AFTER THE FLOODS
Mama, I’d watch you as you dragged in the bags filled with meat. Good daughter that I was, I’d unpack the blood-soaked paper and put the cutlets in the top fridge-drawer, right underneath the freezer. As always, I’d want to ask whether they reminded you of anything, but I’d overused the question in my brain, it had lost all its drama. “It’s just trite, Julia,” I imagined you’d say anyway, that it was a trite question, and that that would be a good enough reason for you to ignore ever answering it.
So all that was left for me to do was to stalk you around the house, looking for a repressed shudder of disgust, a hidden teardrop, or maybe just the slightest shaking of your long, once-elegant fingers.
But any stalking of you was, I knew, going to be in vain; you’d always been an expert in hiding your emotions, you hid them all the way, and from yourself as well—or maybe mainly from yourself. Your feelings must be still stacked at the very bottom of the deep-frozen pit behind the house where you always did like to store the rest of your meat.
“The air makes all the difference with Julia’s asthma,” you’d always told your former colleagues who’d come up to the mountain from the city, who’d drink the fresh, warm sheep’s milk and pretend to admire your “bold choice” in life. Yes, as a very young child in the city, I was allergic to dust. Here I’m allergic to hay, sheep, foliage, flowers and grasses in bloom, to even the mold in the cracks of the cave of a house I endured for so long. In the last couple of years those old colleagues started coming again, inquiring why you’re still not coming back to the city, now that your husband’s been gone missing three years. The “allergies”, that’s right. I certainly believed you; for a long time I did, even though it made me hate your decision only a little less. I wonder whether they bought it, your pretty woman-friends from the city, or whether, on their way back down to the valley, their white sneakers sliding on the grass of the hills, they exclaimed, “What a fucked-up hippie! Fell for a savage with strong arms, now after ten years with him she’s left alone in the mountains with a college-age kid—why doesn’t she just pack up and leave?”
You’d never have just left, right, mama? That would have indicated that your choice had been a mistake all along and you don’t make mistakes. You’ll have your shit together even after you die; there’ll be no need for an autopsy—they won’t find anything out of the ordinary, even if they cut you open, only organs laid out in the most orderly manner, like in those cross-section mannequin they use in schools. You couldn’t have left before the floods anyway, could you?
I’m the exact opposite of you, mama—I’m a mess. My mind floats in ten different directions at once. You never understood the silent frenzy that my body has. “Go somewhere, Julia, do something,” you’d say. “You’re driving me nuts.” But you didn’t sound like someone who was going crazy. Only food calmed me down. Whenever you sent me to get something from the pantry, I lingered, inhaling the smells of smoked meat. It was quiet and peaceful. I’d cut a piece from one of the sausages that dangled at my face level, then, unable to resist, always hungry, always guilty for being hungry, I’d cut a tiny circle off another. I’d start in the back, then gradually work my way toward the front, until all the strings of sausages were hanging at the same length again. “Where were you so long?” you’d ask.
“Stuffing herself with my meat,” the savage would say. I’ve always wished you could feel my constant jitters, even for just a minute. The jitters that forced my feet to bounce when I sat, that made my fingers rip to shreds every piece of paper, every sugar-packet. “You destroy everything, girl,” you used to say to me in a calm, almost-bored tone.
It’s after the floods and I came to the city on an early morning train—well, it left in the morning, I arrived in the afternoon. The city is strange to me but I force myself to see it as vaguely familiar.
To kill time I go straight to the train-station Bistro, a horrible place full of horrible people, but that feels familiar. I order a tea, and the fat bartender smiles his sly smile and asks whether I wanted any rum with it.
Rum in tea? Before I can say, “No, no rum, thanks,” I say “Yes,” automatically, as if I were one of these characters, these regulars in this bar who never drink their tea without rum. Then I want to sit down at a table, but there’s only a high stool available, at the far end of the bar, so I carry my tea over there and the bartender kindly slides the shot of rum after me. “In town on business?” he asks, without raising his heavy eyelids. “Pleasure, I hope,” I say.
He nods, grinning, and leaves me alone.
Now, mama, just what do you suggest I should do? You never thought anyone would find out, did you? You had no doubts that I wouldn’t dare say a word. And I didn’t, you were right to count on me.
Three years went by and now the floods, the floods flushing out many old meat pits. And here I am in the capital, to maybe be a witness against you—or maybe not. I haven’t made up my mind yet.
I lift the rum to my mouth and when I do, someone opens the shabby glass door to the bar and lets in a cold draft. The alcohol tinkles my nostrils, they twitch and close up. The same sensation like that one time you and the savage took me skiing. I might’ve been nine or ten; it was freezing, and when we finally got into the mountain-lodge, he ordered three teas and three rums, a rum for me as well. You jerked in your seat, but you didn’t oppose him. “Against the cold,” you said to me. I coughed up on the first sip, thinking my nose was melting from the inside, and thinking also perhaps I was going blind. He laughed, downed his glass in one gulp and placed his untouched tea in front of me—so, I had two teas and one rum.
Mama, I know what you’ll say if they go after you. You’ll insinuate you did it because of me. First the “allergies”, then “everything else”. You’ll say you couldn’t take the way he treated me anymore, or maybe your proud look and silence will be enough, they’ll mistake them for emotions you were forced to bury inside. The papers will write about a mother's courage, people will speculate that perhaps it was really the daughter who did it, and you’re just protecting me now, that such are motherly instincts. Yes, mama, the public would buy into all that.
As for me, I’ll be watching you closely the whole time, waiting for the slightest shudder, the tiniest tear.
“More rum?” The bartender suddenly asks, asks as if he’s known me a long time, and he fills my glass before I can say, “Why not?”
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