or caring) to inquire why a patron’s plate was barely touched, its contents not invited home in a doggy bag (though Brina had shoveled down all the childhood crap she’d been served and even licked the plate). And here Brina, an A student, had let herself get fat (in her dad’s words) when, as she’d just now witnessed, it was so easy to throw up.
Done sanitizing, Brina stashed away the cleaning supplies and ventured back into the TV room. No trace of Remmie. The churros, too, were gone. Brina lumbered out to the central foyer and hollered, “Bedtime!”
“Awww!” came a reply from, Brina guessed, the computer den.
“Brush your teeth,” called Brina. “I’ll give you ten minutes.”
Or maybe fifteen. Unable to resist, Brina prowled into the kitchen and eased open the pantry door for another longing look, though she knew the shelves’ freight by heart: the fancy Italian bakery cookies in their loosely-stringed pink box, the jars of pedigree jams and fudge sauces still sporting their hostess-gift ribbons, the toasted-sesame rice crackers begging to be dipped in the Portuguese olive oil, the boutique granola and imported crumpets. Just like her own pantry at home. Where to begin?
At the sound of the garage door groaning open, Brina—sprawling bloated and cloyed on the TV couch—was infinitely relieved. The Bronsteins: she’d been expecting them any minute now for over an hour. At last, into the living room fluttered Mrs. Bronstein in her silken tunic, her chin high and her eyelids half-closed, her lips meeting in a cheekbone-enhancing smile as if she were humming her own theme song.
Brina was too full to smile back. “We had a bathroom incident, but everything’s fine.”
Mrs. Bronstein allowed her smile to twitch—a sudden dent—and something fell away from it like dust from a sculptor’s chisel-stroke.
Mr. Bronstein was right behind her looking clammy in his pullover machine-knit in beige and rust with a vein of lime like a craft-kit sand painting, a gold watch dangling bracelet-y off his wrist. “Hey, kiddo,” he said. “Sorry we’re late, forgot to call.”
“Hi.” Brina labored to her feet. “Remington’s in bed. I’ve got to get home.”
Mrs. Bronstein wafted toward the stairs, but Mr. Bronstein turned back toward the garage, beckoning Brina along. “Get your jacket, kiddo. How much we owe you?”
Brina hobbled, burping, after him.
Mr. Bronstein chauffeured her home through the pristine night streets of Tiburon in his Porsche, the radio on to discourage conversation. He drove tamely, total Driver’s Ed., but Brina was going wild with panic that the street, straining under her weight, might snap and go unraveling into the abyss like a rotted plank-and-rope bridge. Oh, to get home to her own bathroom and barf, her life from now on solved as smooth and delectable as cocoa butter.
Jeannie Galeazzi's work has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in thirty publications including Fence, The Literary Review, Permafrost, Southern Humanities Review. More work is forthcoming in The Distillery, Amarillo Bay, RiverSedge, Feathertale Review (Canada) and dotlit (Australia) .
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