By Pranav Mishra
Art by Amanda Zhu
Issue: Phosphene (Summer 2019)
I was never scared of anything quite as I was scared of my mother.
She is white hot. She is an onion, shredded under the blunt of a knife. She is the molten slag from a tar pit left for waste. She is the halo of purple phosphenes burned into your skull after you stare at the sun, charred and swollen and anguished and bruised.
She is lovely.
She is ugly.
She is everything in between.
The night I come home from my escapade, I fear her heat. She is curled, tensed with bloodshot eyes in the grayed light of the apartment. Cheap bulbs shaped like upturned blossoms glow over her head and glaze her pallid skin with yolk.
“I’ve been worried sick,” I want her to say.
“Have you hurt yourself,” I want her to say.
“I’ll heat something nice for us to eat,” I want her to say.
She doesn’t say anything. She is possessed by the pills. They are scattered across the table like ants in the snow. The smell sweet and heavy and bitter like the nectar of some strange tropical fruit. They consume her body. Her bones are made of them. As she gets up and walks toward me, they make her stumble and heave and convulse like a clothesline in a hurricane.
I know what is to come all too well. I am ready. I curl up into a ball at her feet. I wait. I wait for the feeling of her anger in my ribs, her fury skidding, sizzling, off of my back. The clock ticks five-thirty on the mantelpiece and the hot summer air rolls in through the window.
It never comes. Instead, I hear the screeching of metal against marble and open my eyes to see my mother dragging a stool from the breakfast bar into the center of the room.
Her hands reach my hips. I am confused. Her touch is not fire. She lifts me high into her arms and I am afraid they will shatter as she places me onto the stool. I wonder if she has ever held me this intimately before.
She pulls my hands into her own. Then she brings out the nail clipper, silver and cool and gentle to the touch. The sound of its bite is soft and angular, like the reassuring crunch of gravel underfoot near the park.
The nails fall in snowy crescents to the floor, varnished pink and yellow in the morning glow of the apartment. I can feel the beating of her arteries against my own, her palm throbbing against mine as the waste from my fingers is lanced away and diffuses into her own.
Does she know? Does she know how much I hate this life, this polluted dwelling fetid with its turf of unvacuumed carpet and drugs and unwashed vomit; this moldering chaos of plaster shrugging off walls and whitewash suspended in the air with splintered wood and shredded cardboard from old moving boxes strewn like sprinkles on a cupcake across the floor; this perfect prison, this single-windowed, single-bedroomed, unfurnished painting of hebetude?
Does she know? Does she know how much I long for the childhood in the television, for the kind of careless youth I see in the school bus every day, for double scoop ice-cream and waffle breakfasts, for visits to the museum and vacations in the Bahamas, for evening dips in the warm, emerald depths of the city swimming pool, evenings flavored like pink lemonade, cafés in the city with our bicycles neatly racked outside, the feeling of gold sand hot and peppery beneath the soles of my feet, the feeling of insignificance as the ocean’s drum beat ticks out my sprightly laughter? Does she know how much I hate her, how hard I try to run away from her but inexplicably find myself drawn back to this hellhole time and time again?
She is silent as she slices off my nails one by one. She is beautiful. She is ugly. She is everything in between.