by Eva Eliav
‘…and then she put her hand, her whole hand, flat on the back of my head. It was uncomfortable, but also…in a way…reassuring.’
A floret drifts onto the table, orange bougainvillea, bright as neon. Lil’s fingers dismember it.
‘I’ve been babbling?’
‘You’re being kind.’
She pushes her coffee away. ‘Stone cold,’ she says, frowning. ‘Why am I doing this…going on and on?’
‘You’ve hardly said anything,’ he protests. ‘Tell me about those years, the early years.’
‘I hate to remember.’
‘So tell me about the good times. Only the good times.’
‘The good times?’ Silence stretches out. Fill it. Fill it.
Words rush into her mouth. She tries to force them back, but they flap up like hungry bats squealing in the treetops. They won’t stop their clamor till she relents.
‘Okay,’ she says, ‘okay.’ She braids her fingers, wills them to be still. ‘The good times were when the two of them weren’t home and other people came to take care of us. Child minders. Large, warm, comfortable women. They taught me to knit and bake. And they liked me.’
He laughs softly. ‘Of course.’
‘Of course?’ she says.
‘Well,’ she clears her throat, ‘it felt…for a week, or maybe two…I sampled normal.’
‘And when they came back home?’
‘This is a way of getting the anger out,’ the woman says.
She’s dressed in blue with a tasteful silk scarf around her throat. The ends flutter a little as she moves.
She places an empty plastic bottle on the floor, then, to Lil’s surprise, she lifts a dainty foot and stomps down hard. Squawk, the bottle protests. She stomps again. This time, the bottle bellows like a cow. The woman bellows, too. Then she looks up and smiles. ‘You see,’ she says. ‘Make as much noise as you want. Shout, scream…’ She smiles again. ‘Like to try?’
Lil hitches her shoulder up. ‘Well…’
‘Whatever you feel like doing. It’s your choice.’
Lil’s heart stops. She knows it hasn’t stopped. She’s honed the skill of reminding herself she’s fine.
‘Well…’ she repeats.
‘Deep breath,’ the woman says, hands splayed against her belly, head flung back.
It seems a simple request. Lil tries to breathe. Air lodges in her throat. She frowns, ashamed, letting it leak out between her lips before she gulps another secret mouthful.
‘Now,’ says the woman, offering the bottle.
Lil stomps. The bottle bounces away.
‘Sorry…’ she says.
‘Good, very good,’ trills the woman. ‘Try again.’
Lift and stomp. The bottle erupts with a satisfying bang.
‘Excellent,’ crows the woman. ‘Now, eyes open.’
Lil opens her eyes slowly. The woman’s smiling. She places a row of bottles against the wall.
‘Now kick them till it hurts,’ the woman says.
Lil blinks as if she hasn’t understood. But then her body remembers. She’s running around the kitchen, running hard. Lornie’s giggling, chanting shit-shit-shit. Mother’s after them, ferocious, a wild thing caged. Since there are no burning coals in easy reach, she’s brandishing soap. Lornie likes to live dangerously all right. Lil prefers safe, but safe isn’t an option. A slap bursts out of nowhere, sends her flying.
Clenching her fists, Lil stomps and shouts and kicks till the bottles lie broken and misshapen. She takes a triumphant breath.
The woman nods. ‘May I?’ she says.
And then she lays her hand, her whole hand, gently on Lil’s head.
I’m lolling in Mom’s kitchen, drinking Indian tea that smells like winter. Mom’s saying she’d been seven months on with Lornie and hadn’t known it.
‘So what did you think it was?’
She puffs out smoke and shrugs. ‘Blubber,’ she says. ‘I thought I was getting fat from eating bread. God, I loved fresh bread…the inside warm and damp, the outside crisp.’
So that’s what Mom dreamed about, fresh bread. It breaks my heart. It makes me want to punch her.
‘So how did you figure it out?’ I say abruptly.
‘I went to the doctor ’cause my stomach hurt.’
I guffaw, I can’t help it. ‘I’ll bet it did.’
‘Yeah.’ She puffs again, admiring the coil of smoke, her creation. It seems to bring more happiness than we did. ‘I couldn’t believe it when he told me.’ She stabs the cigarette out. ‘Couldn’t believe it.’
‘How could you not know that you were pregnant? Seven months. And you’d had one kid already.’
She shifts uneasily.
Dumb cow, I think, but I know she isn’t dumb.
‘Hey, Lil,’ she says, ‘what’s with the long face? Where’s my sweetie pie? Where’s my sunshine?’
She pinches my cheeks with both hands, hot and hard.
Eva Eliav received a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Toronto. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in literary journals both online and in print, including Room, The St. Ann’s Review, Emrys Journal, Ilanot Review, Flashquake, The Apple Valley Review, Horizon Review, The Enchanted Conversation, Constellations and Fictive Dream. Her poetry chapbook ‘Eve’ was published in 2019 by Red Bird Chapbooks. Those who would like to read more about Eve can find a review by poet Dara Barnat in the winter issue of ReadingJewishFiction.com.