The balls spun, twirled, whirled, and drifted down to land, a yellow one in a gull’s mouth, the others resting on the bottom. Inez pushed the fat, white button again, bubbles gurgled upward into the water, sending the balls pirouetting haphazardly toward the gulls.
“Inez!” Sandra yelled. “Enough, already! It’s too nice out. Put the game down and go outside and play!”
“But I’m so close, Mama!” Inez huffed, belly flat on her bed, feet criss-crossing back and forth behind her, hands cradling her plastic aquarium, she willed the balls telepathically toward the gulls’ mouths. Beaming, she proudly watched a blue ball land in another gull’s mouth; the other six balls softly flitting back to the bottom.
There was no controlling the balls, Sandra had told Inez last week when Inez brought the game home — a gift from Inez’s dad, of course.
But, Inez insisted, as she huffed down the stairs from her room, she could make them do it. She knew because her dad had done it. He’d gotten all the balls into all the gull’s mouths. She’d seen it with her own eyes, she insisted. She’d seen him do it!
Sandra tried not to roll her eyes. She, privately, loved hating Inez’s dad, almost as much as she had loved loving him. And, she just as equally, hated that Inez adored that man with that same kind of unsullied love Sandra once had for him.
“Dios mio…Inez, please put that water game down, mi amor,” Sandra pleaded.
Inez glanced — or maybe glared — quickly at her mom.
“Mama, I need to get all the balls in the gulls mouths to win. If I do, then…” Inez stopped short, shifting her eyes to Sandra then back to the shimmering tube and pushed the button again.
“These games…Inez, you have to go out and play. I heard Thomas yelling for you …” Sandra reasoned.
“No, Mama! No…” The last six plastic beads had just been sent aloft by a weak geyser of air before Sandra yanked the small, lifeless water game from Inez’s hands, causing all the balls to quake, the only two nestled in the gulls’ mouths thrown free, all spinning aimlessly in an unexpected storm.
“Thomas can wait — he doesn’t need me to play…,” Inez sighed loudly, throwing her head backward in anguish. “He was the one who told me what would happen if the gulls caught all the little balls…”
“Inez. Enough. Go.”
Shoulders high, lips pouting, with all the flair of a soap star, Inez flung her head forward, shook her hands in the air, and stomped her way toward the front door.
That night, brushed by the chill in the room, Sandra shivered as she put an extra blanket on Inez and asked, “What did Thomas tell you would happen with that game if the gulls caught the balls, bomboncita?”
“Nothing, Mama,” Inez yawned as she sunk into her covers, game clutched safely in her hand, head nodding to the left, eyes rolling back to meet sleep.
Sandra switched the light off, took the game from Inez’s hand, and headed to her room.
‘The thing about water…,’ Sandra thought sinking into her nightly tub, inane water game in hand, ‘is it is magical….’.
That thought, the tub hot, and filled with extra bubbles, along with the game in her hand…Sandra paused for a moment. She’d only had half a glass of wine, she reminded herself. But, still, the thought caused her to ask again: what did Thomas tell Inez? What would happen?
She turned the game up and down…back and forth…up…down…. The balls spun violently through the crystalline tube and — it had to have been the wine, she was certain — but, for a moment, a brief second the size of salt to a giant, she saw herself twirling and swirling in the tube, safely contained in a capsule of ocean.
Sandra angrily forced the fat button in, with all intentions of, somehow, without even knowing what it meant, winning this worthless game.
The tube became an ensnared whirlpool. A typhoon of energy. The colorful beads swirled into a blur of brown; the pelicans disappeared behind a thick, cream curtain of bubbles. Spellbound, Sandra searched for the pelicans amidst the flurry. She felt like she was again a child, searching for shells below the surface of the ocean, just after a wave crashed. She felt herself free, blissfully lost in the chaotic froth.
Inez’s dad had never asked Sandra to marry him. Or even professed his love for her.
Five years. Sandra reminded herself every time she dropped Inez off at his new home with his adorable wife and their fat baby.
Five years she lived with him; ten years she lived for him.
And then, an unexpected pregnancy led to a startling realization. “Sandra,” he said,“ I do not love you that way. I can’t…”
Eight years later, Sandra hopelessly relived that moment he destroyed her life every night she got into her hot bath after getting Inez to bed.
‘Water heals’, she’d quote her mother as she slid under the bubbles, doing her best to keep herself from staying under, drowning in her own sadness, drowning and drifting away.
That night, though, instead of sinking below the bubbles, she found herself captivated by the game.
As she searched for the pelicans amidst the storm she’d created in the tube, she felt her arms pushing against the waves, tasted salt, and began to gag as she sucked water into her lungs.
The sun poured through the window and onto Inez’s face. She woke, her eyes blinking madly against the stream of light. Stretching, she instinctively grabbed for her game. It wasn’t on her night stand. She jumped up, felt under her pillow, searched under her covers, crawled under her bed.
She ran to her mom’s room. The bed was made. Already. Inez searched her mom’s room: her game was nowhere.
She called, “Mama? Where’s my game?”
Inez noticed her mom’s bathroom door open, a puddle of red slowly falling from wine glass on the floor.
When her dad, Andrew, arrived, Inez couldn’t breathe. My game, she repeated, again and again, as she rolled back and forth on the floor of her mom’s bathroom.
“Nezzy?,” her dad whispered. “Hey. Nez…?”
Andrew laid on the cold white tile of his ex’s bathroom next to his daughter.
“Nez, where’s Mom?” he asked, still uncertain why Inez had called him, why his ex was no where to be seen.
Inez stopped moving, curled against the side of the tub, talking into the floor, “In the bathtub…”
Andrew sat up and looked over the wall of the deep tub — a tub he sometimes longed for, a warmth he sometimes missed, from his life with Sandra. Nothing, he saw. Nothing but dry mounds of bubbles, shells of an evening bath.
But it was morning.
Andrew kneeled and looked into the tub. Amidst the froth, the lifeless leftovers from hours before, was Inez’s game. Gulls fully fed — each with two of the eight BB-sized pellets lodged in their ‘mouths’. He carefully picked up the game.
‘She won…,’ he sighed sadly, quietly under his breath.
“She won,” Inez cried into the floor.
The salt coated Sandra’s skin when she finally emerged from the waves. After drying in the sun and soaking in the beauty of silence, she slowly descended back into the ocean’s froth, realizing she’d never wanted her life as it was.
She’d never wanted the life she thought she wanted.
That night, when the balls fell as if she simply placed them into the gulls’ mouths, she knew what it meant to win the game. For a moment then, as the saltwater began to fill her lungs, she wondered if Inez would be okay. But she knew. Inez’s dad had won the game. And, now, so had she.
© A. Gabriel 2019
Author’s (aka: my) note: This was written based on the May contest prompt from Don’t Wake the Mage. The last few weeks were not great for me (or for my writing time), and by the time I was able to finish the story it was June 1. But I was really into this idea, and though I don’t think it’s the story I’d wanted, it’s something I needed to complete AND share.
And so, here we are! The game in this story, in case you have never played it or seen it, is a Tomy water game — I loved those magical handheld games as a kid — but there are no royalty free pics of said game so you’ll have to check it out via the link.