A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Family Fingerprints
by Kelly Roberts (Nov 2012)

Mattie Bossboom stared at the wooden railing of her three year old daughter’s top bunk bed, the hands on her hips jammed into a concrete-strength pose. She was overcome with exasperation. A thin layer of polyurethane gloss covering the knothole infested pine furniture displayed imprints of Lucy’s two front teeth every two inches along the entire top ridge.

Mattie was at the same time horrified that her child would spend her entire naptime carving out the precise pattern before her eyes, and impressed at the exact distance between every two-toothed dig. Her eyes glanced upward in a very familiar “Help me, Jesus” appeal to a higher power but before she could let her breath out in a sigh of desperation she spied Lucy’s second work of counter-culture art.

There on the eggshell painted wall behind the far yet-undamaged rail was a shotgun style array of dried boogers. Each booger was unique in character, size and color, but true to Lucy’s form was approximately two inches in distance from the next closest dried mass of early-childhood mucosa. Mattie squinted in rage while looking at the pattern; when her focus blurred, the pattern was almost beautiful.

“Lucy!” she hollered, “Where are you?!”

An unexpected giggle came from somewhere beneath the sheets of the lower bunk bed followed by, “Here I am, momma. See what I did?”

Assuming she was about to receive the show and tell version of Lucy’s three year old body-induced artwork, she took a couple of cleansing breaths before making eye contact. As she lowered her body to approach her child on the bottom bunk, the words in Mattie’s throat stopped short. Her child had come up for air and in her right, chubby-fingered hand she was chopping at the atmosphere with a pair of child-safe scissors.

“I made a Barney skirt, momma.” Lucy was looking eagerly at her mother’s face for the pleased response she had been anticipating. “See?”

Mattie’s eyes followed the direction Lucy’s fingers were pointing to discover that the top edge of her “Barney the Dinosaur” print sheets now had “fringe.” Evidently Lucy had moved on from cutting her hair last month to now making four-inch deep incisions along the entire length of her twin-sized sheets. And of course, they were exactly two inches apart.

“Lucy probably thinks my normal look includes bulging neck veins and eyeballs,” Mattie mused as she quickly sorted through her reaction to Lucy’s trifecta strike on her bedroom environment.

She winced as a jolt of pain shot from her jaw, “Damn those stress fractures on my molars…you can do this. And relax your hands, mom, those fingernails are going to punch right through your palms.” Speaking to herself in first person allowed Mattie to “take the position of authority over her own emotions,” as her two-bit therapist had told her time and again. Her fingers opened up, she relaxed her jaw, took two more breaths and spoke.

“Lucy, you know those scissors are for cutting paper honey. I’m sorry, but it looks like you’ll need to give them to me until you remember that rule better. “ She could already see Lucy’s face beginning to wilt. “And, it looks like you worked really hard on your wall decoration, sweetie, but you know that boogers go into Kleenexes, not on the wall. Come with me, I’ll help you reach the warm water so you can wet a towel and clean them off.”

Mattie Bossboom was “a real trooper.” She knew this because Lucy’s Head Start teacher told her this at least once a week. She also heard it from the bus driver, the store manager when she recovered Lucy from checkout counter number nine after having lost her for three minutes last Saturday, and from her neighbor as she replaced two flats of begonias last Spring that Lucy had pulled for a Mother’s Day bouquet. Although her perspective might not have been entirely accurate, “Matters,” as her father called her, spent most of her waking energy emotionally regulating. She needed help…she needed more than help. She needed to get laid.

With her child deeply involved in booger removal duty, Mattie headed toward the back of the house in search of her husband. She found him sitting on the stool, reading on his i-Phone with one hand while pulling booger out of his nose with the other. As she wrestled with the urge to grab a Kleenex and scoop the man-sized snot from his finger, she yielded to the fact that she would have no position of authority over her emotions that day. Possibly the entire week.

“Mark,” Mattie said in a voice thirty-percent louder than necessary. “I came back here to tell you that Lucy is currently washing off a masterpiece of booger art on her wall but now I can clearly see where she learned HOW TO PAINT!” The last three words were one hundred and thirty-percent louder than necessary.

Mattie glared at her husband while, still dealing with the shock of his bathroom solace being shattered, he reached for the toilet paper. His arm stopped in mid-air as he realized his wife of eight years had lost it, and it was up to him to help her get it back. Instead, he reached over and wiped the booger on her neatly creased jeans, rubbed it in with two or three more circles and then patted it into place as if to put a bow on her rage.

While Mattie sputtered and searched for some way to react to what he had just done, Mark wiped, flushed, stood up, pulled his pants on and then buckled his belt with savoir flair. He then swiftly ducked his shoulder, grabbed Mattie around the legs and swung her over his shoulder as she began to scream in protest. Pretty certain he had just knocked Mattie’s head against the door jam as he exited the bathroom, Mark carried his load to the bedroom, locked the door and had an exhausting fifteen -minute lovemaking session with his wife.

As they rolled over, breathing deeply and reveling in the huge emotional and endocrine-infused release they had just experienced, Mattie looked at her dresser mirror. There, hanging from the space between the top section of the frame and mirrored glass were five family photos in various stages of sun-struck fade…exactly two inches apart. As she raised her body and begin searching for her clothes strewn about the entire bedroom, she made a mental note to fire her therapist.

Once dressed, she headed into the kitchen to bake cookies. She felt as if she had been reborn and wanted to create. A few minutes later, Mark walked through the kitchen and noticed that the balls of cookie dough on the pans were exactly two inches apart. He smiled, and went to check on Lucy’s progress of which he was secretly proud. When he reached her room, however, his daughter was no longer there.

Lucy had already finished her cleaning and had gone to search for the family cat. She thought they needed matching haircuts.

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