H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
The woman had come from a plum pit pried open by her mother’s two front teeth. A soft thing from a hard place. This is how daughters come to be, her mother told her. This is how mothers come to be, too.
Like all the women on her mother’s side of the family, she was a fast knower of her body’s truths. When it needed iron, her teeth sharpened to points and she became steak-mad, medium-rare, please, nice and bloody. If she exhausted herself at work, wore her body down to a wisp of grass, she would let it fall where it needed, on the couch or against the mailbox or in the soft grassy patch by her apartment’s dumpster.
In this way, the way she gave her body what she needed, she was not like her mother and her aunts and her cousins, and they let her know it, too, as they stood with spooned teeth eating a large bowl of kale or fanning themselves so they should not faint. No, she listened to her body, attended to its desires, followed its will into ice cream parlors and dance clubs downtown, followed it after a few drinks into claustrophobic coat checks at the touch of strange hands in the dark. Followed it into taxicabs and then into the apartments of strangers, the realms of other bodies and their wills and their desires. The woman didn’t understand her family, or maybe she understood them too well, but in any case, she tried not to think of them much. Mostly, she was alone, able to satisfy herself, not too trusting of other bodies, not too willing to trust hers with others.
One night in bed, she allowed her hand to slip beneath the covers, and like an apostle she followed her body into fantasy. She rolled her eyes back and the pink rim of her eyelid became a sunset cliff, and she was there, legs dangling into pink sky, wind rushing up her legs and behind her back, arching her farther into blank pink. No one was there if she were to fall, but she didn’t miss anyone either. She followed her body into a little comfort as it gave itself what she needed. And then little comfort as she saw visions, looked upward, the pink sky above her a mirror—her mouth opened in want, her eyes meeting eyes that were not her own, no endless sky above. No, they were her mother’s eyes. Her reflection now replaced with her mother’s, her hands under the covers, too. She watched those eyes, dark and round and full, as the wind coursed through her body, and there was nothing she could do but close her eyes and let herself finish. When she opened her eyes, the ceiling was just a ceiling again and her mouth was dry. Sucking in stale air, she pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth and found a lump there that hadn’t been there before. She tongued it, circled it, triangulated its dimensions before pressing on it again, this time hard, until her mouth ached from all sides.
And then it ruptured, splash, and the sore emptied, filling her mouth sweet juice, red and sweet and stinging. Half-choked, she swallowed the juice, plum juice, a rare-steak red dew on her lips, and only half-thinking, she wiped her mouth and knew another one of her body’s truths.
With a wrinkled dollar, she bought one plum at the grocery store down the street from her apartment and told the cashier to keep the change as she rushed home. The woman had a need, though she had not been waiting for plumwant. Plumwant came to the women in their family when they were with child. No, she had been careful, she thought. She hoped it would pass her, pass her with no generation to skip even, no daughter to pass it to. Instead, she preferred peaches and apricots and apples on occasion (as long as they weren’t Red Delicious).
But it did come, a sudden, feverish need for plum. A need like a beesting, a hard stone in her stomach. It ached, and so she learned a new way to hunger. Please not a daughter. She sat cross-legged on the floor in her kitchen and held one plum in her two hands. Raised it to her mouth and lowered her mouth to it and somewhere in the space between she took a bite.
The woman had come from a plum pit pried open by her mother’s two front teeth. A hard thing from a soft place. And then there was work to be done. All the years her mother spent rebuilding the plum around her, its soft meat. She carefully fleshed her out into a soft thing to hold in two hands. Pink and soft. Just might burst if held too tight.
For years the woman resisted the plumming, the ribbons and bows, the hush girls, the walk-with-keys-between-your-fingers. Certain things slipped through. She carried lip gloss with her in her purse. She never walked alone when she could help it, and when she couldn’t, she readied herself with keys and sprays and prayers.
This is how a woman comes to be, her mother told her.
Before, when she would imagine herself with child, she didn’t imagine her belly a full moon, her ankles thick and red. No, the child would have already arrived beyond infancy, surely not a toddling thing. She saw herself walking in the grass with a small person, hip-high and tugging at her wrist, always looking up at her, tug tug tug, with wet eyes like her own, tug tug tug. Where was it pulling her and her body?
She didn’t imagine it with a voice, only a wet grip and a syncopated tugging, and this was proof for her that she was not suited for the job. What kind of person imagines another person voiceless? In any case, she wouldn’t have much to say either, to the child, that is, as it walked her through fields of grass, pointing to ducks and geese, tug tug tug, looking to her to respond. What?
She thought it, too, though she noted that the child in her imagination looked more like a small boy, or like a small girl without pink buckled shoes and bows and braided hair. Just a child in the same way a boy is just a child. A neutral child full of want, tug tug tug.
She saw herself in its face.
With plum-meat slivered in her teeth, smooth pulp dangling down her lips, she cleaned the plum pit, delicately removing the stubborn flesh still on its back with her two front teeth. Rip, tear, rip. Until it was a shiny grooved heart wet in her two hands. Not much larger than a quarter.
She felt, then, her top four teeth tremble in her mouth for a moment. She raised one hand to them and pricked her finger on one of her re-sharpened incisors. For a moment, she thought she smelled steak but then listened. Her stomach said nothing of hunger. Her blood was quiet, too. But the plum pulsed in her palm, a trick beat? She closed it up in her hands, closed her eyes, too, listening.
It drummed again, and so she followed the sound, incisor first, cracking the shell, exposing a soft light reflecting against her teeth.
The light cracking the plum tasted of dandelions and hairspray. She removed the plum from her lips and examined the exit wound. Just a pinprick of light, warm to the touch. She could pry it open if she gave it another go, but what if she left it closed? What would that light do inside the plum? Would it leak out and go dark or would it just be? She wondered how she could shape that light into a little girl, a daughter pointing to fish under the water, plucking petals, running. Would she be able to rebuild the plum, finish her off with a velvet skin, soft to the touch?
Her own skin goosepimpled at the thought, and so she took the pit in her mouth again, sucked it for whatever juices were left, and swallowed it whole.
Maggie Fern is a writer living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with her husband and three cats. She has worked as associate poetry editor and co-managing editor of Waccamaw, and her poetry has appeared and is forthcoming in Archarios and Glass: A Journal of Poetry.
(The 2017 Alice Sullivan Prize for Fiction)
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