Underneath the meringue of melted ceiling, in the lonesome cool of our own ruins: I was standing exactly where that son of a bitch had been burning, where he’d been flashing his evil grin and scraping his fiery jagged nails along our walls a few days before. Right where I used to towel you off after your bath, I flicked a couple of Wintergreen Altoids down in the moat between my gums and my cheeks/trying to get a pine forest to grow up fast back in my face/so I wouldn’t have to sniff the acrid smoke anymore. It’s a bad odor, baby. A bad, bad smell.
It isn’t anything like what you might have whiffed when I used to be smoking a cig out in the garage and some easy breeze blew a little bit of of my used breath your way, over to the turtle pool: you in your tiny summer shorts just splashing around in the warm water, swimming plastic whales around a pink soccer ball island. Maybe you’d catch a whiff of a little smoke here and there back then. But this was all different.
I glared through the part of this world where our bathroom walls used to be and tried to think about what I was even smelling, Kid-O, but it was hard to tell. The castle you got for Christmas? I guess that had to be in there somewhere, in the scent of it all; the pink paint that Melissa and Doug used to paint it for you; the knight and the jester and the queen and the king made out of pin-cushion cloth. I figured I could smell them in there too. It made me sad to be standing there. Of course it did. Who wouldn’t be sad, or mad, standing there in the dank, breathing in the very ghosts of the things Santa had brought you just a week or so ago?
I remember playing with you that morning, before I got you in the tub. Remember that? We put your new Princess Barbie up on the balcony below the high turret. You remember that baby? I made her wave her slender hand down at all the animals you were parading up to the castle gates. Tigers and sharks and turtles, they all got a wave out of her majesty, huh baby? Then a few hours later, just like that: she was gone.
They all were.
I thought of you kid, when I was spitting my spit out through my teeth and onto the burnt up studs and the dangling wire vines of once-upon-a-time; I was thinking of you, baby, when I was hurling the only physical curse I could muster up out of my guts and into the sleeping face of the hungry beast. Right there where we talked about dragons and enchanted forests, right there where we set up your gentle pink castle in a room that was supposed to be the safest one for you in all the land, in all the kingdoms far and near: I thought about you and I wanted to tear down the damn walls so bad.
But they were already gone, baby.
Gone, gone, gone.