I’ll tell you a secret, Mama, like I used to do under the tent of bed covers, where we would crouch in our warm human scents and I’d whisper, “I stole a crayon. I love Walter. I saw God in the pool. Don’t tell Father…” But what I was really saying was, “I love you,” which you knew because you knew me like a mother knows a daughter, from the space I had carved within you with the nudge of rump and elbow, by the breadth of spleen and liver I had displaced. Knew me from the first time you positioned me on your breast as the nurses had taught and I bit right through you to draw milk and blood and you gave a little scream, they said.
Mama, you will hear on the news that I gathered my gear and took off for the mountains alone. I left behind my Garmin watch as well as Brian and I know that he’ll be happy to have that watch. It can take you to the end of the world and back, perhaps even to the underworld and back. That’s why they call it the Fenix. Brian is the tallest mountain I have ever encountered: jagged, pitched and frosted. Why did I wish to conquer him? Because he was there, so wanting and petulant.
I once saw a woman drive off a cliff. I was running in the mountains, she was coming from the opposite direction and before she drove by in her silver Renault, I looked at her face. I can tell you one thing and that is that her face was sober. Something made me look back and when I did I saw her car continue its ride off the mountain. For a brief moment everything seemed normal, the vehicle in flight, the pilot in control of her craft, the air around the car pale as down feathers. I did not bother to cover my ears. Later on the news I heard that the search team believed there were several women in the car. Bloodless limbs were scattered all around the crash, a half-dozen bent arms, smooth torsos and blank faces poking out of shrubs and mounds of dirt. But then we learned that the woman driving the car owned a clothing store and was transporting a carload of mannequins. The fireman who reported this on the news looked like he was trying not to laugh and people noticed this. To me he just looked relieved, not to have to collect so many human pieces.
You will hear on the news that the weather has changed for the worse, that it will be difficult to search or rescue. Have I ever needed to be rescued, Mama? Don’t you worry, I will be somewhere else, far from the sniffing dogs, ordering hot wine and sausages and the matronly owner will ask, ‘More cheese?’ and I will nod until she stops serving and plants her fists on her wide hips and says, ‘You look cold and tired. You will not go out into that storm.’ And she will hide my muddy boots and shush me into the barn and spread a thick gamey blanket over the hay next to the steaming manure. The gentle bodies of cows will sigh and shuffle and as I am about to sleep, the farmer’s son will enter with a tin mug of milk and I will ask him to scratch my back and invite him to wrap his milk-strong arms around me and we will keep each other warm, like hot bread under cream. I will breathe in the sour dough of his skin and snore.
The men will tire before the dogs do, although they will not say it. They will trudge along, like heroes on duty, but they will begin to think of their wives at home, warming dinner, dressing down. They will begin to wonder where their daughters are at this time of night. Are they in their bedrooms in their long nightgowns and fuzzy slippers, reading schoolbooks? They are probably not, sirs. So go home, tell them, look for your daughters instead. It is cold now, but I am warmed by dung-pasted paws, caressed by long docile cow lashes, touched by a man who knows how to use his hands because he must.
When the snow covers the ground perfectly, it’s as if nothing has ever tread here. It was not a priest, a soccer coach, a distant uncle. It was my own husband who broke me. You’ve seen some trees in the forest, 50 meters tall that burst into the skies lush and green. But inside they are being eaten hollow by parasites until suddenly, the fragments undone, the sap drained, they yield to a pile of mulch. I didn’t tell you because I knew it would break your mother’s heart. Or maybe I didn’t tell you because you already knew, you who knows me the way a tongue knows the mouth it is hinged to.
Because it was there: the most arrogant, flippant words uttered by man.
It is so cold. But there is a freshness to such cold. A newness. The dull tinsel of pine needles rustles overhead, releasing its medicinal sweetness. Everything that is beautiful appears to be out of reach until you touch it, then it is no longer out of reach, nor is it beautiful. So the saying goes. It doesn’t matter because nothing changes between mother and daughter. The umbilicus unwinds and unravels, it thins to flossiness, to delicate hair, to microscopic cilia. But there is no end to it.
Originally from New Jersey, Maria lives in Athens, Greece with her husband and daughter. Her stories have appeared in Split Lip Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Okay Donkey, trampset and elsewhere.