Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
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Once he fell against the rail of the stove, and he bled as she held the dirty poinsettia dishrag over his eye, then shrugged the phone against her ear as she talked to the pediatrician's office, letting him nurse as she spoke. He pushed his head under her armpit and she thought, why that dirty dishrag, why, why, why? There is still a scar under his brow. Her best friend tells her girls will find it sexy, and it isn't the same as the scars she has on her body, and it's self indulgent, really, to worry so much about something that will happen, has to happen, anyway. The doctors tied him into a papoose that time and he looked up at the light, whispering her name, Mama.
There is so much it can't fill her. She wants to catalog it, everything, how he cried Allah as a baby, how he calls jack o' lanterns crazy pumpkins, and pick up trucks take-you trucks. When he sleeps, she watches the lantern flickering over his face, his big head, almost as big as her own, already. Now he sleeps as a boy, not a baby, the blankets pulled up to his neck, fist under his chin, the Curious George Band-Aid he didn't need but she gave him anyway wrapped around his wrist.

She remembers falling in love, the way it made her feel wild, screaming as the trains went past just like that girl in the Kevin Bacon movie. She'd tasted everything, salt on the edges of drinks, cheap wine, the ice cracking on her windshield, she didn't need it on her tongue to taste it. That's what she'd thought it should feel like, but this doesn't. It's like the song she used to play again and again, her eyes are wide open all the time. Now she follows traffic signs, listens for cursing when they take the bus, brushes his teeth and hers every morning, every night.

And now her husband says he doesn't know when he can get in, at first he thought he might make it in before ten so maybe he could read stories. So she puts her child in the backpack and they walk around sidewalks and streetlights, looking into shop windows at blurry Christmas trees. She heads home at sunset but not before dark falls, and he points to the moon. Mommy, he says. I need mooncake. It's cold for the first time all year and she asks him are his ears warm and he says yes. The stars are close and bright, it feels as if they might cut if she were to reach up, and when she gets home she tells him how crisp the night is, how when it is cold everything is somehow clearer. Yes, he says, It Season of Heart. And when he's asleep she tells him how her father used to wake her on nights such as this one, and drive, and drive, and ask her to roll down the windows all the way and ask her would she like to drive until they reached the horizon and fell off the horizon?

She calls her husband and there is no answer. She heats up a mug of lemonade for herself, and eats a giant bag of the fruit snacks she bought for her son, then thought better of; the snacks are in the shapes of trucks, and they taste like Kool Aid. When she was a child, her father gave her sugary cereals for dinner and butterscotch for dessert. And when he said he no longer loved her, she'd feel the candy stuck in her teeth and coming up her throat. She'd cry until her nose ran and her face stung, and then he'd wrap around her, tighter, tighter, and tell her he loved more than a mountain, more than a fjord. What's a fjord, she'd ask and he'd say, I don't know. I love you more than the Panama Canal.

Sometime in the night, when she's half asleep with a catalog of baby products under her cheek, he calls for her. She finds her glasses and he's still asleep, not awake. He's crying, mumbling, his Curious George Band-Aid peeled off and his face spotted with raspberry marks; he always flushes when he cries. Mommy, Mom, Mama. I crying, he says. His eyes are still closed, but fluttering. I sad, he says. Mommy, Mommy, I sad.


Claudia Smith lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Nathen Hinson and her young son, William Henry Hinson. Her stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton’s The New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond and So New Media’s Consumed: Women on Excess. Her collection, The Sky is a Well and Other Shorts, is available from Rose Metal Press.


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