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mother

  1. 1. MOTHERIN ALL YOUR DISGUISES STORIES BY YULIYA TSUKERMAN
  2. 2. Copyright © 2016 by Yuliya Tsukerman All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Printed in the United States of America First Printing, 2016
  3. 3. Contents 7 13 19 29 The Wild Wolves of Yabba-Dabba-Doo Ringworm Rattail Beak
  4. 4. 7 The Wild Wolves of Yabba-Dabba-Doo There’s always someone tossing cigarette butts out of a car window and setting the Mojave on fire, and since Mom’s been here all her life, she’s seen her share. The first fire took her ears. Second fire took her terrier Frank. Third fire took the hair on her legs, then the skin, then the legs themselves - or at least the desire out of them. Mom’s will says she wants to be turned into snakes when she dies: says cremate me in a house fire, get the property insurance, give all the money to the animal shelter where we got Frank, God rest his incontinent soul. Ever since she ran her car into the signpost at Carl’s Jr., she hasn’t been allowed to have the keys, and I’m in charge of hiding them. Don’t tell her, but this week they’re in the toilet tank. When mom was a kid there were petroglyphs on Temple Rock of snakes, fish, and the penises of our ancestors.
  5. 5. 8 Mom works at Safeway and she hates her coworkers who are all in high school or townies who never got their GED’s. They call her Mrs. Flintstone cause she’s old enough to remember the dinosaurs. But she has a thing with popping their zits if they’ll let her, she just can’t see a zit on a face and let it sit there. I wanna work for 911. I buy arrowheads and leave em at Temple Rock for kids to find. Mom’s a legend. When she’s angry she threatens you with glass. Gran got raped by aliens and that’s why she looks more like the moon every year. Mom throws the pillows off the couch where we used to hide her keys. The fourth fire has a name now. We name them after witches who’ve burned - we have a book of them that we got at Salvation Mountain, and we keep it on the toilet tank that bubbles with the keys to Mom’s Honda. This fire coming down the hills between the mesas, licking the offerings and arrowheads at Temple Rock, is Ursulina, 1754. A proper, vengeful fire will make it down to the Carl’s Jr at least. We get the day off school cause they can’t put Ursulina out. At night mom begs Gran for the keys to the Mother in All Your Disguises
  6. 6. 9 The Wild Wolves of Yabba-Dabba-Doo car, but Gran won’t budge. Mom turns to me. She’d gotten a premonition from a pimple she popped that afternoon. It had burst into the shape of a heart, which meant it was okay for her to start drinking again. She wants me to say if she’s hot or cold on the hiding spot, but I say we love her too much to trust her with the car, so she says fine, she’ll walk along the highway to the Shell station and buy her liquor there. By midnight, she still isn’t back, and Ursulina is coming down along I-40, having swallowed a house in its entirety. There are helicopters trying to put her out. I sit on the roof shining my flashlight out into her madness. I have a cold damp fear that she’s taken my mother the way some witch before her took Frank. That was ten years ago, the last we saw of Mom, disappearing along the highway packed with trailers and RV’s evacuating the burning Joshua trees. Desert fires like this will take deer and coyotes with them, or drive them out toward habitation, down from the hills into the valley. If I’m honest, when mom left, a part of me wanted her gone. She had that other life that was always reaching for her.
  7. 7. 10 Mother in All Your Disguises But today I got an email from an address I didn’t recognize, Sidonia1620@yahoo.com. She wanted me to know she’d seen a chupacabra the size of a gallon of milk having sex with a stray cat outside the Shell station in Salton City. Said the chupacabra had mange, was blind all over, had canine gonorrhea and smelled like anchovies. Said once he’d finished impregnating the cat with their half-breed, he let out a howl bigger than the whole of him, and it was answered from all over, from the hills to the canyons, from the dumpsters behind the fast food joints to the rusty cars in the scrapyard. Said she didn’t really believe it herself till she called out his name, till he turned in recognition with his milky eyes, hesitating for half a second before he put a stray Dorito in his mouth and vanished into the underbrush. If we’d been wrong about Frank all this time, Sidonia seemed to say, what else could we’ve been wrong about? He must’ve been twenty-five years old then. Alive after all, because of it all. He’d only run off to join the pack - the Wild Wolves of Yabba-Dabba-Doo, the howling stone-age brothers who remembered the dinosaurs and ate mysteries for
  8. 8. 11 The Wild Wolves of Yabba-Dabba-Doo breakfast.
  9. 9. 13 Robert has a song about everything. He looks up to children and animals. He pricks his finger and a pearl of blood stands on end. Whatever it is, he’s worn holes in the elbows and kissed it on the cheek. We put sunscreen on the tattoo of his father: Feed Bob his weird milk, he says, and I squeeze a white blob onto the flat, unsmiling face. I have hypochondria, he has diabetes. His feet swell to cantaloupes and I’m the one in a cold sweat on the twin-sized bed. The mold in his bathtub is romantic. When he vacuums the bedroom he talks to the yellowjacket that died on his lampshade last summer. He holds onto things. The rainbow cake I made for his last birthday is Saran-wrapped in the fridge with the knife still in it. It’ll have its own birthday soon. I’m on my way to the house where he grew up with his black cat Fuzzyface and his mother who died last week. Ringworm
  10. 10. 14 Mother in All Your Disguises In an old life he had a daughter without me. In Mississippi where he poured milk into an ant hill and saw a dead horse in the road, in Mississippi where the band played in the driveway while the baby slept behind the window, where every cockroach had wings. I wonder what it’s like for someone to want a child with you. I take anxiety medicine now, three kinds. I label the bottles with colored tape. I read their warnings carefully: take once daily by mouth, only as directed, take your fear out for a spin, for a milkshake and a new pair of shoes. Beware of nausea, beware of vomiting, beware your fear when you learn her true name. Sunday afternoon, a week after the funeral, he kicks me in his sleep. He’s allowed to kick me because he’s bereaved. We wake up and brunch feels out of reach. We brush each other’s teeth under the covers. I put my tongue in his mouth to count his teeth, the best way to show him the bad dream wasn’t real. He still has taxis in his eyes from the night shift, the double pinpoints of headlights pricking his irises. Under the covers I use their light to look at the patch of ringworm on my thigh, which expands and contracts according to the
  11. 11. 15 Ringworm phases of the moon. Today it’s smaller than a raisin, its flaky brown mysteries lassoed inward by the darkness of its celestial counterpart. I’m not afraid of the ringworm anymore, not since the moon tamed it as no WebMD could. I take my anxiety medicine, three kinds. Robert takes two pills for his kidneys and pricks his finger with the spring-loaded machine. He’s having trouble bleeding today. He pricks his finger again and again but the calloused pad won’t give. He doesn’t change the needles enough. We need to buy him some new needles at the pharmacy. Need to go to the pharmacy beside the donut shop, need to slip into a jelly donut together, need to pump insulin into a chocolate glazed. “Let me do it,” I say. “We need something sharp.” I get the cake knife from the fridge and wash last year’s rainbow crumbs from the edge. I stand over the bed. Our life together looks very small from here. The bed gets smaller every day, doesn’t it? Robert sticks out his finger. He’s so vulnerable, so trusting. And yet he’s raised a child and buried his mother, and one time in Mississippi, he got held up in a car, a gun put to his head, the trigger pulled - and he’s
  12. 12. 16 Mother in All Your Disguises still here, my baby boy who can’t even bleed through a hole in his skin. I don’t know why I thought I could cut him open. I don’t know why I wanted to. Something in me must’ve wanted to see what he was really made of. His bed is tiny, an Ikea crib with slats that break under any shift in weight, and I squeeze in beside him, my arm rubbing up against the tattoo of his father, Bob, the widower. “I got this knife,” I say, though the saying is extra. “It was in the fridge.” “It’ll be cold,” he says. “It’ll be strange.” I can see both our faces in the blade, which is not sinister but also from Ikea, with a pale blue plastic handle. “You do it,” I say. “I’m too scared.” “No, you have to do it,” he says. “It’ll be more fun that way.” He steadies my hand with his and lowers the serrated edge of the knife to his pointed finger. “Just think of me as a jelly donut,” he says. “Just a thing with stuff inside. The best part is when the stuff comes out.” I can see his bald spot from where I’m sitting, so I kiss it. I hate blood. Blood makes me dizzy, makes me break
  13. 13. 17 Ringworm out in a cold sweat, makes me black out. But Robert’s blood is casual, he’s always wiping it on his jeans, dropping test strips on the carpet and flicking them out of car windows. Robert’s blood drinks sweet tea under wisteria vines, it drives a pockmarked sedan and sneaks Mike and Ikes into matinees. I want to know what it tastes like but he’s never offered and I don’t know how to ask. “Why do you still have that cake in your fridge?” I ask instead. “Because that’s where it lives,” he says. “That’s its home.” I pull the knife across his finger, just a little cut, and it bleeds into the test strip, then onto the sheets, and a little more for good measure. Robert pops the strip into the machine. It beeps. It’s happy. It likes to have a single drop of blood for breakfast. We read the number, and when it disappears from the screen, we’ve already forgotten what it said, what it meant, why we’re bleeding in the first place. Robert flicks the test strip across the room. It knocks the yellowjacket off the lampshade, and somehow that’s a good
  14. 14. 18 Mother in All Your Disguises thing, like we’ve made the most of the day already, like maybe we can just go back to sleep now. The yellowjacket shatters. It turns to dust when it hits the ground, a good dust, like confetti. Like glitter. Looking out at the bedroom, I can see every one of Robert’s used test strips littering the edges of the carpet, little bits of his DNA populating the nooks and crannies of the ever-shrinking world. I think about how much his mother loved him, and where that’s all gone now. I think about how much his cat Fuzzyface loved him. When he drifts back to sleep I find myself on my knees, collecting the test strips in my palms, every dear discarded part of him.
  15. 15. 19 pow pow pow we are wild ones we are the killers! we are the maniacs no one can tame! come at me. lemme see what you’ve got, you rat-tooth sonofabitch. you bug-eyed pimple-ass freak. we shoot rubber band guns. we shoot bb guns, water guns, real pistol rifle guns at anyone who comes to the scrapyard to mess with us. we shoot bb’s into each other’s legs for fun. look at this scab i got when some ratface damn near shot my kneecap off. see that on my knuckles? those bloody holes? i let him have it, you should’ve seen it, i punched him straight in the teeth and the back of his skull hit the ground, CRACK. we’re the wild boys, we’re the killers. the scrapyard is ours. behind the scrapyard there’s an old half a schoolbus sunk into the water, rusted over the color of the lake. the lake is ours. our gmas say stay away from that sewer but we’re not afraid of no botulism, no dead fish, no pelicans all drowned Rattail
  16. 16. 20 Mother in All Your Disguises up in muck and screaming. we shoot em for fun. we make grenades outta dead tilapias and we throw em at the people we hate. the smell don’t bother us. what we do about the smell is we sit around the lake huffing anything we can find. we get some glue or nail polish remover. it feels good. we get computer duster from my cousin who works at the staples in caliptria. if there’s nothing else we push on each other’s chests and we pass out and no one can stop us. one time we all got on top of a girl and took our cocks out. we said pow pow pow you can’t stop us the wild boys are upon you and you have to show us your titties or else! you know what she said? she said or else what. i said you’ll get cut up in the neck! she showed us her bra which is all she showed us but not everyone could get it up so we told her to go home cause she was ugly and we rode our bikes chasing her off the road. she said she’d call the police but when they came all they did was shoot bb’s with us cause they knew they couldn’t stop us wild boys or tell us what to do put us in jail or make us go to school, cause they knew we got nothin to lose got no fear got hot metal in our blood and nobody but each other and
  17. 17. 21 Rattail maybe our gmas on our side cause our sisters are knocked up and our brothers are locked up and our moms and dads are dead of drugs. you just be nice to your grandmas back home, is what the officers said, and we said you better believe we’re nice to our gmas. cause you know our gmas tuck us into bed and buy us beef jerky and watch us sleep. our gmas say we’re out like a light the second our heads hit the pillow. our gmas say we lie in a shape like we’re running. our gmas say they wish we didn’t crash our bikes, wish they could’ve kept us in school and kept us from starting on booze and huffing and cigarettes wish they could’ve kept their own kids out of trouble and maybe they would’ve stuck around but we don’t care. we don’t miss our parents we watch tv we can fend for ourselves. there are old cans of food in the pantry and we fight each other like dogs for fun and if some kid can’t keep up, he can go home and watch the price is right with his gma, we don’t need anyone weak or scared. pow pow pow we throw live grenades at the high schoolers’ houses, dead fish that can kill you from botulism,
  18. 18. 22 Mother in All Your Disguises and then when we smell like the inside of an ass we fight over the shower in my gma’s trailer, sometimes we have to share it, keeping our underwear on so we don’t turn into faggots. there’s only one person we love besides our gmas, and that’s philadelphia who has fake titties and used to do pornos. she has a full bush. she showed us. she lets us see whatever we want cause she’s god’s gift to men. she’s a natural resource is what she says, just about the only one in the imperial valley, unless you count the algae and the dead tilapia and the pelicans who all have botulism and don’t fly right. philadelphia says this place needed a wildflower and that’s why she came. she used to be a stripper in las vegas where every place has air conditioning but then she bought a trailer on the salton sea to get drunk and wild and die in, to make this place beautiful. she has hepatitis. she has an urn full of her dead son who drowned to death when he was a baby. she can make her titties swing around. she can do the splits almost all the way down to the floor. she makes us peanut butter and bologna sandwiches or says go make your own. she has arthritis in her
  19. 19. 23 Rattail big toe and she’ll pay you five bucks to rub it while she picks something to watch on tv. her trailer is the best-smelling place downwind of the sea. in the mornings she soaks rags in orange juice and pine sol and hangs them on the fans to drown out the smell of tilapia washing in from the lake. she lets us eat reddi-whip from her fridge and sometimes she cracks open an ice cold beer for us. we’re not allowed to ask how old she is. we’re not allowed to tell our gmas where we are. we’re not allowed to bring over any kid with a rattail or missing teeth or anyone who believes in jesus or the bible, that crock of shit. philadelphia hates rattails, she says they make her throw up in her mouth. before anyone can see her tits we got to cut off their rattail. each summer we get a batch of new boys who’ve never seen a single titty or a full bush, maybe never even been in a fight or shot a gun at a mountain dew can or anything like that. we line em up in the scrapyard. we make a big fire out of tumbleweed and lighter fluid and old wood. we make it taller than ourselves, the tallest thing in the whole valley, and we say today’s the day you become one of
  20. 20. 24 Mother in All Your Disguises us. there’s a few things you got to do. but most importantly you got to lose your tail. all the boys’ hands go to the backs of their necks. they run their hands along the tails they’ve grown since babyhood, the tails they chewed when they were scared of the dark, the tails that marked time, the tails that were gonna grow all the way down to their waists. some boys get attached to their tail like it’s an arm or a leg, like it has memories. some boys cry. we bring em up one at a time to the cut-off hood of a red chevy impala which the sun’s made all sparkly and hot. we hold the boy down with his cheek against the metal. the heat of the car hood distracts him from the terror of the armputation. sometimes he still cries like a little bitch. he flinches. he shuts his eyes. the brave ones do it with their eyes open. some of the tails are braided. some are wrapped in bits of string, some dangle feathers or beads. we do the cutting with a pocketknife, not too sharp, yanking the tail tight and sawing through the hairs. sometimes the boy screams. we give him the sawed-off tail and he holds it up for all to see. he lets out a holler, his first holler as one of us. we
  21. 21. 25 Rattail holler together and bang metal on metal. some boys bleed from the hair. we don’t give em no bandaids. we let em bleed out. we throw the dead rattails in the fire and they burn, each one funneling up its own line of smoke, black and narrow, the mass of them swirling up over the scrapyard in a tangled cloud. smoke gets in our eyes, a hurting kind of smoke, and the cloud running circles around itself fills up with memories against the clear white sky: mom runs a plastic comb through a baby curl of a tail. it grows. it gets braided in with another, a brother’s, absorbs a gma’s kiss, flies like kite string in a bike- blown wind, crashes through the surface of a motel pool. the tails burn all night, long past the time our gmas want us home: they protect us from the desert cold. we watch em till they’re gone and all the memories gone up with em, the moonlight cutting through the last wisps of smoke. then we get on our bikes and ride ride ride to the trailer park. we look for the light in philadelphia’s window.  her silhouette behind the window is almost pretty. she’s leaning on her elbow in the red robe she always wears. it’s as if she’s been waiting for us. we pile our bikes in the sand
  22. 22. 26 Mother in All Your Disguises and crabgrass in front of her door, which is open except for the screen. we push through it,  all of us. philadelphia! i shout. fresh blood! she meets us in the little kitchen. in the white light her robe looks loose on her body and instead of slipping it off with a wink, she pulls it tight to cover herself. go home, she says. you kids should be in bed. but we cut off our rattails, the new recruits say. go home to your grannies, she says. there’s nothing to see here. we get on our bikes and ride. just past the trailer park i say, you guys keep going. i’ll meet you there. the light is off now in philadelphia’s trailer. i push open the screen door. her voice from out of the darkness says who is it! but it’s a croak, a shadow of itself. it’s me, i say. i’ve just come back to rub your toe. she comes into the kitchen. she lets the dark hang still and heavy over us, and then she hugs me. something about it feels like a gma’s hug: the floppy arms, the pine sol smell covering up something sour. her chest is flat where her titties
  23. 23. 27 Rattail used to be. i don’t have to ask why. i know why. it’s cause we looked too much and touched too much and used up the last natural resource in the imperial valley. i fall asleep in the tv room rubbing her toe. i dream that i have a rattail that won’t stop growing and philadelphia is braiding it all the way from the army green sofa to the busted linoleum floor. she’s on her knees following it through the kitchen, out the screen door, over the front steps and into the desert. she’s weaving little bits of her life into the braid: a feather from a raven’s nest, a bit of string from a promise ring, a button from her favorite dress, a curl of her hair, the first holler of a child being born.     
  24. 24. 29 He says now that his mom has died, he doesn’t want to go home anymore, he just stands on street corners. He tells me it’s over between us, that I’m not enough to heal the broken thing in him, and I press my face to his chest where it still feels safe. He wraps his arms around me and they are birds’ wings. He says, “Yesterday I shit my pants at the drug testing place. Shit? Shat? I was supposed to pee in a cup but I shit my pants instead. Now that we’re not together anymore, I can tell you.” “I love you,” I say. When you start feeling good enough about your relationship to stop counting the months and years, that’s when it goes to shit. It starts to rain, the first time in that long and ashy drought. I know if we stand here long enough, it’ll become cinematic. “What are you gonna do today?” he asks. His eyes are Beak
  25. 25. 30 Mother in All Your Disguises red around the edges but the water on his face is only rain. “Cry myself into a coma,” I say. “You’re perfect,” he says, in lieu of an apology. “They should name a comet after you.” Did you know that preschoolers are the fastest- growing market for antidepressants? Four percent of preschoolers, over a million preschoolers, are clinically depressed. I find comfort in that as I lie in bed with the window open to the rain, gulping air so I don’t stop breathing, stuffing Quilted Northern into my nose. I dream that the bed has two exposed nails sticking up through the mattress on the side where I sleep. I dream that we wake up together in the night and sit cross-legged, the covers pitching a tent over our naked bodies. We run our fingers through each other’s fingers, then over the rusty nails, which are tarred and feathered with blood and drywall. We’re not surprised to see them. They explain why some nights we wake up in a panic with a hurt we can’t articulate, though we’re pressed against each other like pancakes and the porch light shines softly through the blinds. We name them after
  26. 26. 31 Beak each other and promise to take care of them. I wake up with phantom nails in my skin. I crawl under the musty covers though my body is heavy with sweat, hoping to find him there. When I don’t see him, I wonder if maybe he’s become very small, and I look for him in the lint and the crumbs on the sheets. I find a raisin from a cookie he ate last week, which is a good start, a sign of his life at least. But his side of the bed is ghost cold. No matter what I do, I can’t solve the problem of his absence, though my mind does gymnastics around it and my body interprets the gymnastics as choking. I gulp the air from the window but can’t seem to come up to the surface. It’s April again, tax day, our first date. We haven’t even held hands yet. “I like hugs,” Robert says, “but in general, I like to be asked if I want a hug. I don’t really like it when people assume.” He has a glossy paper bag full of insulin samples, five hundred dollars’ worth. He spritzes some on my wrist so I can smell it. He says it smells like Band Aids, but I think it’s something else, something on the tip of my nose - if only I
  27. 27. 32 Mother in All Your Disguises could put my finger on it. He takes a small crocheted skull out of his pocket and puts it on his thumb like a finger puppet. He says it used to live on the gearshift of his car, but he had to send it to the scrapyard, so we’re walking. Our arms get close enough for the hairs to brush up against each other and send the world’s smallest electric shock through our bodies. I wonder if that counts as first base. In California it’s legal for anyone except a felon to carry a taser. Along the overpass, a homeless man sleeps clutching a black binder. We read the words, “The Self-Made Millionaire” on the front cover, written in gold gel pen. Robert tucks a dollar into the binder. He tells me his first job was picking up urine samples from hospitals and driving them around Mississippi. It was one of the best jobs he ever had. He wants to go to Best Buy. We sit in the La-Z-Boys and watch the flatscreen. He says he was strung out on dope while his sister was strung out on Jesus. He walks me home and we sit on the porch, which has sunk most of the way into the gravel and sand. I walk him back down the drive and he walks me back to the porch. I walk him to the end of the
  28. 28. 33 Beak drive again and give him a hug without asking. He kisses me, just barely, then pulls me close so fast I hit my chin on his chest. “Are you okay?” he says into the back of my neck. “Yeah. Are you okay?” “I’m a dinner roll.” I take him by the hand and lead him into the bathroom where three baby turkey vultures have just been born in the dying lemon tree that has pressed itself against the windowsill. We sit side-by-side on the toilet lid watching the enormous mother stuff her beak down their gullets. The birds are not afraid of Robert, and he doesn’t seem to mind the carrion smell in the bathroom. I imagine us buying a scented candle together. I imagine the birds finally having a father figure, learning which cologne to wear. We date all summer. We talk about buying the scented candle someday, but we never do. The baby birds grow out their feathers and hop into the canopy of the dying lemon tree, one of them slipping and colliding with the gravel below. A second brood is born naked, then puffy white,
  29. 29. 34 Mother in All Your Disguises then creaking out pubic black feathers. When those grow into dusters, they too climb the dying lemon tree. We spend countless hours on the toilet seat together, watching the ballet of gullets and feathers and skin-colored wrinkles. In August I buy him a toothbrush on sale, purple with extra-soft bristles for his sensitive gums. The next day, in the middle of a meteor shower, he breaks it off. I feel listless. I don’t drink or fuck myself out of heartbreak like I used to when I was younger; I only cower in fear of the endless, lonely expanse of myself. But three weeks later he calls, asks if any new birds have been born, says we should go out to dinner. My pride tells me to say no. “Yes,” I say instead. “Yes the new baby birds have been born or yes we should go out to dinner?” “Birds,” my pride says, swelling for an instant before it crawls back into its cave. “Dinner. Birds and dinner. Well, I want to but I’m scared.” ”Me too,” he says, “but hungry people have to eat.” At the Italian restaurant, he points to a fake plant and
  30. 30. 35 Beak asks if it’s a ficus. Across the room there are couples dancing, some mixed young and old, one lady all by herself, bouncing at the knees, her feet planted on the floor and her hands in fists. “I like her,” Robert says. “She dances like a baby.” His salad comes with a plastic container of ranch dressing. He says he can’t live in the boonies anymore because he’s afraid of ghosts. That’s his version of small talk. I don’t tell him it’s my birthday. So many of my birthdays have fallen in the midst of heartbreaks. I feel embarrassed about the time I told him I liked the way he eats, because he’s doing it now, eating, and I like it. He dumps the mound of ranch dressing onto the watery brown lettuce. I twist angel hair pasta around my fork and wonder about the reserve of kindness in my body that still has his name on it. Across the room the adult baby dances wildly, thrashing, kicking her legs. I stuff the angel hair in my mouth. “Will you dare me to squirt insulin in my water and drink it?” Robert says. “Okay,” I say, “but only if I can have some too.”
  31. 31. 36 Mother in All Your Disguises He does it, he squirts it in. He smells it. He takes a sip and chokes on it, pounding it out of his chest. “That’s really bad,” he says, sliding the glass toward me. “You don’t have to have any.” The water smells like tire treads - that’s what it is, not Band Aids but tire treads. I don’t tell him that I’ve finally put my finger on it. This is my discovery, and I’m not ready to share it all so willingly with him, so trustingly. I take a sip to be certain. Yes. Tire treads. Not Band Aids but pulling over on the highway because your parents are fighting, not Band Aids but sitting in the hot car with the windows up while your mother screams and your father kicks the front bumper, then the back. Tire treads. I take another sip. It’s poison. I feel hot and dizzy, like I’ve been sitting in a car on the way to Bakersfield all my life. I drink and drink the water, the tire- infused water, the cold tire soup. Nothing can get between me and the water even though Robert is wrestling the glass from my hands yelling “Stop, stop.” I stand to get away from him, and he comes around the table, his hands on the glass. We’re spinning, or maybe
  32. 32. 37 Beak just my head is. Spinning is enough to make you a confident dancer, which is the same as a great dancer. The adult baby approaches us. The music is a big band with no singing. The band is in the restaurant, on a stage we didn’t know was there. The adult baby takes the glass from my hand and downs the rest of the tire water, then takes us both by the wrists and pulls us onto the dance floor where God has hung ceiling fans to spin a cool breeze through our sweat-matted hair. We dance like babies. It’s all we know how to do. It doesn’t mean we’re back together. It only means we’ll be taking home the leftover salad and the angel hair pasta to feed to the mother vulture. It only means she’ll chew it up with her beak or however she does it, and swallow it, and stick her finger down her gullet to make herself throw up, and nourish her three bald children who are also our children - and that Robert is welcome in my home again, and that the purple toothbrush has been waiting all this time, prayerfully, behind the broken mirror of the medicine cabinet.
  33. 33. When something troubles me, I say goodbye to my woman body and turn into an animal. When something troubles me I howl and gnash into the desert. I let go of my bones. I set my shoes free. I drink milk by the gallon to grow new teeth from my cheeks, eat toenail clippings to sprout beak and claw. I smile at my daughter, say leave the window open for me, I’ll buy you a Starbucks gift card when I come back. My daughter looks for me in the face of every turkey vulture, in the piss of every coyote. She pokes roadkill with a yardstick, wondering if that’s her mother the pancake, her mother the maggot-breath. She begs me not to go, says mother in all your disguises you are still the one who bore me and signed my permission slips and fed me Raisin Bran when I was constipated. Kids grow up so fast these days, I write across the sky with my black wings, the last thing they need is some half-assed adult regulating their bowel movements. Remember when you were a baby, I say, and I left you at the grocery store, just drove off without you, left you screaming in the shopping cart with nothing but a gallon of milk? I told CPS I was going after the car alarm but I did it once at Six Flags too, I did it at a birthday party and in the family aisle of a Blockbuster. It’s the same every time. A cascade of goosebumps pinches my neck. An idea washes down my spine like an epidural: Yes. Of course. The canned food will make a wonderful mother, especially the peas. I kiss your bald head just as the universe cracks open its revelation along the seam of the automatic doors. A howl bucks up my tongue from the root and I’m gone.

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