“In the forest,” Critter explains, “all of our fairy tales have happy endings. But they’re not about marriage.”
I’m sitting in the bathtub, quietly bawling my eyes out. Like you do when your kids are around and you need to pretend that everything’s okay. I hear a scratch at the door.
“Mommy’s in the tub,” I shout to my three-year-old. “Is your movie done already?”
There’s no reply. Just more scratching.
“Sweetheart? I can’t come out right now. How about you go play in your sister’s room?” I feel a twang of guilt, but not enough to get me out of the tub. Not yet. I need to get my feet under me.
My lip tickles, and I realizes there’s a snot slug creeping toward my mouth. I grab a kleenex to address it, but before I can blow, another scratch sounds on the door. The doorknob starts to turn.
“Honey, I told you…” I begin.
But it isn’t my daughter’s muzzle peeking in. It’s Critter, my imaginary raccoon.
“Wow!” Critter says. “You look hot; all pink and puffy and coated with slime! If you were a clam, you’d be a bombshell!”
“Ew!” I say, and blow hard into the kleenex, soaking it through to my pruney fingers.
“Whoooo, and she squirts!” Critter squeaks. “In mollusc culture, females would kill for secretions like that. Soooo copious. Your boogers are, like, the double-D’s of clamkind.”
I roll my eyes and toss my “sexy” wad into the trash. “Go away, rodent.”
“Um… no,” Critter answers. “You need help.” She trots into the bathroom and shuts the door behind her.
The puff of cold air brushes my nipples and sends a shudder down my spine. I slide back under the water, into my cocoon of heat and quiet. I keep going down until the water tickles my bottom lip. I sigh through my nose, making jets that wrinkle the perfect surface of the water. Totally wrecking its zen. Like I do.
“Hey,” Critter says. “Snap out of it. We need you back in the here and now.” She climbs up onto the toilet. I think she’s going to sit, but instead she reaches toward me. And bellyflops into the tub.
“What the fuck!” I sputter, wiping my eyes.
Critter pops to the surface and paddles toward me. She looks like a brylcreemed rat with a ridiculous grin. She climbs on my chest.
“Aaack!” I howl. Tiny pink claw marks rise like corduroy on my breasts.
Critter ignores me and pulls herself onto my belly. Then she spreads her soft palms on my chest and presses her nose to mine.
“Alright, human,” she says. “Spill. What’s buzzing in your bonnet?”
“It’s stupid,” I say, and drop my eyes.
Critter lifts my chin with a gentle paw. “You’ve got spit the poison out.” Then she shoves on my shoulders like Elaine Benice. “Get. It. Out!!”
“Enough with the claws!” I bark, and I grab Critter under the armpits. I curl her into a ball and tuck her into the crook of my elbow.
Critter smiles up at me serenely, like a wet, hairy baby. I’m smacked with a warm-queasy flashback of nursing my daughters.
“This is so weird,” I mutter to my imaginary bathmate.
Critter laughs. “Your kink is way-out,” she says. “That’s why I like you.”
I laugh. Then I sit for a minute, hugging my imaginary raccoon. The bathwater cools, and bits of fur swirl around my knees. “Okay, Critter,” I say. “Here’s what’s bothering me: I watched Beauty and the Beast today, and I fucking hated it.”
Critter’s bullshit brow pops up. “All this over a movie?”
“It isn’t just the movie!” I grunt. “It’s life. And marriage. And me. That whole concept—that you’ll be fulfilled if you just give somebody’s flaws a chance—it’s the most depressing fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Why?” Critter asks.
“Because I can’t do it.”
Critter looks at me with sad eyes.
“I’ve got the fairy tale, Critter. A husband and kids. They’re beautiful, hilarious, amazing people, and I should be disgustingly happy. But I’m not. When I look at them, all I can see are the fights that we replay every goddamned day.”
Critter nods. “They’re an intense crew,” she says.
“They are,” I agree. “We are. And I fucking hate it! The shouting. The lying. The knee-jerk defiance that makes me want to tear things up with my teeth. But I’m the mom. I’m supposed to make it better and keep the peace among the beasts like an unsinkable Disney princess.”
Critter chuckles. “That’s so not you.”
“No shit. My counsellor keeps telling me I have to bring the zen to our house. But I don’t have it in me to bring.”
Critter wipes a tear from my cheek. “I think you reading the story wrong,” she says.
I frown at her, confused.
“In the forest,” she explains, “all of our fairy tales have happy endings. But they’re not about marriage.”
“Then what are they about?” I ask.
“Orgasms, dimwit! Popping your bubble. Resolving the crisis. Learning what it takes to blow your own motherboard. It’s the theme of every story ever told.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I laugh.
“For example,” Critter says. “Little Red Riding Hood got eaten by the wolf, right? But it wasn’t because she disobeyed her mother. It was because she ignored her instincts. She knew what she wanted to do, but she let the wolf pressure her into pleasing him. Always a mistake.” She shakes her head.
I cock an eyebrow.
“And how about Rumpelstiltskin?” Critter adds. “That one’s supposed to remind us that sexual relationships are a contract, and we need to make sure the rules are well-defined and the outcomes are mutually beneficial.”
“Critter, NONE of those stories are about sex.”
“That’s because you tell them wrong, you silly puritan.”
I roll my eyes. “Alright. I’ll bite. What’s the moral of Beauty and the Beast?”
Critter thinks about it. “Collars and merkins.”
“Collars and merkins?”
“Yeah! In the real story, the beast keeps his horns and fur. The magic is that he and Belle both dig the bestiality scene.”
“I don’t see how any of this helps me to be a better mom and wife.”
“Stop trying to be a better mom and wife!” Critter says, shaking her tiny fists at me.
“But we’re all miserable!” I say.
“No one so much as you, Dum dum.” She smiles kindly. “Your counsellor is right. You need some zen. If you want to accept your monsters like Belle, give up trying to change them. And stop blaming yourself for their shit.”
I chew on my lip. Critter rests her head against my chest, moving with my rise and fall.
“You let me be who I am. And that helps me,” I say, and stroke her head.
“I need to embrace the fact that I can’t change my family,” I say.
“Exactly,” Critter says. She pats my head, then climbs out of the tub. She shakes herself dry and sighs contentedly.
With a paw on the door, she turns and says, “If you can’t beat ‘em, beat off!
Then she winks and trots away.
If you’re still struggling to find your happy ending, Critter encourages you to look within. Really probe around in there. If it starts to get fun and you forget what you came looking for, you’re doing it right. Well done, you.
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