Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2002)
The train rattles past. A subtle reminder of time passing. It shakes the crummy apartment that sits next to the tracks, as a faithful cat to its owner. It shakes the whole building microscopically, but evidently. The glass of water that the daughter grasps in her trembling hand, slips, tumbles and smashes onto the cheap, wooden floor. The impact shatters the glass, crystal-like splinters shoot in every possible direction. An inquisitive sight, perhaps to some, but this just brings tears to the girl's eyes.
"What have I done?" She thinks to herself, covering her face with jittery hands. "What have I done?" It is the third glass she has smashed today. And her mother has already warned her. Last time the girl had smashed a glass her mother had... Well, let's just say... Let's just say nothing.
The girl spins around, panicked, searching for something she could use to clean up or cover-up the mess. There used to be a nice lady down the hall that would give her a brush and pan when these kinds of things happened. But she had moved out, not too long ago. All the same, everybody moved out of here. No wonder, it was an unmitigated dump. No one in their right mind would live here. It was more of a stop-off in people's lives, a break, a low-point. But not for her. It was her reality.
The door opens, almost torn from its frame. The girl cowers. Bracing herself. Her mother falls in more than she walks in. Her knuckles, white from supporting herself on the feeble, plastic door handle. Her eyes swivel recklessly across the room before she takes another generous swig from the bottle in her hand. It's the green one, today. Strange, she doesn't buy the green one very often. The green bottle is always code. For bad. For worse. For lousy. Atrocious. No good. When she's got the green one... Then things are bad.
"Please, Mama." The girl tries to take her mother's hand. "Please, lie down."
"No!!" Her mother careens dangerously. "Say... Who... The glass? Piece of shit." She raises her hand and tries to slap her daughter across her face. But she doesn't have the momentum or any form of swing and she pathetically misses. The girl’s heart is in her mouth and she can feel a small squirt of a tear roll out.
"Please Mama." She grips her mother's upper arm. "Please."
"P-Please?" The woman hiccups and giggles hoarsely at the girl. "You think I wanted to be a mo-" She grabs her shaking knees. "A mother?"
"St-Stop calling me that. You m-make me sick." She coughs up a handful of saliva, only stopping to wipe her mouth with the back of her sleeve. Her grey hoodie looks in need of a wash, as well as her face and hair. Oh, her hair. Those long, tangerine locks that could so playfully bounce down her back, if only she would care about them. If only she would care about anything and everything.
She looks tired. Plum-colored bags of exhaustion. Her eyes rimmed with crimson. Her teeth are chrome. Everything is out of place. She's young but looks old. For the first time, the girl wishes properly, that she would just fade into the back of her mother's head.
And almost as though her mother can read her thoughts, she wraps her fingers around her daughter's throat and holds them there. The mother starts crying, but the girl just stares blankly into her mother's streaming eyes. She doesn't claw at her throat or fight for breath or even open her mouth. She fixes onto the black eyes of her mother and waits. When her final breath leaves, she falls to the floor.
Daten, Ohio (2020)
The smell of burnt seeps through the air. I don't know what, toast maybe? Burnt things are like that. Smells that have once been distinctive, such as the dewy, lime smell of grass, or the fatty, smokiness of bacon, no longer. One’s you’ll never be able to categorize again. All deduced into one common smell. Burnt.
My eyes flutter open and I raise my head, half asleep, slightly, as though suspended in midair. I grunt. There's a metallic clatter of pans, followed by a yelp and some cursing. I exhale, through my nose, pressing my head firmly back against my pillow, and snuggle into the sheets. But I am awake now and the smell of burnt is well up my nose. My stomach throbs nauseously against the IKEA mattress. Oh, dammit to hell, anyway.
The mattress creaks and bounces as I hoist myself off and onto the floor. Hands on hips, shoulders slumped, bleary eyes. I look like a mother. Quite parental. Nice, but rough around the edges. Tired mostly. I make my way down the stairs happily whistling. Letting my hand trail along the smooth, whiter-shade-of-pale banister. I follow the smell, opening the door into the kitchen.
Joe balances two frying pans, in one hand, the other is gingerly spoon-feeding our one-year-old daughter, Lizzy, in her high chair. Our eight-year-old, Olive, sits uninterruptedly in a chair across from her sister, silently reading a book. A small bowl of untouched cereal sits in front of her. I calmly walk into the frantic madhouse, ruffling Olive's hair as I pass, and then I patiently remove the frying pans from Joe's hand. He looks majorly relieved as he pecks the top of my head and sits down at the table to finish feeding Lizzy. He large-scale sucks at cooking, I think, as I empty what I think used to be mushrooms from the pan into the bin. So I refill, with a fresh load of butter and mushrooms.
"Well, good mornin' everyone." I turn around from the stove.
"Morning, mom," Olive hasn't even looked up from her book. I furrow my eyebrows at Joe.
"Olive, honey, please put away that book. It's family time." Joe says. She obeys. Family life. The doorbell rings, almost on cue.
"Go get the mail, Olive," I add. She sighs and jumps up from her seat, to skip down the hall. Joe winks at me, as I hear Olive shuffle and bend down to get the post. "What is there?" I holler.
"Umm... Joyce Adams sent me a birthday invite, Mom." Olive yells, excitedly.
"That's nice, darling. Anything else?"
"Some of dad's work crap. Like three letters-"
"Watch your mouth!" Joe interrupts warns.
"-And there's a letter for you, mom."
"Yeah?" I ask. "From who?" She saunters back into the kitchen.
"Someone called Rachel." Joe looks at me.
"Who's Rachel?" He says, unable to hide any of his suspicion. Everyone is looking at me. The only thing that can be heard is the sizzling of the mushrooms in the pan. I don't look up from the mushrooms. I don't move. Then I turn to them.
"I don't know," I whisper. Then clear my throat. "I don't know who Rachel is." Olive frowns intensely as she hands me the letter. I fast walk towards her feverishly, ripping it open with fidgety fingers. Letters. Printed letters across bleached, white paper.
I plaster on a smile as I crumple and chuck the paper in the bin.
"I killed her. I killed Rachel. I killed my daughter Rachel." I think as I turn away and back to a pan of burning mushrooms.