Let us begin here, at the dinner table. We come home one night, clutching takeout in greasy kraft paper bags, too afraid to make something with our own hands. You know the consequences of that all too well. I am sitting across from you, after all.
The bulb above our heads throws flickering light onto both of our faces as we eat in silence. During those brief moments of illumination, I smile. I try to be your daughter. I try to make you my mother.
In the corner, there is a bowl of conversation that has gone sour with time. It melts into rot that sticks to our fingers, leaving remnants of what we could have been if only we were better. The fruit flies fizz around our heads, and the only time the silence is interrupted is when we kill one of them. It is then that I realize I have your hands. I hurt things when I don’t mean to. There is a hornet’s nest humming in my chest where my heart should be, years of visceral anger stinging and droning. I tried to be sweet, Ma, thinking it was a hive of honeybees, desperately trying to persuade myself towards forgiveness, something sweeter than the silence of the end. I tried to close my eyes, to ignore the room in flames.
Before I leave, I silently ask you to braid my hair, tugging on the wiry ends and holding them out to your open palms. You agree, placing your spoon on the table with a metallic clink. The wooden chairs groan under our weight as I sit, my back facing you. Love is easier when I don’t have to look you in the eyes, when I don’t have to feign to your face. I try to pretend that silence is the loving mother language harbored in our throats. I will hold onto you as I held onto denial, because if I lose you, Ma, I no longer have a place to point to on the map. I can no longer tell the world where I am from.
Still, I can smell the smoke in your clothes. I don’t tell you that I used to have dreams as a girl in which you were an angel. Sometimes, in vain, I still do. If heaven is here, heaven is on fire. Maybe if I stop dreaming of things I deserve, I will wake, and you will be good enough. I will call you mother instead of gone. I will know your voice as something other than the high beep of the voicemail message, echoing back to me forever like the last beat of a dying pulse.
When the task is done, my hair hanging down in two loose plaits that skim my waist, we stand from the dinner table, leaving the conversation overturned on the linoleum. The smoke alarm sounds, the graying air killing
off any buzz of hope still remaining in my chest. We look at each other one last time, with the burden of knowing that there is nothing left to salvage from the fire. You take one door and I stand there in the kitchen for a moment before taking the other, stepping back as the wood creaks and snaps beneath my feet, walking backwards through the life you were never here for. My life ricochets back to me in snapshots.
I am born into a world of holy light, screaming. I receive a baptism in the kitchen sink, your hands cradling my head under the water. I grow your teeth, crooked and ashamed, in my mouth. I go to school and the teacher asks me what my mother’s name is. The word mother is new and foreign, so I roll it under my tongue, mother, trying to learn it, mother, until it produces a sour taste. I don’t think I have one of those, Mrs. Perkins. I’m sorry. You call on my sixth birthday, tell my father you have gifts for your daughter, and he slams the phone back into the receiver so hard it makes the world shake beneath our feet. When I ask who was on the phone, he says he doesn’t know and doesn’t care. The worst part is that he isn’t lying.
In the dream, you sit at the dinner table with a mouth full of pill-like teeth, eating dinner with a set of knives. Anything to let me hate you. Hatred can sometimes be an act of mercy upon the self. To forget you would mean freedom, to unwind our lineage and detach your name from my own. It would mean I am more than the last scar you bear from my bloody birth.
We play a game of hide-and-seek that lasts forever, in which I walk backward through every room you have abandoned me in, which is to say all of them. You wake up every day for the rest of your life choosing to leave, again and again. You wake each day choosing to speak in deafening silence.
Ma, I still don’t know how to braid my own hair.
“Every Room” by Micaela Morano and the artwork titled Sudden Fiction by Urvashi appeared in Issue 42 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Micaela Morano is a writer and high school senior from Northwest Arkansas. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Eunoia Review, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, and Lumiere Review, among others. Her work has been previously recognized by The Alliance of Young Artists and Writers, The Poetry Society of The United Kingdom, and you (thank you).
Urvashi is an aspiring digital nomad who writes and designs her way through life. As a Psychology post-graduate, her work revolves around people, their emotions, and everything in between.