I dialed, but my hands shook. Dialed again. A person picked up. “Describe what happened. In brief.”
Her voice as clean as soap. I did not know then how much I wanted to be loved, even by a stranger on the phone.
I said, “My mother slammed my brother’s arm in a car door on purpose to punish him.”
I was sweating. My fingers white, bleached like bones on sand. The room blooming radioactive, overexposed, an unending
camera flash. “How old is your brother?” I told her, “Three.” “When did this happen?” I did not want
to answer—what was and is my greatest shame-- “It’s been nearly two weeks.”
How desperately I listened to her breath, her tone. Certain she would judge me, or worse, not believe.
I heard my words, like a bad script. “It happened so fast. I didn’t have time to stop her.”
Quiet on the line, I waited. Her tone, empty. “If we sent someone now, do you think they would find marks?
Was the door slammed hard enough?” Had I ever told anyone so clearly before? How my mother had always done these things.
In the blink of an eye, concocted plans and escape, threats and injuries. But temporary. No bruises, no proof. She knew how it all worked.
“She shoved her purse and umbrella in the hinge,” I explained. “So the door bounced off the bulk of her purse and the metal bar.”
“Do you think the door hit him at all?” the woman asked. I thought I might vomit. There was the chance this was not bad enough.
Then I heard the woman hum, which reminded me of my great-grandmother creaking her way down to her knees to pray. “Are you sure
there were no marks?” she asked. “Sometimes bruises can take several days to form.” Then, “Were there any other incidents
you can recall when she might have left marks?” “Yes, yes.” I said. Papers shuffled. I who had been trained to see and unsee.
To feel and unfeel, all my life. To wake and forget. Now, I tried to remember them all. The woman said they would send people out
to check his skin. If something happened again, to call but that “It would be best,” she stumbled on her own words. I was aware she knew what she
was asking of me. “It would be best if there was a mark.” And in that moment, I believed she felt tenderness toward me.
Whether she did or did not, I believed. That was the first time I called. I was twenty-three, and once I had done that, I knew I could do it again.
While Washing Windows
The sills are coated with dust. Ladybugs and beetle corpses.
Again my mother lied, again she screamed and cried, called me whore again. Talked
about me dying. As she has for years. One death or another. One death
or two. The sills are coated with dust. I flinch when I touch
a claw or leg or pincer. I try to let my body take over, push the blackened rag.
Again my mother talked about me dying. Finally signed over the life
insurance policy she’d bought on me when I was a child. For the money. She said.
To end her own poverty. She said. I wish I could end my own pain as easily as slipping off a dress.
The notary’s stamp. My mother’s voice. Grief like a blanket over my shoulders,
tied down with rocks. I circle the rag around. Life smells spoiled.
Stink of food that has gone bad. The insurance paperwork sits on my desk.
I cup the bodies, shake them into the trash. Grit under my nails,
grief lives in corners. Yes, to feel, yes, to be taken over,
then to let it all go-- that is what I want
-- Sherine Gilmour has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New York University. Her work was nominated for Best New Poets 2020 and a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have been published or are forthcoming from Cleaver, Mom Egg Review, Redivider, Salamander, So To Speak, Third Coast, and other publications.