[CW: emotional abuse, implied physical abuse]. .
The lingering slap echoes in my ears, stings my cheek. The bathroom mirror reflects a pink flush, a tender swelling, but nothing noticeable, nothing I can see.
She’s in the kitchen, assaulting cupboards, derailing drawers, slamming pots on the stove.
“MARY PAT KUDE!” she screams.
That’s me. The last name rhymes with moody.
Though we have the same last name, she’s not my mother. My birth mother that is. She is married to my Dad. That’s him, relaxing in the orange-and-brown lazy-boy chair, chest hair poking out from the wife-beater stretched over his belly, pale legs puffing out from blue boxers.
He’s reading a magazine about monster trucks. Monster trucks are large trucks, not trucks for monsters. Though I think trucks for monsters would be-
“Mary Pat, get back in here!” she screeches.
His eyes meet mine. He smiles as I limp toward the woman who is and is not my mother. I return the smile, more out of habit than honesty.
Doris is murdering a carrot. I’d feel sorry for it but I hate carrots. That’s why she puts them in everything.
“Potatoes,” she says.
I grip the peeler, run it over the skin of the spud. It judders and slips because I have poor ‘fine motor’ control. And poor gross motor control, because of my limited field of vision. I see ten percent of the world through the centre of these coke-bottle lenses.
“Are you stupid?”
That’s a tricky one. Do I answer it or not? I’ll wait. I push the glasses back to the bridge of my nose.
“Use the other end of the peeler!”
I rotate the tool, holding it by the handle, and slide it across the potato. A sliver of brown skin curls like a snail’s shell, drops to the floor. I set the potato and peeler on the table, retrieve the shaving, place it in the garbage can, joining the carrot curls. I return to my tuber, make another snail shell. It falls to the floor, I pick it-
“Peel it over the table!”
Doris was in the army, the United States Women’s Army Corp. She peeled millions of potatoes when she worked in the mess hall. I imagine she got yelled at a thousand times by her superiors. She must have stored up her own screams, bouncing around like bumper cars in her lungs, waiting for escape.
A knock at the screen door. Doris squints out the window, frowns.
“Mary Pat can’t play today, Marsha.”
I hobble to the door. Marsha’s brown eyes peek out under chestnut bangs. She glances at the kitchen window, shuffles to the left, out of Doris’ line of sight. She hides something shiny and red at the base of the willow tree.
“Mary Pat Kude!”
Marsha waves, hops down the street like a stone skipping across a grey lake.
On the kitchen table, a mound of potatoes, enough for an army.
“After you finish peeling those, do the laundry. The clothes are sorted in baskets. Don't mix them up. Do the whites, the colours second. No TV until your chores are done. And no snacking or sweets before supper!"
She ties a red bandana over her hair. She’s going to her second job, serving beer and pork rinds to the locals at the tavern up the street. After that, she’ll go to her third job, hostessing at the Polish Sharpshooters Club.
She grabs her purse, marches out the door towards the car. The brown station wagon emerges from the garage, creeps down the steep driveway, and shoots up the street.
Dad’s snoring greets me as I sneak out the back door.
Under the shade of the willow, my fingers dig in the dirt. I find Marsha’s stash. Three jolly ranchers, watermelon flavour, wrapped in red cellophane that crinkles and cracks as I unfold it. The sharp sweet tang of the hard candy puckers my lips, vacuums my cheeks together. A familiar, welcome pain. I bury the remaining two candies. Doris’ bloodhound instincts will find them if they’re in the house.
Dad’s still sleeping. The magazine about monster trucks has slipped onto the floor, revealing what was underneath: Monster tits. That’s women with large breasts, not monsters with bosoms. I shuffle to the utility room.
In the laundry room, two plastic tubs, one with white clothes, the other with greens and blues and reds. I tip the whites into the hollow drum. A flash of Doris’ underwear, she only wears white as ‘dyes irritate the skin’, Dad’s t-shirts, socks, boxers. Water gurgles. Dandruffs of detergent disappear in the rising tide, trampled by damp sock ponies.
One of Doris’ red bandanas drapes over the side of the other basket. I plop it in with the whites, close the lid, and rest my hands on the top, feeling the heat and water and rhythmic turbulence.
I wonder what it would have been like if my birth Mom had lived. If I’d been able to stay in her longer, surrounded by warmth, soothed by her heartbeat, the rushing of blood around her body shushing me to sleep.
If she had lived, maybe my Dad would have left Doris, maybe we'd be in a different place, warmer, brighter, pinker. Instead, Doris is stuck raising someone else’s kid, an awkward reminder of her husband's mistake. And I was born before I was ready, weak and blind and clumsy.
I hop on the top of the machine, lean my back against the wall, my legs dangling over the side. A deep, deep breath. Clean and sharp and citrusy. I savour the sliver of hard candy, melting, staining my tongue with delicious guilt.
I imagine she sang to me. Something high and beautiful, something gentle and lulling. Her comforting words vibrating through her bones to mine, lodging there, for me to find, later.
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A very enjoyable read, and as Zack mentioned, you hit the funny/sad combo. I also didn't realize there were no adverbs as I read along, but what I did hear is a very strong voice for the narrator. No doubt the two are related. I don't know how old she is, but she sounds child-like, and from this we get some amusing lines and observations. For example, "Monster tits. That’s women with large breasts, not monsters with bosoms" That's funny on its own, but even more so since it ties back to monster trucks earlier. But then the sad is the sit...
Thanks, Mihal! I pictured her as a tween, maybe 11 or 12. I'm hoping the vocabulary fits with that age range. The phrase I was least sure about, in terms of a young person's thoughts, was 'the carousel of albino intimates.' But I've not found a simpler way to convey the image...yet. Might be time before it's approved. Thanks for sharing what you saw in the story. I did try to portray the mother with a dash of nuance, so that she wasn't 100% villainous. Glad you picked up on that. And I tried to hint that Mary Pat was rebellious in her...
I was wondering what it was I loved about this story, and then I got to the end and saw your comment about no adverbs, and it clicked. Brilliantly (sorry for the adverb) written. This is the power of strong verbs. Multiple times throughout my reading, I had to stop and appreciate the word choices. See: "Murdering" a carrot, "derailing drawers," "sliver of brown skin curls like a snail’s shell," "carrot curls," and "a carousel of albino intimates." Believe me when I tell you there are more turns of phrase that caught my eye; those are just th...
Thank you so much for highlighting what specifically you appreciated. The screams as bumper cars was my favourite turn of phrase too! And I love me a strong verb. :) I'm not sure I can recommend writing a story without adverbs. It's easy to omit the -ly words, but then there's: also, too, once, now, some, more, a lot, away, down, back.... And I learned similes are technically adverbs! The horror! Thanks again for your thoughtful review and analysis, it made my day!
You hit all of the high and low notes here emotionally. Your humour elevates this as well.
I enjoyed this story so much… You manage to walk the tightrope between poignant/sad and funny ‘perfectly’ (oops sorry 🤭) I was going to mention some of my favourite snippets but Michal got there 1st… I also liked the imagery in screams « bouncing around like bumper cars in her lungs, waiting for escape » Bravo 👏!
Thanks Shirley! I'm so pleased you enjoyed it. :)
I enjoyed your story - you write. imagery so well!
This is fantastic. The main character makes some desert-dry comments and observations which made me chuckle, but mostly I want to hug her. I love this: ‘…I limp toward the woman who is and is not my mother.” In just a handful of words you hold the whole story. Also this: ‘She must have stored up her own screams, bouncing around like bumper cars in her lungs, waiting for escape.’ I love the image of jostling unrest inside. This nearly made me weep: ‘Her comforting words vibrating through her bones to mine, lodging there, for me to find,...
I'm so glad you dropped by. :) thanks for highlighting the things you liked. Even though I must have read (and re-read) this dozens of times, that last line still gets to me, too. I'd like to think she comes out stronger from this whole experience, desert-dry humour intact. I appreciate you reading and commenting.
It flows so well that until I read the comments I didn't notice there were no adverbs in the story! The prompts this week lend themselves towards children taking on the responsibilities that their parents should shoulder, but I like the way you interpretated it as a disabled child who is not very competent at the tasks, but who is doing their best. It must be hard for both Doris and Mary Pat (I'm assuming that MP is the product of an affair?) and Dad gets away with it all. Really like what you've done here. Good luck in the contest!
Hi Mary, thanks for reading! Yes MP is the product of an affair. I saw her incompetence as a combination of truth (she doesn't have good vision or coordination) and falsehood--she purposefully put the red bandana in with the whites, staining the cold/conformist world with something brighter and warmer (basically creating the warm, pink world she wishes for). I appreciate your comments very much!
Oh wow, Heather! Wow… what a spectacular story! This was so beautifully written and well paced. I was going to help you hunt for adverbs but I was so fully engrossed in the story after the first line that I forgot hahah. I really enjoyed this, I can feel it’s a story I’m going to remember. Thank you for sharing. :-)
Hi Beth, thanks so much, that's very kind of you. I'm glad you were engrossed in the story (no adverb hunting required, haha). I was also thinking about your story (about memory), and how it might make for a really good short (10-minute film). :)
You’re welcome, I really did enjoy it! Ooh a short film, that would be an exciting project to work on!
I dabble in screenwriting (it's where I spend most my 'writing' time these days) and your short story could be transformed into a script fairly easily, since most everything is action that we see (versus internal thoughts). What's also good about your story, is that it would be cheap to make (3 actors, one location, no special effects, just a desk, a glass of water, a clock, a photograph). As for getting a short made, it's something I'd like to do, but I personally don't have the skills (directing, acting, filming, editing, etc.). Anyway,...
Oh yes, that sounds super exciting!! I’d be totally keen for that! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to get in touch! :-)
a story without adverbs was the goal. But I'm too close to it now to see how many slipped through. I am thinking of ending on the only adverb...'later' if i can excise all the ones before it.