by A V Guevara
Tears welled in Nadine’s swampy eyes.
Mother’s antique lamp had scattered across the carpet like a jigsaw in about 20 different discernible pieces. Another 30 smaller bits blended into the dusty, old shag. Nadine felt like she was in the eye of a hurricane. It was calm now, but the torment would return soon. The storm itself began with a rush of brute wind the rough size and speed of a seven-year-old girl as she charged through her house with a blanket-cape tied around her neck.
Although she was young, Nadine should have known better. She was careful more often than not. Once, when she was about five and a half, she spilled Mother’s coffee all over the two of them while trying to climb into Mother’s lap. The coffee left a red splotch across the nape of Nadine’s neck. By seven, it had lightened to a pigflesh pink and was hardly visible. The scar, which Mother had etched into her with a piece of chipped ceramic from the coffee mug, was still very white and very visible if you knew where to look.
Nadine felt hot coffee spill over her thoughts as she stood in wait of Mother. She shuddered as footsteps drew closer. First came the heavy thud-thud-thud of calloused feet on peridot-green linoleum kitchen tile, then the softer plot-plot-plot from the dirty hallway carpet.
Mother’s presence was outweighed only by her size. She had a creamy complexion that turned more pastel after applying her face. She often punctuated her makeup with an unhealthy cake of deep blue eye shadow. Based on looks alone, it would have been safe to assume her dead. However, the way in which she devoured air in hefty breaths reconfirmed her life. They escaped her lungs hot, strained, and exaggerated.
Mother was closing the gap. Nadine thought she might try playing it off as if she didn’t know what had happened. That she also came running towards the noise. But she squashed the thought. Mother always knew when she lied. And even when she didn’t lie, Mother would still want to teach Nadine better. Such as the time when Mother’s meaty cat, King, tore a line through the backyard screen door. Nadine walked in on King trying to scale up the mesh. She yelled at King to get down, but only startled the flea-ridden beast. He attempted a backward jump, but his beefy size only caused him to plummet. One of his claws caught on the mesh and tore it clean from top to bottom. Upon landing, he let out a low hiss for Nadine and slipped away through the new exit. By the time King curled up in his favorite hiding spot, which was underneath the front porch, Mother had already cracked down like lightning on Nadine with the wooden spoon. The kitchen knife would have been more appropriate, she told Nadine after. That way she’d know how the screen door felt.
Nadine looked up in time to catch Mother’s left trunk appear from the hall, heralding the rest of her pillowskin body. It was over. Nadine knew this would be the final straw. No more tomorrow for this more-or-less obedient seven-year-old. Her only regret was not making it to eight.
But something strange happened when Mother stepped towards Nadine. It happened before either mouth could begin to shout -– Nadine’s in terror, Mother’s in rage. Nadine heard a soft crunch. The crunch of broken glass. Shards dove and splintered into the underbelly of Mother’s hardened foot. Mother let out a sharp cry as she jerked up her right foot. She caught the foot, bending forward to cradle it. Nadine watched, eyes bulging, as Mother teetered on one leg. For a moment, not long enough for it to count, Nadine thought about shoving Mother backward with all her strength. Instead, she shoved the thought away, just in case Mother could hear it.
Nadine thought it must have been hours, maybe even days, since the antique lamp came tumbling down. Really, it had been no more than forty-five seconds. Blood flowed over Mother’s upturned and grimy calluses. Her lips parted and pursed like a fish, but only air escaped. Any second now, Nadine thought, Mother would compose herself. Mother would channel her pain into fury. But Mother only tottered, shaking, keeping her balance, but barely.
Nadine thought of the time last year when the neighbor boy, Luke, had come knocking on the front door. Luke was a few years older than Nadine and had his own friends. Nadine sometimes saw them through the window, playing and laughing and having fun. He had come knocking on Mother’s door in need of a bathroom. He couldn’t use his own because it was locked and his parents were out. Nadine had to twist herself almost upside down to get a peek at Mother and Luke. Mother didn’t like Nadine to be seen.
On a typical day, Luke explained, he would have used his key –- awarded to him at the start of the school year –- to get inside his house. But that day he forgot to wear it around his neck. He asked, as pleasantly as a ten-year-old can, could he please use their bathroom? He was shaking like an old washing machine. Mother, in a disgusted tone, told him boys go outside. Luke insisted he couldn’t. That he needed a bathroom now because he had pizza at school that day and his mom said he wasn’t supposed to have cheese because he was lacked toes in taller ant but he ate it anyway. Beads of sweat leaped off his forehead as the shaking turned violent. His hands dug into his back pockets, a feeble attempt to hold the floodgates. Mother, sharper this time, told him that boys go outside. Luke looked like a ghost about to wretch. He pleaded once more. Nadine almost giggled, knowing his mistake. Mother wouldn’t take any more nonsense. She flung the screen door open and grabbed Luke at the shoulders. Mother flicked his body around to face the street. She grabbed the cobwebbed broom from beneath the porchlight and battered up. Whack-whack-whack! It was once in the back and twice in the ass. Luke howled and took off running. He yelled back at Mother, calling her a crazy bitch. Nadine blushed and stifled another giggle, watching his pants bloat as he ran. She wondered if he felt embarrassed or if Mother had frightened him so much for him to even take notice.
Mother came back inside, her face redder than velvet cake. Fury tinged her eyes. She summoned Nadine, no doubt to teach her a lesson, too. Mother began lecturing before Nadine finished her creep down the stairs. According to Mother, boys enjoyed playing tricks on girls. Dirty, nasty tricks to hurt girls like them. Boys found a sick pleasure in it, she had said. Since then, Nadine often thought of “sick” and “pleasure” and how they were very odd words when married. It made her uncomfortable, but it also made her giggle. Luke had trouble in his eyes, Mother finished, and he would have tried to hurt them if it weren’t for Mother’s protection. Nadine remembered thinking it funny that Luke wasn’t allowed to hurt her, yet Mother was.
Nadine thought Mother looked a lot like Luke had, rocking and shaking in savage rhythm; one foot held up in a bloody, out-of-style Lindy hop. Nadine watched — too horrified not to — as the foot slipped. Blood spattered through the air as Mother’s husky gam plunged downward. Upon rough landing, glass splinters forced their way even further into Mother’s grimy foot-flesh. A pained squeal finally found freedom from Mother’s fishy lips. Nadine thought this really must be it. Mother would force through the pain and serve it back in spades.
Instead, something bizarre happened when Mother tried to take another step. As she brought her left foot up, her right knee buckled. Mother tried to catch her forward fall with both arms extended. Gashes quickly turned red as glass shards pierced and sliced her hands, her right knee, and her left foot. Mother was in an awkward sort of low splits. The kind of splits Nadine could perform with ease, but Mother had no such business attempting. Nadine couldn’t help herself anymore. A quick guffaw slipped out before she could consider any consequence. She was only seven, after all.
Mother gave a garbled, wet wail. It followed with an unnatural pop that filled Nadine’s ears and coated her thoughts like bad medicine. Mother’s knee gave in, silencing the screams. Blood drained from each unrestricted laceration. Deep brown glass shards protruded from the rest.
Nadine still stood in the same spot where the tears first began to swell. She noticed herself shaking now. She untied the blanket-cape and soberly wrapped herself in it. Nadine never took her eyes off Mother’s tangled body. Sounds like words came from somewhere beneath Mother’s heaped mass. Nadine would swear she heard Mother say to call for help. But, no, that was too unbelievable. Nadine knew, because Mother always told her so, that other people were out to hurt them. No, of course, Mother wouldn’t want Nadine to call for anyone.
Nadine remained frozen while blood and carpet mingled. Mother twitched and groaned and twisted. Her disjointed knee pointed up at Nadine. Was it accusing her?
Mother’s desperate sobs began to falter. Her face now burrowed deep into the shag. With swampy eyes, Nadine kept watch.
At long last, Nadine’s eyes seemed to clear, and Mother seemed to relax.