Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Gut Roiling

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Lan Pham

Photo by Lan Pham. See more of Lan's work at

It's a funeral with no body—just a headstone marking an empty grave. It is for those who can't go to the water, to say their final goodbyes. Everyday I visit the water, but today, I'm here. I'm here, and I'm clutching a tiny fan, doll size, made of black plastic, cardboard, and paint. The serene face of the hand-painted geisha is nothing like the woman I am here to mourn; her own face pinched and bitter, a perpetual bad taste in the mouth. 

Her life—born of fear and pain, not overcome but surrendered. Agonizing memories pushed her from the arms of one abuser into another; accompanied by the birth of unwanted children. As a descendant of these black sheep, it's a guarantee that I will never please.

Only by the water did these roles fall away, cleansed by the voices of the waves, and the mist of salt air. Long walks of three shell seekers, silent and tempered, yielded ideas of what should be. She handed me a small gift, recognition of familial position. A tiny fan, doll size, made of black plastic, cardboard, and paint. A quickly scrawled note lines the back, and an expression of what she claimed to love is forever frozen in a charming little memento. 

I wonder if I should leave it here, or cast it into the sea. If I keep it, I must remind myself that once upon a time, she might have loved me; before manipulation and martyrdom became more than words. If I cast it into the sea, I can tell myself it never existed, that there was never such a thing as false hope. But I think I want my pain, the proof of her disregard and disdain. Because it birthed another woman who chose to overcome, who cares in a way her own mother could not. Who taught sympathy and compassion as synonymous with love; something that isn't calming, peaceful, or bewitching.

It's a roiling in the gut, on tempest-tossed seas.


Taryn King is an MFA alumni of Lindenwood University. During her studies, she worked as an assistant editor for the Lindenwood Review. Taryn currently lives and creates on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her work has previously appeared in the Story Shack.

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