Soap Tongues

Fiction by Grace Safford


My brother was born in a washing machine.

He climbs out a boy of seven, complete with a full head of hair and a growing body. I am nine when he walks into the living room while we are eating peas and carrots. He spits out a bar of soap and says hello.

My mother says that he smells like a fresh towel and that she loves him. She says that only a smart boy could come out of the washing machine already knowing how to walk and talk. My mother calls him Dearest and my father calls him Sport. The neighborhood calls him The Waterboy and everybody loves him. When my grandmother dies the same day—news shared by my grandfather while we are out buying The Waterboy some new clothes—my mother says at least we have The Waterboy. That at least he smells like a fresh towel and he already knows his ABCs.

At least we have The Waterboy.

The Waterboy and I pass each other plates before dinner and accidentally bump hands. It feels like home to touch his skin until my parents forget to come wish me a goodnight.

On Fridays my father plays catch with The Waterboy and on Sundays my mother teaches him about jungle animals and lightning bugs. They send me to tee ball on Saturdays with the neighborhood so that they can sing three-part harmonies with The Waterboy. In the car, I tell the neighborhood now that my grandmother is gone, my tee ball mitt is my best friend. The neighborhood asks me what kind of candy The Waterboy likes. On Monday The Waterboy eats Snickers.

At my grandmother’s funeral, the neighborhood lines up to peer into her casket and shake hands with The Waterboy. They touch my grandmother’s head with their holy water and ask The Waterboy whether he knows how to swim. Can he take a look in their washing machines? They need the lint plucked out of their traps and they want to know if there are waterboys stuck in their pipes. The neighborhood tosses dirt on my grandmother’s grave and take The Waterboy dancing. He’s seven, they say, but at least he knows how to move. My family and I wait in the parking lot for The Waterboy to finish his waltz.

When I cry in the car on the way home, my mother tells me to not let The Waterboy see. They’re worried if he learns how to cry he’ll turn back into grey water. They’ve already found more soap in his mouth. The Waterboy offers me a tissue and I tuck it unused between the seats.

On the Saturday after the funeral I am too sad to go to tee ball. My father declares The Waterboy shall go for me since he has been playing catch so well on Fridays. The Waterboy swings his bat until the other team is too tired to throw. If tee ball had winners, my team had finally won. On Wednesday there is an article about The Waterboy in the paper.

The neighborhood decides The Waterbody is gifted. They love him. They would do anything for him. They come to our home and give The Waterboy cleats and sweatbands. He is moved from tee ball to junior minor leagues with the ten-year-olds. My father plays catch with The Waterboy on Fridays and The Waterboy wins games on Saturdays. The neighborhood forgets my name and stops taking me to tee ball. The Waterboy still smells like fresh towels when he slides into home base. I tell my parents I think he still smells like that because at night I see him sleeping in the washing machine, breathing in the hair and skin caught on our clothes. They nod and thank me for doing my laundry.

When my grandmother’s will is read to us in our kitchen, I find out she left me her favorite paint set. Not the one she used to paint her girlfriend naked in her attic, but the other one. The one she and I used to paint rocks like cookies so we could take a hard bite. The one we pulled out every summer to paint the bottoms of our toes to mark where we’d been. My parents make me give it to The Waterboy so he doesn’t feel left out. She died before he emerged, they tell me. She would want him to have it. They watch him paint all afternoon.

That night I catch The Waterboy painting the inside of the washing machine. I can’t make out the word but it starts with an “h.”

On Saturday after his game The Waterboy offers me a stick he’s painted red and says he will teach me how to hit without a tee. I say no so he bats home runs in our backyard until he has broken every window on our street. The neighborhood comes to take videos of him and offer him balloons and cake. The Waterboy swallows his soap and eats with a spoon.

Guinness World Records sees the neighborhoods’ videos and declares The Waterboy the youngest junior minor league baseball player of all time. He can hit home runs with a stick and he plays with the ten-year-olds. On Wednesday there is another article about The Waterboy in the paper.

My father takes away my mitt and bat and gives them to The Waterboy so that no one will ask if I’ve ever won a tee ball game. He sends me into the yard with a coat hanger he’s bent into a divining rod and tells me to dig to see if I can find more waterboys in our well.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can fill my hole and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can come inside and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can sing a song and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can dance a waltz and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can hit home runs and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can be a watergirl and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can be a watergirl and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys in our well so I ask my father if I can be a watergirl and he says no.

I cannot find more waterboys and my father says no.

The Waterboy says yes but I say no.

There is another article about The Waterboy in the paper on Wednesday. I bury it in the yard before I even know what it’s about. The Waterboy brings me another copy with my face painted purple on top of his.

The Waterboy says yes but I say no.

My parents are planning a surprise for The Waterboy when my grandmother’s ashes arrive in the mail. The Waterboy places her urn next to his Guinness pictures and her portrait that he’s painted orange and he asks who she was. My parents never told him whose funeral we were at. He wants to know why my eyes look like hers. Can he paint his eyes to look like mine or will it hurt?

I pick up my grandmother’s urn and tell The Waterboy to catch. The Waterboy ducks. My grandmother spills between the fibers of our carpet. Her ashes look orange. The Waterbody grabs the broom and says he knows that I didn’t mean to do that. That I’m a good sister. That he loves me and that I smell like grass and that he’ll paint the bottoms of my fingers to mark where we want to go.

The Waterboy has blue eyes and I have brown eyes and I wish I had blue eyes those eyes big eyes almond eyes good eyes water eyes. I watch him sweep until my parents start screaming from up the stairs.

The Waterboy cries until he doesn’t know why and I climb into the washing machine and put a bar of soap in my mouth.


Grace Safford is a writer from a town in Northern Vermont so small cartographers sometimes confuse it for a lake. She’s passionate about gardening, feminism, whales, and wearing very ugly socks. You can find her work published or forthcoming in Ghost City Press, Twist in Time, Lucent Dreaming, Dear Damsels, and Corvid Queen. Currently, she is working on her first novel and an activity book.

Photo by Alecsander Alves on Unsplash

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