By Erica Spriggs

All rights reserved.

Mother is outside hanging laundry on the line. She wrings the neck of Father’s
goose-white shirt, then shakes the remaining drops from the linen. Her eyes are
focused on the clothes already clipped, flapping in the breeze. She is a collection
of repetitive movements, a busyness that makes me not see her as others do. She
is that laundry, that exact spot beside the line, the path she will take back to the

When I was little, Mother used to braid my hair, pin the tails into a pattern
behind my ears and kiss the part that ran the length of my head, where it hurt
from the tightness of the braids. I’d feel her kiss there all day, wondering how
she could make me feel like her eye was back there, humming, sticky when
I touched it—the center soft, poached. I tried it myself, puckered against cut
oranges, the core of apricots, the back of her wrists, but it wasn’t the same. I
could not be an eye like she was an eye. I could not use my lips to mark things,
be in things, to follow.

When I broke my ankle at age five, she found me in a field and ran her fingers
along the tenderness of my ankle, which was becoming plump. Mother carried
me home, with my leg braced in her hand, the pressure a comfort.
When we got home, Mother wrapped and elevated my ankle. We sat in the
kitchen, listening to the snow and the wind rushing over the house, picking at
the thatch.

Mother would clean everything with bleach—the counters before and after
every meal, the wash basins, the bed posts and sheets. She shined the silver
candlesticks on the table—soaked her hands in dishwater, made everything
smell and taste like bleach. I expected her to start cleaning the mess we made
coming into the house, but she stayed seated with my foot on her lap, seeing,
I imagined, my eyes palatial, roomy, the cogs in there matching her likeness,
a version of her that was pristine, glassy, secure on a track that ran from the
kitchen to the garden, to the greenhouse, to the well.

Now that I’m grown, I know she was looking for different reasons—to remember
me in pain, study the relief she brought with her touch, thinking: what a power.
To give or to keep? She was considering whether or not it was dangerous to give
me comfort, if that would make me into something she didn’t want: a soft girl,
whose tears crawled out to be wiped, which is why, I think, it was the last time
I was mothered. Better I should be a pliant girl, she likely thought, open in the
right places, for the right reasons.