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1 flash story
by
Rebecca Ackermann

Rebecca Ackermann (she/her) is a writer, artist, and designer living in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Barren Magazine, Flash FrogWigleaf, and Rejection Letters. Her work has been supported by the In Cahoots and Wellstone Center in the Redwoods residencies. You can find her on Twitter making bad jokes @rebackermann or on Instagram making tiny clay food @rebeccaackermann.

Rashes

Sundays are her favorite because she gets a long oatmeal bath in the afternoon. The rest of the week, in the morning and before bed, we examine her skin for scabs and slop on a rotating lineup of creams. Sometimes she likes the attention, sometimes she tries to slither away with giggles and shouts, sometimes she screams like we’re hurting her.

We tell her to slap the patches that itch instead of scratching. “Slap slap!” We say when we catch her nails poking around for relief. “Slap slap don’t scratch!”

She loves the smell of the oatmeal melting in the water, loves to draw letters with her finger in the mucky ring it marks around the tub. She loves that we both sit in the bathroom with her (“Mommy and Daddy!”), him on the closed toilet in the corner, me on the rainbow bathmat with my arms hugged around my knees.

“It’s getting worse,” I say.

“You always think it’s getting worse,” he says, clipping his toenails into the wastebasket, focused on the task.

“It’s always getting worse,” I say. She can’t hear us because she’s underwater, trying to hold her breath for as long as the Guinness Book record holder: 24 minutes and 7 seconds.

“It is physically impossible for her to always be getting worse,” he says, still looking at his toes. I don’t think he’s right but I’m not in the mood to rerun the fight.

She comes up for air after 35 seconds, wet hair horns draped over her face, one arm raised in triumph. “I did it!” she shrieks.

“You did it!” I say.

“You did it!” he says.

I give her the five-minute warning that the bath will come to an end.

She loves to lie face-up and starfished as the water swirls down the open drain. She loves the way the slick porcelain feels on her now-smooth arms and legs. She loves to catch the moment between the hot bath and the too-cold air and I keep the glass door closed to hold it in as long as I can. He stands to the side with a white towel, fanned open like a curtain, waiting for her to exit.

“Mommy, mommy,” she squeals, her limbs forming an imaginary snow angel. “I am finally the perfect temperature!” The oatmeal chunks make sucking sounds as they find their way down. I know I shouldn’t let the pipes clog, but I’m too tired to do it any other way. She loves the sound, imitates it and laughs. “Slurp slurp!” she says, making her mouth like a straw. “Slurp slurp don’t catch!”