Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Eyes in the Back of Her Head

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They weren't sure their mother had a face.

When she read to them at bedtime, she sat on the edge of the bed, turned away. When they had nightmares, she lay on her side beside them, the back of her neck, the curve of her shoulder, blocking their view of the dark. When they drove in the minivan, they could only see the top of her forehead in the rear view mirror. When she stood at the stove, her hair swooped forward and shielded whatever glimpse they might have of her profile.
Her eyes are green, the oldest girl said. I remember seeing them when I was nursing.

Her eyes are brown, the youngest boy said. I remember seeing them when I was born.

Actually, she has one blue eye and one gray eye, the oldest girl said. I pried them open when she was sleeping.

They knew this wasn't true. She always locked her bedroom door at night.

She doesn't have a face, said the oldest boy. She's like a monster. If she turns around, all you see is a black hole.

The youngest girl didn't say anything. She turned away. She twisted her blanket around her thumb and sucked the satin acetate trim.

They contented themselves with their mother's back. They knew her back well. Her shoulder blades were expressive as eyes, widening and closing under her shirt. Her spine was a shifting string of beads, a teething ring flung open. The bit of extra skin that bulged around her bra was comforting as dough rising over a bowl. The tops of her hips fanned out like cheek bones. She had marvelous bone structure.

Maybe she can't look at us because she loves us too much, the oldest girl said.

Maybe she really has eyes in the back of her head, said the youngest boy. Maybe she's looking at us all the time.

You're fooling yourselves, said the oldest boy.

The youngest girl continued to suck on the blanket. The fabric began to shred between her teeth. She swallowed some shiny blue strands. She stroked the back of her head with her other hand. She could feel new hair growing underneath her curls, bristly and short, like a mascara brush, or eyelashes.

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperSanFrancisco) and The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change. Her second novel, Self Storage, will be published by Ballantine in 2007. Gayle, also a teacher and a community activist, was named a Writer Who Makes a Difference by Writer Magazine. She lives in Riverside, California with her husband and two children.

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