I was always furious on my mother's behalf. This made it easy for her to take the high road. She was forgiving, gentle. I was difficult, the difficult one, knotting my hair up in ugly little balls on top of my head. Glaring at men and their brutality. He didn't mean it, she always said that. She said all the things the Donahue show said she would say. He didn't mean it. Look what you made him do.
She wore her hair in layered petals, a little cap of petals curling at the nape of her neck.
It was an unspoken understanding between us. I asked for it. She didn't.
Afterwards, he would cry, and he would bring her something. He would hold me, too, against his wet neck. Sometimes, they left me alone to calm down. He would take her places, and when they came home, I'd be waiting in my room, waiting for her to come and say goodnight.
The years went by and his gifts - a flower, a lipstick from the drugstore, a Hallmark card, a fortune cookie, a ripe peach from the farmer's stand - still made her clasp her neck, twist the fake pearls around her fingertips, bite her bottom lip.
I was ugly, hateful, unforgiving. I stayed in my room reading the Farmer's Almanac, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, or the bible. We didn't have any other books. I stabbed my tightly wound hair through with pencils or chopsticks. I bit the back of my hand, and felt my teeth, so sharp, like needles. In the other room it went on, a beautiful performance, the man bending down, reaching for her hand, touching her wilted hair with such delicacy. Her eyes were startled, innocent. It was a scene the actors were tired of but wanted to get right, if they could only get it right, if they could just get it right.
About the author:
Claudia Smith's stories have appeared in several online and print journals. Her story "Monopoly" recently made StorySouth's Million Writer's Award top online stories of 2004 list. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Nathen Hinson and her son William Henry. You can find more of her stories at claudiaweb.
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