My feet swung idly beneath the kitchen table as he made my favorite sandwich. His fingers separating the slices of seven grain bread she loved but never eats. He unscrewed the lid and pried off the inner cap of a giant jar of her homemade peanut butter, which she also never eats. The air filled with that unmistakable aroma, which made me sit up and sniff the air. My lecture about how peanuts aren’t really nuts made him chuckle before aiming his gentle, comforting gaze at me.
“Do you know what they are then, miss-know-it-all?”
He always pointed out that I didn’t know it all. But for a six year old, I knew an awful lot. I just couldn’t always remember everything I knew. He told me they are called ‘lay-gooms’ as he drizzled honey from Mr. Montgomery’s farm over both pieces of the bread. Then chuckled again when I asked if they were beans, then.
He continued the preparation, making one for me and one for her, which she wouldn’t eat and I’d have to go bury in the compost later. It didn’t matter how often she refused to eat, he always made a sandwich for her, too. Every few days, she’d surprise us by eating a lot. He said her body knew when it needed something, even if her mind didn’t.
She scrubbed at a spot on the counter that had been there forever. She was up, which was better than not. And she was calm, which was a lot better than not.
She never talked when I was around, but I knew she could, because I’d heard her through the register vent in my room. I slept on top of it some nights, when it was really cold. Or when I was full of wishes.
I heard her the night before. Crying. I heard Papa too. Begging her to let him hold her.
I once asked her why she didn’t act like a real mama, but she hit me. And he told me I was never to speak to her again unless she asked me a question. I didn’t tell him that I’d tried to hold her hand. That was the real reason she smacked me.
Watching her try to get rid of that silly orange spot on the Formica, I started to giggle because her skirt was tucked into her panties. Papa slid my plate in front of me with a glass of milk and three apple slices in the little red apple bowl he said Mama had made for me before I was born. Back when she was normal.
He pressed his finger to my lips and shook his head.
“It’s not nice to laugh at others, little pickle.”
I frowned, looking up into his giant brown eyes. He was gentle to a fault, only raising his voice as a last resort. He was only a bear when he needed to be.
My lips smirked without my intention, but I looked away, realizing he’d have to fix her. Which meant touching her.
I braced myself to hear the worst.
But it didn’t come. He whispered, but all I could here was pickle. As I looked back, his expression made my nose wrinkle. My little heart beat against my lungs.
He sat the plastic plate and cup beside her, same as me, with three apple slices in the little Winnie the Pooh bowl that used to be mine. I remember him feeding me corn out of it once, and her throwing her china plate at the ceiling above our heads, raining tiny, white shards all over me. And into my little bowl.
His face suddenly had a big red line from his forehead, down his cheek where a big piece had fallen and sliced right into his skin. I’d never seen blood before.
You can still see part of the scar, if you look really close.
It was an awful memory, I shook my head to dislodge it and focused on the shiny, red porcelain bowl that held my apples. On the bottom, there was a hand-painted message to me. Her Destiny. She’d had my name picked out for years, crocheted a blanket with flowers on it the week she’d found out she was pregnant.
She’d known. For years, she’d said she’d known.
I looked back up at Papa who sat down across from me and bit into his own sandwich. Biting into mine, I giggled when papa smiled at me with peanut butter in his teeth.
Mama glanced over, abandoned the stain, and carried her plate and cup to the end of the table. Dr Henry calls it ‘ingrained behavior’. I like Dr Henry because he teaches me big words and always sneaks me MaryJane’s from his suit pocket.
“It’s nice to all sit down and eat as a family.”
His eyes didn’t match his tone as he stared at Mama. I imagine he spent most of his life willing her to come back. Pleading with God to let her suddenly wake up normal. Negotiating his soul. If only something, anything could give him back the woman he loved.
They’d bought this giant farmhouse with plans for a brood of ten. From all recollections, she’d been the most amazing woman on earth. And no one had to tell me, I figured out on my own that I was the reason she was now simply a shell of her former self.
I had killed her without taking her life.
Dr Henry came that afternoon. We talked for half an hour about what Mama had been doing during the last week. No outbursts, no hitting, no breaking things. Then he squeezed a candy into my palm, and told me to go look up the word ‘gravity’ in the big purple dictionary.
It was the same, every week. He would come, bribe me from the room with sweets and a task, then he and Papa would tie Mama down so he could examine her and give her medicine.
Papa closed the door behind me.
I tried to occupy myself. Summer was easier because I could run around outside. But it was cold and raining, and I left my doll upstairs in my room. I pulled the huge book from the shelf and opened it on the floor, thumbing through the G’s and underlining the word with my Strawberry Shortcake pencil.
Gravity: a very serious quality or condition : the condition of being grave or serious
I didn’t get to read the rest.
Her screaming and cursing was muffled, but startled me just the same. There was a thud, and grunting. She screamed again and I heard a soft crack, like a thin tree branch breaking under the weight of a man. Papa bellowed words I’ve never heard him use before, choking and coughing.
I wasn’t supposed to know how to unlock that door, but I did.
I shouldn’t have been able to reach the knife drawer in the kitchen, but I could.
I couldn’t possibly have been strong enough to defend him, everyone said so for months to follow.
Papa didn’t wake up for hours. I laid there beside him, staring into her eyes, something I’d never been able to do before. My arm and collarbone were broken, but the pain started to feel just hot after a while. I thought maybe it had gone away, but he squeezed me hard enough to bring it back when he woke.
Dr Henry and Mama never did.
Six years, three months and twenty three days after I killed her, I finally finished the job.
That’s the really shitty thing about Destiny.