Tile Floor and Coat Closets

She cried. Like every other girl out there, she cried alone.

The moon shone high and bright, turning the sky that not-quite black. As if the sun would rise with day soon, but wrong. It was still deep in the night. The creaking sounds rung out, like a pitter patter of a song mama sings, a song you don’t know the words to.

Mauve crouched in her nightie, sitting on the edge of a cot, too small even for a five-year-old. She couldn’t sleep. Maybe she didn’t want to. Either way her eyes wouldn’t close.

Mauve knew she wasn’t allowed out of her room. Dad called it a room, but it wasn’t really big enough. Smooth, crisp tile burned the same color as this new town’s sand. The tile was always, always cold. Maybe they did it on purpose. Mauve couldn’t tell too well what was “supposed to be” and what was an accident. True it was usually quite warm, and Mauve welcomed the coolness, a break from the monotony.

Now Mauve stood, and hugged her tummy good. Maybe the cold had woken her. It was too cold, and she didn’t have socks. Yes, that, surely, had thrust her from sleep.

She ran. Out of the room, which lay just off the front door. Through the small hall, and across their living room. Easy to doge the furniture there, only a black papasan hand-me-down, and some books piled near the wall. There were a lot of books, all ones Mauve couldn’t follow along in. Turn left to Mommy’s room. But Mauve stilled, caught short just shy of the door. It was closed. Mom never left it closed. Only when… only when dad stayed over. He kicked her out, said a five-year-old was too big to sleep with her parents. He didn’t listen when she said it was cold. Said they lived in the desert and you don’t need more than one blanket. Said he’d read her to sleep almost every night. Only he didn’t remember. Only that he hardly ever was there. An’ mom would come in all sigh-y, gather a big hug and lift her up. “Comon’ into my bed sweetie. It’s freezing in here, is that window broken?”

The window wasn’t broken. Just paper-thin. Hurt to look at it like it hurt to see her progress stars taken down from the fridge, to know perfect never was enough to earn her a pink ring. A little silver ring, sold down by the college. They used to see the man selling them on Mom’s way home from work. His crushed velvet box sparkled plum of fairy dust in the bright afternoon sun. Filled with treasures that would turn your knuckles a rust shade of green, Mama said maybe next week; they’d have to save up, it would be Mauve’s reward. But every week, somehow there was one less crispy gold star on the fridge than when they started: no matter how hard Mauve tried to take out the trash, and water the plants, and stay in her room those nights when Daddy showed up. Even when she could feel a breeze of frost coasting through. Even when the shouting and thumps brought the red and blue lights to the door.

Tonight was different though, and Mauve considered why this was so as she hugged herself outside Mama’s door. Kids at pre-K called her a robot, seemed like nothing could make her cry. But tonight, she didn’t feel like a robot at all, but maybe like her cat Sunny Sunshine during a thunderstorm, jumping all over the house, with fur on end, looking for a safe space to hide. Anywhere that was not her room. Preferably somewhere near an adult. They were bigger, they could hug you till you forgot why you cried. Sunny Sunshine would have helped, but she was outside, Daddy never let her in when he was over, even when the flowers died of frost fairies.

So Mauve stood, alone, soggy with a night of tears and sweats that still hadn’t dried all the way. Mauve knocked on the door. Mama opened all sleepy, maybe a little bit soggy herself. Said, “Daddy left sometime a few hours ago,” and picked Mauve up with a kiss. Stripped off her crunchy clothes and wrapped her in a warm sandpaper robe. Mama and Mauve, Mauve liked this. When it was just Mama and Mauve, she never woke up soggy. She never breathed too quick in her sleep and screamed. Mauve wished they could live just the two of them forever. Maybe someday a separation would take between her and Daddy. Until then, at least Mauve was warm, and snuggled and safe.