one phone call, unexpected. two faces, mama and dada. three questions, and i am thinking–
where is the line between keeping myself whole and stringing out pieces to tie me to my parents? how much do these bindings hold us, how much will i pay for them, what is the cost?
it all happens so quickly that when i look back, i remember only the little pebbles that got caught in my tight throat, triggering an earthquake in my voice. a slight tremor and it’s all
do you know who you are yet?
my father says he cannot look me in the eye, he says why are you getting defensive, he says why didn’t you tell us sooner, this goes both ways you know
i know i say, but it’s so scary for me i say, what if you decide that these are the words that pull too hard at the ties connecting us and you don’t love me anymore and it all snaps i say, and what if i have thrown myself off this cliff and i slip through your fingers on impact and i am sprawled on the ground and you watch from your moral high ground?
no he says, be honest he says, and lies slip out of my traitorous mouth but maybe my teeth rotting with these hidden truths are for the better because even the lies i say are too much for him, and he is saying so many words and they are all upset and disbelieved and his pretty little innocent daughter is no longer pretty or little or innocent. is she still his daughter?
i knew then and i know now. nothing has changed.
my mother does not say anything at all. but the poison that she holds herself back from saying twists her mouth tight and i am scared and i am crying and i am reaching in the dark for my mother’s hand and not even the ghost of her memory is there to hold it tight. she says i don’t get it, she says is it a phase, she says why are you doing this
she does not say i love you.
she says last time i thought about it and i am trying to accept it, you know. no i don’t know you never say anything i say and she says
what? did you want me to say i’m so happy for you?
but i want to scream yes yes yes i want you to say exactly those words and i wait for you to read from the script that i have placed in your hand and you don’t even see and it and it falls to the floor and you say nothing at all.
and somehow that is almost worse because you are silent, just like the first time. i wish you hugged me and wiped my tears and said you loved me all those years ago and maybe then the edges of these fragments of memory wouldn’t be quite so vicious but i give you my bleeding palms and say ma, it hurts and it am scared and please can you fix it and you say nothing at all.
and i keep hurting. and you hurt. and we are saying things and we aren’t at all and i cry and you cry and now we’ve just gone and hurt each other and in around a year we will once again pretend we’re doing better but we’re not. are we?
This short story by Samhita Shanker is posted in submission for the ESA’s 2022 Short Story Competition.