The crystallized smear of dried honey around my daughter’s
mouth repulses me. I brush her hair and ignore stickinesses
that I don’t want to think about. My daughter was born
with all her eyes. I was born with all my teeth—we had
to get them removed so I could be normal.
My sister loves Isabell and doesn’t mind dried honey
and dripping juice boxes and stuffed animals with
crunchy fur. She gives me a big smile that could mean
anything. I grin nervously over my cup of coffee,
the cup is blue, canned laughter.
What time are we going to the pool?
asks Isabell with that darling plaintive pout that appears
on all children under the age of eight. A grim inevitability.
Soon, honey, I say smiling and I rub slimy sunscreen
all over her warm pink shoulders. She gives me
the biggest smile. I’m not in trouble until I see the whites of
her eyes. That’s when she’s close, wants me to brush
her teeth, tell her a story, pajamas, oatmeal, piggies or
ponies. My mother loves Isabell. Her hands move over
Isabell’s hair. Her lips meet the top of Isabell’s head.
Soon, precious, my mother says. My sister is armed
with snacks and floaties and Isabell’s adorable towel and
all sorts of things that promise a dangerously good time.
Their arms form a circle around Isabell. Isabell’s eyes
meet mine. I can see the whites of her eyes. My teeth
have grown in since they got ripped out, the ones that
got ripped out were my baby teeth, I grew adult ones
when I was ten. I didn’t have a full set of teeth again
until I was twelve. My teeth set hard. My jaws could
jam together until I asphyxiate, isn’t that funny?
Mommy is one of those words like tummy and boo-boo
and go night-night that make my insides curdle with
soul death. Isabell is rushing towards me.
Mommy, I have a boo-boo! she says tearfully and
I pretend I don’t notice or care about the snot she’s
getting on my sleeve, oh my fucking God, it’s wet,
it’s slimy, I don’t like it. Do you want a Band-Aid?
Kiss it better, sobs Isabell, and she smells
like chlorine. I can feel her stiffen with my hesitation.
So I kiss it better. My mouth tastes like chlorine now.
Jimmy’s mom kisses it better when his knee gets hurted,
she informs me. I wonder who Jimmy is. I hold Isabell
like she’s a sack of groceries, this part I can handle, I can
tote groceries and pay bills and drive myself to work
in the morning. I don’t know about the stickiness of her
bathing suit, the whimpers in my ear, the nightmares she has
that send her rushing to sleep in my bed in the middle of the
night, the vomit on my sweater, the piss on her sheets. These
things feel the same as sweat, sweat on my skin, sweat from
an orange Popsicle congealing on my hands.
When I buckle Isabell into her car seat she looks up at me. She
is such a pretty child. Everyone has told me. That soft golden
sunlight hair curling, those big marble blue eyes, peachy skin,
little nose, little hands, hand in mine, voice babbling happily,
singing the alphabet—she says, I love you, Mommy.
I remember when she was a tiny baby Isabell looked like
dead fruit, red and pruny and soft. I remember her wide gaping
toothless mouth, like her screaming would never end. Screaming
for nothing. I look at her, her pinkness. Does she know what
I’m thinking about her? I remember her in my womb, making
my stomach round and warm and hideous. Like a fleshy melon,
bulging ripe. I love you, Mommy. Once she caked the kitchen
walls with oatmeal she didn’t want to eat. Even though she
loves oatmeal. And Isabell grins at me now like an angel
and all I can see is overripe fruit. My tongue feels pudgy
in my mouth, getting in the way of words I don’t want to say.
The backseat door slams shut without my having said
anything. My sister sits in the back with Isabell, my mother
is driving, I am next to my mother. My mother wanted to
have grandbabies. She always said. My mother has
wrinkled hands with rings on them and two daughters
and one cannot birth children and the other one
is me with my mouthful of teeth and apologies. We
drive home listening to Isabell’s chatter and Disney
soundtracks and my mother and my sister smile
much too damn warmly at each other, and warmth always
makes me feel sticky and dirty. I want coolness in my
bedsheets on summer nights, I do not want things that
cling. Isabell was very sick once. She was full of fever heat
and she held on to me and coughed. Sticky, dirty, warm.
We come home
and Isabell shrieks
happily and runs inside
even though there’s nothing new
waiting for her there.