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“…and then she put her hand, her whole hand, flat on the back of my head. It was

uncomfortable, but also…in a way…reassuring.”

A floret drifts onto the table, orange bougainvillea, bright as neon. Lil’s fingers

dismember it.

“I’ve been babbling?”


“You’re being kind.”

“I’m not.”

She pushes her coffee away. “Stone cold,” she says, frowning. “Why am I doing

this…going on and on?”

“You’ve hardly said anything,” he protests. “Tell me about those years, the early


“I hate to remember.”

“So tell me about the good times. Only the good times.”

“The good times?” Silence stretches out. Fill it. Fill it.

Words rush into her mouth. She tries to force them back, but they flap up like hungry

bats squealing in the treetops.

“Okay,” she says, “okay.” She braids her fingers, wills them to be still. “The good

times were when the two of them weren’t home and other people came to take care of us. Child minders. Large, warm, comfortable women. They taught me to knit and bake.

And they liked me.”

He laughs softly. “Of course.”

“Of course?” she says.

“Of course.”

“Well,” she clears her throat, “it felt…for a week, or maybe two…I sampled normal.”

“And when they came back home?”

“I pretended.”


“This is a way of getting the anger out,” the woman says.

She’s dressed in blue with a tasteful silk scarf around her throat. The ends flutter a

little as she moves.

She places an empty plastic bottle on the floor, then, to Lil’s surprise, she lifts a dainty

foot and stomps down hard. Squawk, the bottle protests. She stomps again. This time,

the bottle bellows like a cow. The woman bellows, too. Then she looks up and smiles.

“You see,” she says. “Make as much noise as you want. Shout, scream….” She smiles

again. “Like to try?”

Lil hitches her shoulders up. “Well…”

“Whatever you feel like doing. It’s your choice.”

Lil’s heartbeats ripple, overlapping.

“Well…” she repeats.

“Deep breath,” the woman says, hands splayed against her belly, head flung back.

It seems a simple thing. Lil tries to breathe. Air lodges in her throat. She frowns,

ashamed, letting it leak out between her lips before she gulps another secret mouthful.

“Now,” says the woman, offering the bottle.

Lil stomps. The bottle bounces away.

“Sorry…” she says.

“Good, very good,” trills the woman. “Try again.”

Lift and stomp. The bottle erupts with a satisfying bang.

“Excellent,” crows the woman. “Now, eyes open.”

Lil opens her eyes slowly. The woman’s grinning. She places a row of bottles against

the wall.

“Now kick them where it hurts,” the woman says.

Lil blinks as ife hasn’t understood. But then she’s kicking hard remembering.

Slaps erupted from nowhere, sent her flying. Slobbery kisses.

Clenching her fists, Lil stomps and shouts and kicks till the bottles lie broken and

misshapen. She takes a triumphant breath. For a moment, her lungs feel spacious,


The woman nods. “May I?” she says.

And then she lays her hand, her whole hand, gently on Lil’s head.


“Shit-shit-shit,” chanted my brother, grinning, running fast, my mother after him. In

those days, she was ferocious, a wild thing caged. Since there were no hot coals in easy

reach, she was brandishing soap.

Lornie liked to live dangerously, all right. Not me. I preferred safe. But safe wasn’t

an option.

Years later, we’re lolling in mom’s kitchen. I’m drinking Indian tea that smells like

winter. Mom’s saying she’d been seven months on with Lornie and hadn’t known it.

“So what did you think it was?”

She puffs out smoke and shrugs. “Blubber,” she says. “I thought I was getting fat from

eating bread. God, I loved fresh bread…the inside warm and damp, the outside crisp…”

So that’s what mom dreamed about, fresh bread. It breaks my heart. It makes me

want to punch her.

“So how did you figure it out?” I say abruptly.

“I went to the doctor ‘cause my stomach hurt.”

I guffaw, I can’t help it. “I’ll bet it did.”

“Yeah.” She puffs again, admiring the coil of smoke, her creation. It seems to bring

more happiness than we did. “I couldn’t believe it when he told me.” She stabs the

cigarette out. “Couldn’t believe it.”

“How could you not know that you were pregnant? Seven months. And you’d had

one kid already.”

She shifts uneasily.

Dumb cow, I think, but I know she isn’t dumb.

“Hey Lil,” she says, “what’s with the long face? Where’s my sweetie pie? Where’s

my sunshine?”

She captures my cheeks with both hands, hot and hard, and pinches till they hurt.

“Triptych” was published Fictive Dream.


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