By Michaela Stephen
Mother’s eating meat again. The sharp smell of cooked pig seeps through our tiny apartment, coating the walls, clinging to the lace curtains, and delving into the cracks between the couch cushions. I can even smell it in my hair, which makes me want to gag into the carpet.
“Dina,” mother says, wagging the basting brush at me. “Marinating is a skill. You should appreciate this.”
Mother lathers her meat with too much sauce. She dumps it on. If only she would open the window and liberate the stink of barbecue sauce and Sriracha. I know it’s raining, but I’m suffocating in this space. She’s kept the windows locked ever since she caught me trying to escape last week.
I’m not a vegetarian. It wouldn’t come naturally to me. I prefer my meat simple. No spice, pink in the middle. Maybe I’d like it better if she purchased better quality sauce and spices, but she buys the cheap Safeway shit. I guess I’ll never know if price makes a difference. I never get to leave. What I would give to go for sushi! Mother brought home takeout once, and it was phenomenal. She didn’t like the nigiri or sashimi as much as me, instead preferring the rolls filled with cream cheese. I pity mother’s palate.
I ate dinner earlier on, ensuring I wouldn’t lose my appetite watching mother eat. I don’t bother to eat at the table with her. She used to try to force me, but I threatened to scream loud enough that the neighbours would know I was here. She worries they’ll tattle to the landlord that she doesn’t live alone.
Tonight, after she eats dinner, mother washes the dishes, but leaves the pan to soak. Crusts of pork cling to the pan even after covered in soap and water. Mother feels too lazy to scrub. She hums a tune I don’t know under her breath, perhaps something from that movie she watched last night. Some sort of children’s musical called Pete’s Dragon. She made it very clear we were watching the original, not the remake. How would I know? I didn’t like it, instead falling asleep with my head in mother’s lap. The movie almost blocked out the sound of the rain painting the window, like it had been all week. Occasionally I woke up to mother warbling along with the movie, smiling and laughing as if she shared a private joke with the characters.
I can tell she’s bored tonight. Mother pours herself a glass of wine from the bottle of merlot she opened last night. She takes a few gulps, almost chugging the glass. The wine seeps into her lips, staining the skin. Once she finishes, she tops it up again, nearly finishing the bottle.
“Drinking alone, how unusual,” I mumble to myself. I close my eyes and pretend to nap. If only someone else would visit so they could appreciate my sarcasm. Sometimes mother has friends over, but it’s been a couple weeks. It’s not always fun either — often they’re obnoxious, yelling “Dina!” when they see me. They grope me too much and never bother to ask how I’m doing. Elizabeth, her friend from work, is the worst of all. She forces me to dance with her, spinning me until I’m dizzy. When mother isn’t looking, Elizabeth thinks it’s funny to blow cigarette smoke in my face. She may have her faults, but at least mother doesn’t see me as a toy.
With my eyes closed, I hear mother coming towards me.
“Give me a kiss,” mother says, lifting me up from where I’ve been lounging on the couch. She holds me under the armpits and kisses my cheek. She aims to kiss me on the mouth, but I turn my face away. Her mouth smells like red wine and animal carcass. Her lips are cracking, and the bottom lip has recently been bleeding. One of her sloppy pecks nearly catches me under the eye, so I push her away. I squirm until she lets me go. Her eyebrows knit together like two small rodents clinging to each other in pain.
“Leave me alone!” I yell, and I run away to my hiding place in the bedroom closet. I curl up amongst her sweaters and scowl into the dark. She doesn’t follow me, which I appreciate. Sometimes she respects my boundaries.
Later on, after a nap, I forget why I’m annoyed. She’s cracked the bedroom window slightly, perhaps as a peace offering to me. There’s still a screen separating me from the outside, but at least I can smell the rain. The screen dampens my nose, and I smile. I watch the magpies squirreling around in the parking lot. Two of them pull apart a bag of garbage they extricated from the dumpster. Their feathers are soaked and water drips from the tip of their beaks, but they don’t care. Mother says magpies are the vultures of the city. They make a mess, attack the rabbits running around, and expound a horrific racket. I bet I could catch a magpie easily and rip its wings off. Sounds like fun.
I turn my face away from the window and catch mother staring at me. She’s tucked herself in bed and she has the blanket pulled up high. Her laptop is open, but she’s pressed pause on whatever she’s watching on Netflix. Somehow, she looks sad even though she’s smiling. Most of the time, mother makes too much eye contact with me, but I don’t mind it. She always blinks first.
This time, mother looks away towards the window. “I hope it stops raining soon,” she sighs. “I don’t want it to flood. I don’t think I can handle the stress again.”
Mother starts to cry, and I’m not sure if it’s the memory of the flood or just one of those nights. I guess we all have nights like that. When I’m sad, mother rubs my back to cheer me up and lets me have dairy as a treat.
I climb onto the bed and perch on her chest. Mother’s covered her face with her hands, but I can hear her muffled hiccups. I lick the knuckle on her ring finger. My tongue catches on the scar from where she had her wedding band cut off.
Mother lowers her hands and looks at me. “What would I do without you, Dina?”
I lick her cheek and under her eye. This never fails to make her laugh. I have a few tricks to comfort her. Stepping off her chest, I curl into the nook under her armpit. She’s not wearing a shirt tonight, so my head leans against the weight of her breast, squishing the side of the pillowy flesh. I imagine this is what a memory foam mattress feels like. Mother has let her armpit hair grow out again, a perfect diamond of coarse, black hair. The musk from her armpit embraces my nose like a kiss. One of my favourite scents. I give her armpit a lick, and she laughs again. “Get out of there!” She squeals, but she doesn’t push me away.
“Once it stops raining, I’ll take you outside again,” mother says. She scratches me behind my ear until my eyes close with pleasure. “You can chase the magpies as much as you want.”
I recently completed my Master’s of Arts in English Literature at the University of Calgary in 2017. I’ve previously been published by antilang. magazine and The Impressment Gang, among others.