One night, father came home late and didn’t go back to work. Mother had gone to bed with him. She never came out of the room. The door stayed locked for the next few days.
It was evening when Mother opened the door. Her oily thin hair limp around her face. She held her robe close to her chest and told me to go play so they can rest. I thought I saw a clump of her hair missing from her head.
“Don’t worry,” she said and closed the door again.
For days, I heard strange noises from inside. The water from their tub came on for hours at a time. Muffled arguments. Thrashing of water and the procession of pitter-patter of wet feet. A strange odor wafted from their door. I knocked again. This time Mother answered without opening.
“We’re just a little sick. We’ll be out soon.”
I camped out in the living room. A blanket tent over the sofa and the dining room chairs and all my toys came out with me. For weeks my pillow fortress held up and then the television stopped working. The water never turned off.
One early morning, Father came out of the room. He trudged down the hallway, carpet soggy from the running water. He no longer had hair. His bald head gleamed against the moonlight as he made his way into the kitchen. He peeled back a can of anchovies, scooped the limp bodies into his mouth and slurped the briny oil from the can. He licked the oil dripping down his forearm and helped himself to a second serving. Then he took a can back into the room. When his legs dragged past my tent, I noticed his feet, webbed at the toes. The stink of the brine drifted after him.
Some days I would wake in the middle of the afternoon with dreams of drowning. I could feel the water fill my lungs, and when it pushed out all of my air, a large bubble would form, but instead of floating to the top, the bag of heavy air would sink me to the bottom. On a day I was having this dream, I woke to a sound of someone drowning. It was Mother. I rose from the couch to step into knee-deep, murky water. Like a river, it came from beneath their door. I tried to open it but the room had been overcome. I tried again, with all my little strength, when the door gave in and water came out. From somewhere in the room, Mother screamed and the water she had tried so hard to contain was released. It swept me out into the hall and filled the house.
These are the things I remember from that day. Something large came at me in the water as I climbed onto the bobbing dining table. Then Mother raced for me, sloshing through the water, and lifted me over her cold, slippery head. She hurdled me through the rising water toward the kitchen and pushed me out the small window above the sink. I hit the ground, the wind knocked out of me, and before I could look up, Mother had already closed the window, and the water rose above it.
I felt the sun on my back. The dry air against my skin. And I felt, as I had in my dreams: sinking to the bottom, dying.