Home > All Fall Down(15)

All Fall Down(15)
Author: Jennifer Weiner

“Too hot! TOO HOT!” Ellie flailed her arms. One fist clipped me underneath my eye. I yelped, then gripped her arms tightly.

“Hold still,” I said. With one hand, I kept her immobilized. With the other, I reached for the Princess body wash, wishing I’d added a third pill, wondering if I would have a chance to see the article before I had to take Ellie to school.

Dave stuck his head into the bathroom. “Did you pick up the dry cleaning?” he yelled over the drumming of the water. I could picture his face, the tightness around his mouth, the expression of disappointment he’d have in place even before I disappointed him.

“Oh, shit.”

Ellie blinked at me through the water. “Mommy, that’s a bad word.”

“Mommy knows.” I raised my voice. “Honey, I’m sorry.”

He didn’t sigh or complain, even though I knew he wanted to do both. “I guess I’ll get it. Do you want me to pick you up for tonight?” he asked, in a tone of exaggerated patience and goodwill.

“What’s tonight?” The second the words were out of my mouth, I remembered what “tonight” was—Dave’s birthday dinner. I’d made reservations at his favorite restaurant, invited two other couples, picked out and picked up the wine, and ordered the fancy heart monitor he’d asked for, and wrapped it myself.

“It’s Daddy’s birthday,” Ellie said pertly.

“I know that, honey.” I raised my voice so Dave could hear. “I’m sorry. Senior moment.” I was six months older than Dave. In better, pre-baby times, we’d joked about it. He’d call me his “old lady,” or install a flashlight app on my phone so I could read the menu in dimly lit restaurants. Lately, though, the jokes had taken on an unpleasant edge. “I can meet you at Cochon.”

“Fine.” He didn’t exactly slam the bathroom door, but he wasn’t particularly gentle when he closed it, either. I sighed, flipped open the body wash—pink and sparkly, with a cloying scent somewhere between apple blossom and air freshener—and squirted a handful into my palm. I washed Ellie’s hair and body, trying to ignore her kicks and shrieks of “THAT HURTS!” and “IT TICKLES!” and “NOW YOU GOT IT IN MY EYES!” and then washed myself off. I bundled her into a towel, wrapped another towel around my midsection, then scooped her sodden clothes and the soaked bath mat off the floor and tossed them toward the washing machine on my way to Ellie’s bedroom.

I gave Ellie a fresh pair of panties and dumped detergent into the machine. When I turned around, Ellie was still naked, her belly sticking out adorably, frowning at the panties.

“These are not Princess Jasmine.”

“I know, honey. They’re . . .” I squinted at the underwear. “Meredith? From Brave?”

“Not Mere-DITH, Meri-DA.”

“Right. Her.”

“Meridas are for Fridays!”

“Well, you’re going to have to wear Merida today. Or else you can try . . .” I pawed through the laundry basket, producing a pair with a grinning cartoon monkey on the back. “Who is this? Paul Frank?”

“I HATE Paul Frank. Only BOYS like Paul Frank.”

“Ellie. We’re late. Pick one.”

She chewed her thumbnail thoughtfully, before extending her index finger at the first pair. “Eenie . . . meenie . . . miney . . . moe.”

“We don’t have time for this.”

“Catch . . . a . . . tiger . . . by . . . the . . . toe.”

“Ellie.” I bent down so I could look her in the eye. “I didn’t want to tell you this, because I didn’t want to scare you, but the truth is, there is actually a very dangerous monster living in your closet, and he only eats girls without underpants.”

She smiled indulgently. “You are FIBBING.”

“Maybe I am,” I said, tightening my towel, “and maybe I’m not. But if I were you, I’d put on my underwear.”

Back in my bedroom, the wet sheets and comforter were still on the floor. Sighing, I picked them up, ran them to the laundry room, and tried to pull up the Journal on my phone. It was seven o’clock, which gave me thirty minutes to get myself and Ellie dressed, fed, and out the door, and no time at all for a workout. I pulled on my panties and a bra, a pair of leggings, and a dress that was basically an oversized long-sleeved gray tee shirt, and went back to Ellie’s room.

She stared at me, gimlet-eyed, hip cocked, a bored supermodel in a pair of panties with a monkey on the butt. I took the requisite three dresses out of her closet, holding their hangers as I made each one speak. “Hi, Ellie,” I said in my squeaky pretending-to-be-a-dress voice as I wiggled one of the choices in front of her. “I am beautiful purple!”

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