My mom said if I was hell-bent on slime it’d be on my own dime, so I saved up tooth and lunch money, then walked to the dollar store where nothing’s a dollar yet everyone’s a fool for those red baskets, and filled up. Glue, food coloring, shaving cream. Borax.
“That stuff will kill you,” she said. I went back and traded the rat poison for saline but that cost $11.99, leaving little for glue. I had to settle on generic but you should never settle, especially with slime.
I brought everything home and set up shop.
Mostly, my mom left me alone. Sometimes, I could hear her outside my door. Breathing. The floor creaking beneath her, as if it might speak. As if she might. Then, she’d retreat.
Once she said, “Why not make something useful instead?”
Brownies, a scarf. My mom can knit two purl two until acorns drop free, provided there are no sleeves or seams.
“There’s more to life,” my dad said, then left to get it.
My ratios were off. I concocted a soupy bowl of glue, a pool of shaving cream. My fingers stuck together like a Popsicle raft.
My mom came in, laundry folded.
“It smells like your father’s face.”
I didn’t look up. She breathed.
“Do you mind?”
She sniffed. “A man’s smell does not belong on a ten-year-old.”
I told her I like it and she said wash your hands before dinner.
I was frustrated, yet determined. You don’t just give up. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be the land of infinite chances?
Food coloring didn’t help. I texted my friend Lee. Epic fail. Lee wrote, trust the recipes. No substitutes. Haven’t you watched the videos?
Duh, I wrote. Nobody gets an idea off the top of their heads.
On YouTube, the girls have names like Brandy and Siena and Brianne. They have bedrooms with decals on the walls and mood paint and posters of other rising YouTube stars. Plush unicorns swing from plush moons. Comforters match rugs.
Lee was right about quality. Sum of our parts, etc. Saturday, thanks to name brands, I finally got somewhere, but left my materials out in the process. My mom gathered my mess. Full arms, wet eyes.
“If you don’t cap your crap, it’s going to dry out.”
“I forgot.” I got distracted; I was too focused.
“I don’t even understand the appeal.”
“You wouldn’t,” I said, then softened. I tapped a screen.
“Visual meditation,” I said. I worked the clump in my fist. The YouTube girls call it soul glue. “Just watching will improve your mood.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my mood,” she said, but she leaned in.
YouTube girls’ hair shine like crazy diamonds (there are videos for that, too. Egg yolks, mayonnaise.) That’s my dad’s line. Instead of good night, he says, Shine on, you crazy diamond. Once I sang it to my brother before bed and my mom said, Don’t sing that anti-Semite in my house.
“But we’re not even Jewish.”
“That’s besides the point.”
The point is, can you like the music without liking the man?
Sunday she ate herself into oblivion. Eating is better than drinking or whatever, but then she conked out on the couch, crumbs on her chest.
“Go easy on your mother,” Dad said. “Put mini-me on.”
That’s his name for Jeb. If my dad is into himself, my mom is out of herself. It has nothing to do with size, Dad says, and everything to do with women, eating their feelings.
“Carbs are a zombie drug.”
“I love zombies,” Jeb said, then swiped the phone.
Jeb wet his pants at school. Which, fine, happens, but there was no extra set to change so Jeb had to borrow another kid’s. I would’ve cried my face off, but people are better adjusted the second time around. No one showed at pick-up, so we sat at the pizza parlor across the street with our coats on licking garlic knots, watching suspects on the local news.
Later, my mom would say it was my dad’s day and my dad would claim he sent Lucinda, why didn’t we see her? Were we playing tricks? Lucinda works in his office and appreciates his shaved chest in a way that Mom never did.
While we waited, I took out a pale knob. It stretched like taffy, so Jeb tried to eat it.
“Don’t eat it, dummy.”
I showed him how to knead. Punched and poked and folded it over and pulled at the corners until the slime grew soft and warm. That’s the hardest. In the videos, touch doesn’t translate. You really have to stay with it to achieve the feeling you want. Jeb molded his into a ball, the kind you get for a quarter at the market, and bounced. The slime sprang back, embedded with hot flakes and bits of straw wrapper.
“Stinks,” he said.
“Don’t I know it.”
Today my mom barges in. I’ve left crusty bowls and spoons on every surface like a junkie, like a cereal-addled college student, and she can’t take it.
“Slime is taking over our lives.”
I say that’s not true. I say, besides, it’s my business.
“Forget the waste, do you know there’s a national glue shortage? Classrooms aren’t getting what they need –”
“Sssssssssh.” Pagana is demonstrating a new glow-in-the-dark recipe.
“Some parents get creative,” I say. That shuts her. Whoever is shooting Pagana films a close-up of her hands. Her nails are painted, neon, zigzag, French.
“I used to love Press-Ons!”
“I told you, it’s not just slime.”
My mom sighs. “Can you at least try to contain it?”
I give her side-eye and she lets out a laugh and I flinch, it’s been so long since I’ve heard it, which makes her laugh more, so we sit like that on the edge of my bed, watching, my mom smoothing my flyaway hair.
To make up for things, Lucinda buys Jeb an Xbox game. All we need is an Xbox. Lucinda reddens. “I thought all kids had those.”
For me, she gets an all-you-can slime kit. My skills soar. Fluffy slime, marshmallow, glitter, butter, you name it. I name them Fairy Surprise, Lunar Lava.
Lee calls me slime master!
We catch my mom narrating to herself as she clears the table. It starts as a mutter. This is how to cut grease from a pan. This is how to peel a carrot, to slice an apple the night before school so it won’t turn brown in the bag. When marriage becomes a mirror, smash the goddamn mirror. She breaks it down into steps, as if she has an audience. Step one, she gets louder. Wrings out her sponge. Step two. Fires the disposal to a roar. My dad forbids me from having an online presence, which I guess is some sort of protection, although from what, I’m not sure. I don’t know that he can protect me from anything.
In the morning my mom says, “What’s with the Styrofoam insanity?”
“Floam. The secret ingredient. These lil’ suckers makes the slime slimier.”
“Does the environment mean anything to you?”
I tell her the floam was a gift.
“Then keep it at your father’s. You do do this there, right?”
When I don’t answer she says, “Do you do anything at his place besides come home starving?”
Last time Lucinda made cauliflower rice, which I kept to myself. If women eat their feelings, then what kind of feeling is that?
“Feel.” My mom looks at my hand like I’m offering her snot, so I press it into her palm and wrap mine around hers until she squeezes. Gypsy Stardust.
Lee pipes. “What do you think, Mrs. P? Does Jane have a future?”
My mom smells her fingers, then wipes on her jeans.
“Who’s up for cookies?”
“Seriously,” I say – appetites aside, can’t she see that I’m good? – but then she offers to film us baking with her. “Start your own channel. Call yourselves the slime bots for all I care.”
Lee grabs my arm. “Could I be any more jello of your life.”
When I return from the weekend, my house smells different. My desk’s been scrubbed. Containers are gone. No bowls. No spoons. No tubes of dye. The whole operation, erased. My mom – I can picture her vacuum nozzle sucking up a million specks of floam. I lick my thumb and pick up a stray dot that’s escaped.
I text Lee. Ur not going to believe this [poop emoji].
My mom calls me to the kitchen.
“How could you?” I scream.
She flings open the cupboard. There, behind closed doors, is my arsenal of slime, stacked by style and color, filling the shelves in a Tupperware tower. Jeb stands on a stool beside her, pokes his tongue through the hole left by his lost tooth.
“Lids, love. Now, maybe they’ll last.”