For the Moment
Short story by Madeleine Poole
I feel warm. As if it is moving day and I am saying goodbye to my childhood home, lying on my pouched stomach and kneading holes in the egg-shell colored carpet left by our furniture like footprints or crumbs. As if I am having lunch with my childhood best friend and the silence is deafening, but then she reminds me of a time when we were young and have yet to make a real mistake, and we laugh a nostalgic and melancholic laugh. As if my mother is watching my pouched stomach rise and fall like the tides while I am feigning illness on her king-sized bed.
“Symptoms? Well, she said she felt faint and had lower abdominal pain. She vomited once. Yes, only once.”
My mother strokes my dampened hair through the muddied shower curtain I am always too unmotivated to clean. I draw it tighter around her wrist to shield her from the tender calamity of my flesh. I am impressed by her decorum on the phone. I wouldn’t have thought to say “lower abdominal pain.” I would have opted for the less sophisticated, “My stomach really fucking hurts,” or, as when she ran upstairs after hearing my screams pierce the unwrinkled fabric of a suburban night, yell “It’s my tummy, Mom.”
“Hun, did you say you felt dizzy?” she spoke quietly, almost tenderly, as if I, by vomiting on my comforter, have undone seventeen years of defiance.
I say my vision was blurred, and I see the shadow of her, a soft plump woman, nod. I feel as if this is poetry. Me in the warm bath water, the shadow of my mother looming over my burgeoning body, her hand sticking out of the dirty pink curtain to pet the hair that I have just washed my dinner out of. It feels entirely unoriginal but bitter and saccharine enough to end up in an Olds collection.
“She had blurred vision. Yes. Yes. Will do. Thank you.”
She peeks at me through the slit between the curtain and the tiled bathtub walls. Lances of sunlight radiate from her closed mouth smile. They pierce me deep. I feel as if I have betrayed myself. Betrayed the family mythos I have sung to myself on nights when I have learned to revel in an ache or choke on a wail. Betrayed the great and cruel resentment bubbling up within me. I remind myself not to forget the burning hunger she has left in me for a tangible, unconditional love. I can’t forget the manipulation and the neglect. I can’t. But somehow, when the warmth of the bath water and of her cherry red smile pools around the rim of my breasts, I do. At least, for the moment.
“The doctor said to just wait,” she cooed. “Oh, and don’t drink any water.”
My face, always too expressive, always getting me into trouble, drooped towards the bottom of the porcelain tub. “Oh, I know honey. It’s hard. But we can’t risk upsetting your tummy again.”
I smile, looking up at the harsh fluorescent lights above me, illuminating the body I so desperately want to hide from. I only hear “honey” when my mother is mourning me; mourning the parts of me she wishes she could bury, or drown in bath water
Oh, honey, you don’t mean that, she’ll say, more so with her dewy eyes than her thin, quivering lips.
No, Mom, I’ll say, the words like acid leaking from my throat.
I am gay.
I do need antidepressants.
I am just like my father.
I hate you.
I regret saying that last one. It’s a lie. A dirty, disgusting lie. But some days I wish it wasn’t. I think maybe if I say it enough, it’ll become true. My therapist says if I think something enough, it’ll become my truth. My truth, my personal canon, is too messy, too full of contradictions. I love my body in the dark, under foreign sheets. I hate my body in fluorescent lights. I love my mother when she is capable of returning that love. I hate her when she cannot. I love pain when it allows an opening for my mother to love me. I hate it when that slim opening, the slit between shower curtains and a tiled wall, closes.
I look back at my mother. “Okay,” I say, “Thanks, Mom. Anyways, I think I’m feeling better.”
“Oh?” Her skinny koi-shaped eyebrows swim up her forehead.
“Yeah, I’m alright, Mom. I just feel like a child,” I say, my voice shrinking. I hold my knees up to my bare chest, glaring at the bruises and growing stubble.
“I feel that way when I’m sick, too.” She continues to stroke the roots of my blue colored hair. I recall being thirteen and asking my sister to buy cheap dye at the drugstore, threatening to reveal her midnight rendezvous if she refused. Mother saw the receipt and stormed upstairs to witness my hands, covered with plastic sandwich bags, massaging chemicals into my scalp. She didn’t speak to me for six days. I felt my autonomy fade away with my tree bark hair.
“Yeah?” I say, “But you don’t have anyone to clean up your vomit for you.”
She laughs. I smile. A small smile, but a smile.
“Yeah. That’d be nice.”
“I think I’m going to take a shower. I need to feel clean” I look at my mother now. Her eyes quiver for a moment. If I blinked, I would have missed it. I wish I blinked. “I’ll be alright, really. Just food poisoning. I probably won’t die.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll leave you alone, then.”
I was eight and a half the first time I told my mother I hated her.
Mom, mom, I said. I don’t love you. I was smiling. A wide smile. I thought it was a joke.
I stood up to drain the water from the tub, now hiding my body with the curtain completely. My mother drifted out of the room like a ghost. Like a phantom limb, I feel an echo of an ache deep inside of me.
“Just call me if you need anything.”
“Alright, Mom,” I call to the ghost on the other side of the curtain, “I love you.” If this is a lie, I can’t tell.
I pull the curtain back. My mother is gone.
Madeleine Poole is an eighteen-year-old aspiring writer from Raleigh, NC. You can find more of her work in The Craft Journal, Canvas Literary Journal, and Girls Right the World.