Fiction · 11/01/2017

To the woman

who chased her boy. who wasn’t playing a duck and goose game, but cocked her soft jaw and sprinted with the arrow eye of a coyote on a hare. who’d been made both fast and slow by the boy. who shoved open the restaurant’s double doors quickly but carefully because her mission was to escape ruin, not feed it.

who left her Dover sole inside, cooling. who made and named the running boy, Allen or Dylan — it was hard to hear the starts of her words.

hauling a motherlode of bad endings; bagged, dismembered, rigor mortis endings. who looked like a sunflower trapped in a rock tumbler as she ran in her linen pants, a yellow silk blouse, leather sandals, soles rubberized.

afraid of slipping.

who once upon a time could have written the fairytale about the mother who so loved her child, she ate him up. with black hair pulled into a chignon as tight as a slingshot. at the mercy of a boy no more than ten, no less than a child destined to keep her awake and moving forever.

given a beautiful face by a quasi-benevolent creator who knew that little else about her midlife would be right.

at the height of her career or at least a savant in the art of dressing in a power face, pandering to spectators. who, in her chase, wove gracefully needlelike through the crowd of miffed strangers on the patio as they clasped saffron-muddled martinis.

more tender with others than with herself.

with a wish cast upon her face to either be tackled by security and shut in a silent cell or to fall and split her head open so that she could watch her gore stain the concrete cerise. Unable to pitch her voice high enough above the Muzak and twilight hum in order to reach the boy whose twitches and spasms synced to candles flickering on glass tops.

who wants, on one hand, to never catch the boy.

who, on the other, wonders shamefully if they should have stayed in her birth-country, belching slum water and gavvalu, where such a boy would have his arms and ears amputated and be sent to the streets to beg.

who will write the fairytale about the child who eats his mother.

who tugged her blouse down over her puckered belly as her husband joined, a shockingly disheveled and lethargic person. bound to yet another burdened human likely to snatch the last glowing star in her galaxy once the boy finally sleeps.

always waiting for her boy to sleep and sleep and sleep until what’s left of the day is a single hour to read him fairytales.

with simple dreams hiding everywhere. stocked with phrases she prayed on the car ride over she’d not have to use: I’m so sorry; He doesn’t understand; Can I buy you a new one? who that evening used them all at once, a single vomitus word I’msosorryhedoesn’tunderstandcanibuyyouanewone, the word a heavy thug bearing down on her tongue, it bound and choked her until she tasted copper and relief. not really screaming, hoping to reverse the chase by taunting the boy with a sing-song: You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.

trying to raise a man, but doesn’t human come first, isn’t it essential to travel chronologically through hell’s stages?

determined to get him off the tabletop, away from the six women in party shoes who he showered with profanities.

who wanted to explain to the women that at home, at her very clean home, they have not once used cunt or motherfucker. ready to give away her home decorated with exotic talismans from European coasts she and her husband visited before the boy. armed with the pictures to prove it when even she’s skeptical of their long-ago escapes.

who I think noticed me noticing her, forgiving her. who did nothing wrong. who asked her husband, before he’d cracked his last knuckle, to please go get the car; they were leaving.

born a lioness. turned a flightless bird. not exactly sure when the deadly reversal of species happened, it just did. not the only woman on the patio that night who dreaded those last days of summer, the start of a new school year days away, a classroom he’d have to tear apart and lick before he — I know this — could pencil his name on paper. calling to him up there one last time, her white pants sooty, an earring missing: You can’t catch me.

exacting her breezy, public laugh as he began to pursue her. pinkie-dabbing the coral lipstick breaching her lips. gaining impressive, joyful speed while her shadow, her boy, staggered after her. not letting on how she would lay on the shower floor later, or weep while walking the dog or while watching a child, her son’s age, sit in a chair and feed himself.

I know.

sharing the ride with me on this Godforsaken boat.

to whom I could reveal shades of my criminal mind and know with absolute certainty that she’d not wince.

I know better than I want to. who wishes in some seconds that the boat would just sink but then finds herself once again bailing out the foul water until her spine is nearly split.

thinking, strategizing, when she’s not sleeping and praying: how will we, how will we, make it to the other side of this hour?

raising the boy, our boy, my boy. who outran the boy to the sedan idling at the curb: let’s meet here next week alone and unsober ourselves by candlelight and let’s talk about why the starving doves refuse the sprays of millet we lay on our sills.

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Tori Malcangio writes advertising copy and fiction at a small desk overlooking a weedy San Diego canyon. Never mind living in a wildfire zone, she worries more about teaching her kids how to be kind humans. Stories are forthcoming or have appeared in: Glimmer Train, American Literary Review, Chattahoochee review, Mississippi Review, Tampa Review, Cream City Review, ZYZZYVA, River Styx, Ruminate Magazine, Passages North; and more. She is winner of the William Van Dyke Fiction Prize, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and the Waasmode Fiction Prize. She received her MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.