When you’ve been following the cat around the house all day, you really can’t blame him for escaping beneath the armchair, hissing glinty-eyed as the three of you approach. And when the other girls tell you to climb onto the chair and look underneath, they know you’ll do their bidding as good friends do, so now you’re on your knees on the sunken cushion, your hair descending first, head heavy with blood as your eyes search the dark. Maybe the cat assumes a game is underway, your hair like tangled strings inviting attack, or perhaps he’s like Mother and he’s had enough. Either way it’s quick and your vision blurs, a stream too thick for water descending from your eye. The other girls run when your scream wakes Mother, when she screams even louder, why did you bother the goddamn cat? and she can’t see it’s more than blood you’re bleeding. But you won’t need to worry because here’s what will happen: the doctor will prepare you a gauzy patch and you’ll sit pirate-eyed in a sterilized room while he says a quarter inch to the right and you would have been blinded and you’re lucky the eye is the fastest-healing organ. And yes you’ll cry again to think you sidestepped a future as a girl whose single eye might draw attention, might draw anything, but really you’ll be crying about nothing again since the patch will come off in a few short days and your friends will be back in time for tea. You won’t make a sound as you pour the liquid since Mother says a person shouldn’t talk to themselves, but you’ll still exchange smiles as you sip sweet tea from dust-coated cups, as you listen to the beat of Mother’s crooked clock while the cat self-grooms from atop the chair. Tick tock, lick lick. You’ll sway to the music of childhood.
Andrea Lynn Koohi
Andrea Lynn Koohi is a writer from Ontario, Canada. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, The Maine Review, Sunlight Press, Lost Balloon, filling Station, trampset and others.
When I hand the leftovers to my mother, she muses from her bed, “You know who else likes eggplant parmesan? Your father.”
Her voice betrays her hesitation; the knowledge that this might transform something I like about myself into something I reject.
“Really?” I’m looking at her, but imagining him: his attention falling to the eggplant’s shiny belt, just visible beneath the blouse of mozzarella; what’s wrong in his life, in the way he lived it, dissolving into tomato cream; the drama of getting what he’s hungry for, eclipsing what others might need from him.
When I think of what my father likes to eat, I think of when he poured orange juice over his Raisin Bran in my mother’s kitchen when I was five, then declared, just as matter-of-factly, “I can’t do this” and left for seven years. I think of the next and last time I saw him, when he coated a dinner plate in honey, overturned oatmeal onto another plate to cool, combined them with a fork, then spooned the goo in cultish silence.
Those foods make sense. They say, “I owe nobody explanations, I don’t do my dishes, and I’m leaving.” But this is different. The time it takes for tomatoes to cool suggests a comfort with remaining, with waiting for something worthwhile. A man eating eggplant parmesan is not a man on his way out the door. No one orders eggplant parm to go–I just can’t do this.
“Did he like it with marinara or tomato cream?” My question, strangely specific, feels essential: the sort of detail you slip into a third draft that makes a character real. I’m eager for an answer–I love tomato cream.
With the beginning of a smile, my mother responds, “I suppose that’s the limit of how well I know him.” She signals to my hands, as if I might want to write this down. “That’s a good line—I know my father well enough to know he likes eggplant parm, but not enough to know with what sauce.”
I press my fists into her duvet and my laugh blends with hers. It is good. The swift return from familiarity to strangeness; from the struck candle of knowing something to the surrounding darkness of knowing mostly nothing.
I hug my mother goodnight. When I turn to leave–“Take this, honey.” She pokes my back with the box. “Not a huge fan.”
On my way to the kitchen, I pause at the portrait my sister drew of an old man; a stock-photo she chose for an art class. He’s a stranger, yet it’s her most expressive piece: head tilted back, eyes closed except for a glint of white, mouth gargling an invisible fountain of laughter. Whether he really was laughing–or even happy–doesn’t matter. It’s not a portrait of him; it’s what my sister saw in him, made of him. The men aren’t here to ask. They’re not even on their way.
Tomato cream, I decide, turning the corner. Tomato cream.
Martha Krausz is a nonfiction writer, high-school writing coach and Body Positive mentor, currently living in Northern California with her white german shepherd, Alfredo. She holds a BA in literature & poetry translation from Hampshire College, and an MA in English & American Literature from Mills College. Her essays are published in Prometheus Dreaming, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, & The Wild Roof Journal; her essay, “Shadow Sister” was nominated for Best of the Net in 2021. Martha harbors a lifelong love of Virginia Woolf, wants to be Cheryl Strayed when she “grows up,” and practices intuitive movement & baking most days.
for my mother
“Fill a saucepan, wash potatoes, peel, cook. Eat potatoes.”
Obey a different voice… how?
When it’s time, my own time.
Believe it, before the white page.
Can’t I obey a different voice than hers?
Turn, change, choose, transform?
Believe it, then show before the white page.
Set new tasks and wait for faith.
Turn, change, choose, transform.
When will it be time, my voice, in earnest?
Settle in faith and wait, and in the meantime:
fill a saucepan, wash potatoes, peel, cook. Eat potatoes.
When it comes my time, my own, will I know it?
She always shushed my well-earned voice: “too loud.”
Fill a saucepan, wash, peel, cook potatoes. Eat potatoes
I forged a self against her ways.
Now she has died across this poem–
I’ve no one to make a sound for.
I did forge a self as she aided and defied it.
I clasp her jewels, her furniture, her orphaned things.
I’ve no one to write of, or to, or to make a sound for.
Mystery of how she saw me went to her grave.
I have only the things she left, no direction.
And all I write is aloneness in our aloneness…
The mystery of how she saw me went with her
and the journey ahead, still unfound.
I have only the things she left me, no direction.
Fill a saucepan, wash, peel, cook potatoes. Eat potatoes.
Marilyn E. Johnston
Marilyn E. Johnston Is the author of two full collections of poetry published by Antrim House Books, Silk Fist Songs (2008) and Weight of the Angel (2009). Her chapbook, Against Disappearance, won publication as a Finalist for the 2001 poetry prize of Redgreene Press, Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including MacGuffin, South Carolina Review, Poet Lore, Worcester Review, and Rattle and has garnered six Pushcart Prize nominations. She has enjoyed two consecutive long-term careers, one in Cigna corporation communications and one in public library work which included poetry programming for the public. She retired from the library in 2017.