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Mollie McMullan


She asks me if I am happy he is gone. I ask her if she remembers me sitting vigil over angel hair spaghetti like a museum exhibit about the nuclear family. Cramming raw, masticated broccoli down my throat in order to be excused from the table. I think of Sunday mornings and large fingers probing beneath the skin of a grapefruit, of Father’s Day when I scrubbed a kiss from my virgin lips with toilet paper after escaping from the oak table. The place where I became an electric fence, untouchable. Where I used to sit across from the man with hungry eyes, who wouldn’t waste anything, even going so far as to lick crumbs from his collared polo. During dinner, as I listened to him scrape his knife against the floral trim of his plate, I used to wonder how far he was willing to go to devour me completely, too.

As a little girl, I would cry at the head of the table, the closest chair to the door, teardrops maiming the pages of my homework packets. He would coil like a snake, teeth bared, poised to strike. I liked to taste the saline tears from my Cupid’s bow and roll eraser shavings between my fingers. He liked to groan at the wet paper and rip my pencil from my cramping hands. If you just stopped crying, this would be over sooner.

Some days, when my mother would come home from work, he would push his mouth onto hers. And I. Would watch. And freeze in tandem with her. In a dream one night, he appeared as a snapping turtle. I woke up feeling a chunk of skin missing. There, at the kitchen table, I learned how to play dead, hiding my face in the rims of ceramic cups, anything to dodge the iron-jawed man. Even the dumbest of mutts can learn a trick or two. This is a skill I haven’t forgotten.

And now he’s gone, nestled in a little house atop sand dunes, which is more than I think he deserves, sometimes. We eat in separate kitchens at separate tables, sharing nothing but the moon. On particularly quiet nights, I trace the grain of the wood table, picking out crumbs with my fingernail. How many times can this surface be scrubbed before I can sit here without fear of filth? How many showers will I have to take until I rid the stickiness of grapefruit juice from my skin? I swear I can still hear him slurping pulp from a spoon, legs spread wide under the kitchen table. I can see the tangy nectar drip from the corner of his mouth and onto his shirt. I feel him nudge my arm, asking for more sugar.

She asks me if I am happy he is gone. I lick toilet paper from my lips. I think about what “yes” will taste like.

Mollie McMullan is a junior at SUNY Geneseo. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing her dog around in circles and cutting up magazines for collages she’ll never complete.

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Mollie McMullan

Curse of the Ninth

Virginia is born in 1947 in the middle of a blizzard when the storm of snowflakes are so dense that the hospital room is coated in a film of blue shadows. Her mother curses the entire night, red-faced, and sweaty. Even after Virginia appears from between shaking legs, her mother refuses to let her husband into the room. Virginia hears this story later, how her mother was too afraid to tell her husband that the child they prayed for was a girl. Virginia wonders why her mother didn’t just leave her father then.

Virginia’s father is absent for the majority of her childhood. After a series of miscarriages her mother suffers through, he moves into the bedroom at the other end of the house, only appearing at six o’clock for dinner before turning the radio back on and drafting up blueprints for his current project. He never says what he’s working on and she never asks, nor does her mother.

When Virginia is seven, her mother hires a piano teacher and retires to the main bedroom, where she smokes Chesterfields and watches the walls yellow while her daughter learns to elongate her fingers, to make mistakes without crying, to smile without teeth. Virginia knows the ins and outs of every music sheet before she knows her mother’s favorite color. It’s purple, but exists nowhere in the home. For Mother’s Day, she makes a card with pressed and dried purple anemones and presents it to her mother with a proud grin. Her mother places it on the windowsill, allowing the light to leech seemingly impenetrable color from the construction paper, which exposes the numerous passes of the glue paste that had dried to the card.

Virginia has fourteen summers before her father dies from a sudden heart attack. In a rare moment of honesty, her mother says that they’re better off. They spend her fifteenth summer up in Maine, where the two rent a bungalow for the week and lick identical ice cream cones before they can melt down their chins. For a week, Virginia wakes smiling and immediately shucks on her bathing suit before breakfast. She swims in circles in the ocean, waiting for her mother to dip a toe into the foam that gathers on the shoreline. Her mother never swims, though she bathes in sunlight in an area where she can keep an eye on Virginia despite her daughter being old enough to swim on her own.

Her junior year of high school, Virginia falls in love with a tall boy named George. He’s a year older, and by their first anniversary is already in college pursuing an engineering degree. She makes scrapbooks for him, borrows lace and glitter from her best friend, Ruthie, and stains blank pages with kisses using her mother’s Avon lipstick in the shade “Wild Honey.” She finally understands the other girls who squeal over the half-baked boys in the hallways. She wants George’s eyes on her all at times. She wants to search the planes of his hands until she can read them like braille. Virginia graduates from high school as valedictorian and credits George in her speech for being her guiding light. Her mother scowls in the audience, arms crossed over her chest.

Virginia moves into Willimantic State College when the viridescent leaves burn to orange. She decides to study education, figuring she can make a living being a music teacher. One day, while navigating through the hallways in the arts building to avoid her roommate, she hears a melody of clarinets and trumpets, a sound so bright she can see their conjoined resonances gleam. She gains the courage to make herself known to the artists before her nerves tell her to turn and run, and finds a group of five people who all look at her like they’ve been caught red handed. Virginia fumbles through an apology, telling them she heard them and they sounded simply magnificent and she’d love to play the piano with them sometime but if they say no that’s okay too. The leader, a pretty red-haired girl, laughs and says being discovered was inevitable and she’d love for Virginia to join them on a trial basis. Virginia leaves with a smile on her face, and comes back that Friday with a book of sheet music. She plays with that same group every week—with the exception of the week she was sick with the flu—until she graduates.

George proposes to Virginia when she graduates from a college twenty miles from her childhood home–though he promises she’ll never use her degree in education. She finds a lacy cream gown with long, ballooned sleeves and wearing it, understands what it’s like to feel supremely beautiful. In a short veil, Virginia marries George in the courthouse on Main Street in front of a small audience and together they move into their first home in Windham Center, a nice county in which to raise their future children. They buy a beautiful sage green house on a corner lot that welcomes the couple inside and promises to never let them go. Virginia spends a lot of time outside in the garden, stroking the wilted stems of her daffodils. George never mentions the flowers, though the neighbors have a lot of positive things to say. The women coo at the hyacinths and offer advice about the best type of soil to plant hydrangeas in. Virginia likes what they have to say, though sometimes she wishes the women would talk about something other than their married lives.

Virginia gets pregnant within the first year of their marriage when she’s twenty-four. She gives birth to a daughter on the cusp of spring, and when her daughter takes her first real breath, Virginia vows to teach her how to play the piano, or perhaps pay for string lessons. She wants her to be soul-beautiful, not just pretty. Her daughter is destined to be better than her. Virginia sees the entire world in her daughter’s wrinkled palms. She finds a grand piano at a music shop downtown and tells George she’ll never ask for anything else in the world. Just this one thing, just this one time. Monday through Saturday, while George is at work, she sets up her daughter in a bassinet behind her and interrogates the piano keys until she is certain her daughter knows every note, every chord.

Virginia has two more children with George before telling him she’s done having his children. Her marriage starts to crumble after her youngest is born, though it doesn’t collapse completely. The baby wails all night and disturbs the older kids, and George most of all. More often than not, George sleeps at his office, slumped across the coffee-blotched sofa he found on the side of the road. Virginia picks at the stains on her shirt, smoothing over her hair as she shuffles through the darkness of early dawn in the bedroom. When she walks into the bathroom, she finds a towel and covers the mirror. She longs for George to come home, to wrap his arms around her the way he used to at night. Virginia has shriveled underneath the lens through which George looks at her. She gets back into bed and stares into the dark walk-in closet until the sun scorches her dry eyes through the window.

When her children are all old enough to be unsupervised, Virginia plays Beethoven on summer weekends, fingers feverishly probing the piano keys, never fumbling, while her children play in the pond out back. Her husband comes home from work, but she pays him no mind just as he does her, navigating the first movement of “Moonlight Sonata,” bent over the piano in prayer. When night falls and the children are back from their adventures, she wrestles them into their beds, smells the cherry-scented detangler on their scalps, and tells them to dream of birds. As she brushes back her son’s hair, she tells him to imagine a hummingbird nestled in the shell of a giant honeysuckle, its belly full. Imagine the absence of hunger. Imagine being able to fly. Her son giggles, bookended between a dream and consciousness.

“People can’t be hummingbirds, Mama. You know that!” he exclaims. Virginia smiles.

After George leaves her in ‘89, she finds a job working at an art supply store where she is paid five dollars an hour. She unloads the truck with her coworker, Irene, breaking pink nails on boxes and boxes of oil paints and brushes and colored pencils. One day, while sorting the display of art portfolios, she accidentally scratches one. Her manager does not fire her, but takes from her pay until he’s reimbursed. It takes two weeks of shifts to pay off the damage. She can’t find it within herself to apologize to her son about the lack of birthday presents, but bakes a cake using leftover ingredients from the thinning pantry. As she watches her son blow out the birthday candles, waxy smoke in her face, she imagines her home going up in flames. She feels guilty later for the way the image of her charred body brings relief.

Virginia reconnects with Ruthie—who goes by Ruth now. The two share vodka tonics at the dive bar in Storrs, leaning together in a two-man huddle to drown out the college students stumbling through the fifth karaoke rendition of “Friday I’m in Love.” They laugh until they cry, gossiping about their old choir teacher and their children, falling out of their chairs when the alcohol turns coherent thought into giggles. Ruth closes out their tab before they spill into a shared cab and wind up at Ruth’s place. When Virginia wakes up the next morning, she eats breakfast with Ruth in silence. The cornflakes stick on her too-dry tongue, which the tang of orange juice does nothing to solve. Their friendship has been dulled by sobriety. Virginia wonders when it became so hard to have friends, or perhaps when she became so unlikeable.

Most of Virginia’s children have families now. Her daughter has two children who seem to never leave their mother’s orbit, circling her as though she were the sun. Her son adopts a beautiful little boy with his wife, and Virginia can tell from Facebook that they’re happy. Her youngest son comes back home to live with her after a series of what he calls “uninformed” financial decisions. For three years, she watches him leave for work, though he never manages to leave the bedroom in her basement. The selfish part of her is happy. She feels her tether slip from her fingers every day. Virginia figures that if her son’s here, if he always has a room here, then, at least someone needs her in some way. Every night, the two share a bottle of the cheapest vodka, sitting across from each other among the hum of the T.V. static.

Years bleed into one another and Virginia begins to forget the notes of the piano. She spends an afternoon fumbling over flat keys and slamming on the pedals of the piano. She knits until her fingers atrophy into a stiff mess and the scarves unravel. She stops visiting her grandchildren, having nothing to offer except herself. Virginia can’t stand her daughter’s husband anyway, so she decides that it’s for the best. She watches cooking shows and shouts into a sour glass of chardonnay when the chef adds too much spice. It’s the most she talks all day. At night, Virginia stumbles into bed and pulls a pillow to her chest, trying to soothe an ache that doesn’t seem to have a remedy. She listens to the crickets haunt the night outside her bedroom window, how they scream until the birds wake.

Virginia can’t leave her recliner anymore without help, and dispatches her son at 7:30am every day to make a screwdriver and microwavable Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich. She eats half every morning and requests that her son leave the other half outside for the black cat that slinks around behind the trees in the front yard. Virginia won’t eat again until the next morning. The process repeats itself until she falls three times in one day, and the paramedics tell her she has to come to the hospital. When she says no, they refuse to listen.

All of her children come to the hospital at varying times. Her daughter is the second to arrive, though she comes all the way from the West Coast. Virginia can’t look at her from where she lays in the bed, fluorescents surrounding her daughter’s head like a halo. Virginia wants to scream. She wants to get violent, wants to spit on the nurse’s face and demand to be transported back to the safety of her worn recliner. But she does nothing. Virginia closes her eyes, ignoring the ways her children gasp after hearing about her liver, how it’s a miracle she’s lasted this long despite the drinking. Somehow, however, she finds her way home.

When she’s seventy-six, the hospice nurse turns on Mozart. Virginia yells at her daughter to be quiet, silencing her oldest’s farewell. She turns her head, good ear pressed away from the flat pillow. She raises a limp, yellow arm and slowly wiggles her fingers to the tempo. Violins whine and dip in the bedroom air, coming to an impressive and devastating crescendo before ceasing completely.

Mollie McMullan is a junior at SUNY Geneseo. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing her dog around in circles and cutting up magazines for collages she’ll never complete.

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Mollie McMullan


Carol Jean melts into the bed,

a symphony of flesh and bone.

Shadow falters at the sight of her

but advances nevertheless.

In the valley between pillow and sheet, my mother reaches

into the hollow of Carol Jean and remembers

the way she loved her husband.

How she scooped up the moon in soap-cracked palms and

served it for dinner.

How she scrawled her will on watercolor paper and played

Fur Elise on Beethoven’s birthday.

The way she knit hats through the knobs of her fingers

for her grandchildren.

Her memory is interrupted by others,

the edge of a screwdriver down an esophagus.

An ambulance,

morphine’s embrace,

the blink of an eye: a camera.

She suffocates under linen:

respiration betrayal.

In an orthopedic bed, Carol Jean is dressed in her favorite shirt and given back her glasses.

She will have no watch.

Mollie McMullan is a junior at SUNY Geneseo. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing her dog around in circles and cutting up magazines for collages she’ll never complete.

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Mollie McMullan

Boiling Over

On my father’s birthday, my mother

and I buy a lobster for dinner at the grocery store.

During the drive home, we name her Sheila,

coo at the way she wriggles in the plastic.

My mother tells me how awful it is every year,

boiling something while it’s still moving;

(“you don’t realize you’re boiling until it’s too late”).

We free Sheila from her bands,

saw at them with my mother’s car keys,

and toss her into the Sound.

I console my mother when Sheila is released,

telling her he’s gonna have to suck it up,

be the grown man he pretends to be.

We hold hands in the driveway,

giggle through the side door,

silence when my father appears in the kitchen.

He has the stove on, and when he looks at my mother,

I am reminded of the way a lion knows of the

tenderness of a gazelle’s flesh.

Mollie McMullan is a junior at SUNY Geneseo. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing her dog around in circles and cutting up magazines for collages she’ll never complete.

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Mollie McMullan

S.S. Scarlett

There is a blood river between my thighs and

I am drowning

My mother wants me to make a raft of myself but

I’ve always wanted to breathe

underwater; to be underwater

I tell her about Aphrodite,

beauty born from men

Born for men

I ask what would’ve happened if she stayed in the water

      Aphrodite shakes her head; nothing is this easy

There is no option to form gills,

to handle Poseidon’s trident

The water has memory,

and remembers it’s ruled

by men

I am a vessel

I am a ship

I sail bloody waters

I do not navigate them

Mollie McMullan is a sophomore English creative writing major at SUNY Geneseo. In her work, she tends to focus on issues regarding womanhood and control. When she’s home on Long Island, she can be found scavenging the beach for sea glass and trying to train her untrainable dog.

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Mollie McMullan

Poisoned Against the Moon

Your mother mistakenly led

her daughters to the house of a butcher,

and when he flashed his cleaver,

found the door locked

You are now a body of static, forced

to mutilate words on your cutting board tongue

(You’re only beautiful until you open your mouth)

You wear red bras now,

but you’re only borrowing these breasts from your mother

It is now your turn

In the distance,

a washing machine hums

The door is locked

Mollie McMullan is a sophomore English creative writing major at SUNY Geneseo. In her work, she tends to focus on issues regarding womanhood and control. When she’s home on Long Island, she can be found scavenging the beach for sea glass and trying to train her untrainable dog.

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Mollie McMullan

The God-Fearing Bird Feeder

My freshman year of college was the year of the birds. Early October, I discovered that a bird flew into the kitchenette on my floor. It kept on ramming itself into windows and then hopping around on the floor, stunned. I had cornered it against a giant glass pane in the hallway, where I cradled it in my sweatshirt before releasing it out the open window. The most memorable part of this story is not when the bird repeatedly hurled itself into windows, but rather the memes that were created with the picture a girl took of me with the bird and then shared with our floor group chat. My favorite meme read: DINNER TIME, LITTLE ONE. I like this story. This is my preferred ending.

A month later, an identical-looking bird dropped dead in front of me while I was eating lunch in the dining hall. I watched it twitch on the table where an employee was sitting, talking on the phone with a friend. No one noticed but me.

That November, I went home for Thanksgiving break and visited a bird sanctuary, where I was able to feed birds out of my hand. I felt like my reputation as a fucked-up Snow White had been broken, the handcuff that tied me to morbidity snapped. Their little feet perched on the joints of my fingers while they chose the most appetizing sunflower seed from my palm. The pictures my mom took radiate with exhilaration, my mouth wide and shoulders scrunched to my ears in excitement. When I look at them, I can still feel the impossible fullness of my lungs.

The following semester, I texted my best friend about a cardinal that liked to chase me around campus. I recalled a moment a few days prior, where I was talking to a classmate about the cardinal and it suddenly appeared on a blossoming tree next to us. He never spoke to me again, and I like to think that he was scared away by the bird, rather than me. During the conversation with my friend, she texted me, “I had a dream last night that you and I were being followed by a cardinal.” This unnerved me. I hadn’t told her about the terrifying red bird until the day after her dream. She followed up with: “It feels like they are waiting for me.” I spent the rest of the week with my ringer on, waiting for the inevitable call that she was dead.

The voracious cardinal only appears after both my mom’s mom and my dog are dead. I tell my mom about the bird over the phone one day as I’m sitting on the pavement. When I detail waking up that morning feeling as though my dog’s head was resting on my side, she speaks of being haunted by my dog, and about how she and my sister both hear her collar jingling around the house despite knowing that the collar is resting in the same location as her ashes. We’ve exhausted this topic, so we move on to talking about her mom, who I have called Mummu my entire life because it is colloquially Finnish for “grandmother.” She reminds me about how, when Mummu passed, hundreds of birds sat in front of the large basement window and watched. They were gone after her last breath had been expelled. I remember thinking of the time I heard of birds being spirit guides, able to diffuse through the seam of life and death. As I’m talking, a bird swoops down and flies straight toward me, before veering to my left at the last second, as though confirming my suspicions. I’ve felt terrorized by these birds. By the cardinal that stalks me. But maybe they’re visitors from souls I lost entirely too soon. If I had been religious, I would’ve milked that for all it was worth.

One July afternoon, after working with children all day, I received a text from my mom that there was a dead bird right outside her car door, and that she left it so she could pick up my little brother. I figured I would do the dirty work and went to retrieve it. The bird, once beautiful, had been completely flattened against our driveway by the pouring rain. I had to pry it from the cooled tar, and was thankful when it wasn’t stiff from rigor mortis. I remember wondering about what led it to its demise, if it had died in the rain, but understood that its death could not be undone even if I had been able to identify the reason why it lay deflated in the driveway. It was still raining when I cradled it in my hands and placed it in a bassinet of ivy leaves. I went inside, washed my hands, and sobbed for fifteen minutes.

The summer before tenth grade, a neighbor discovered a fallen bird’s nest in the road one morning. All the baby birds had died except one and the mother couldn’t be found. My neighbor is kind of insufferable, so she decided to abandon her misery with me. She brought the bird over in an empty pizza box, oil stains and all, and left him on my kitchen table. The bird was so cold. So cold. And frail. My mom left me alone with this bird, who I named Wilbur, like the pig from Charlotte’s Web, because like him, this bird was so small.

I don’t like this memory. Don’t make me tell you. Please.

I spent four hours alone with this bird, feeding it from a little syringe when its beak would gape open in desperation. I was worried about the bird being cold and took it out onto my deck for some sun. That’s when it stopped moving completely. It lay motionless and limp under the gaze of the alarmed June sun whose rays pointed to me accusingly. At that moment, I was reminded of the guilt my mom says she feels when she sees the scar on my lip, despite not causing it. Mother’s guilt, she calls it. I had to tell my father, who I pledged I would speak to as little as possible. He dug a small hole next to the deck and asked if I wanted to say a few words. What could a German shepherd like me say to the remains of its meal? I said no and left as he piled dirt over the flightless bird.

I think about the time my dog, Lulu, ran around in circles in my backyard with a bird in her mouth. I had to cover my hand with a plastic bag while I pried it from her jaws. Once I had the bird in my hand, I noticed its stiffness. I hoped it was rigor mortis rather than fright.

I run around in the same circle, heels bloody. My dog is gone but death is not. I am still chasing a dead bird.

One summer, my sister and I discovered a dying crow between swords of beachgrass at our uncle’s beach house, where we lived at the time because our house had succumbed to flames. I often think of my sister and I standing over the onyx bird, like priests delivering last rites. The crow sleeps, I’m sure of it, incubated under a cloudless sky.

The crow sleeps. The crow sleeps. The crow sleeps. (The sun shrugs a shoulder, an unreliable witness.)

The crow died en route to the vet clinic, wrapped in my sister’s starry blue scarf. My mother thinks the fright is what killed the crow. I remember staring out the window on the way home; I am the dog. I am the dog. I am the dog.

On a particularly quiet night, I have a dream about a little bird that hops into my hand and stations itself on my shoulder as I go to class. It accompanies me to one of my lectures before I decide it’s time for it to go back to its home, wherever that may be. Along a line of trees, the bird turns to me, perched on the arm of a pine tree. I hear Thanks, Mom! before it soars into the endless blue sky. Even in my dream, I feel disgruntled. I do not seek motherhood out. It finds me in pizza boxes and driveways and on sand dunes. I beg birds to realize that I have canines, that I am a canine and I destroy and tear and devour and torture and hate and ruin. I am no friend. I am no mother. I am the undertaker.

Mollie McMullan is a sophomore English creative writing major at SUNY Geneseo. In her work, she tends to focus on issues regarding womanhood and control. When she’s home on Long Island, she can be found scavenging the beach for sea glass and trying to train her untrainable dog.

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Mollie McMullan

Aphrodite’s Audience

Her plates look like minimalist paintings,

and I am left wondering

what kind of hunger is acceptable

She was born of Aphrodite’s shell but denounces her origins

Little bird,

if you are not beautiful

what does that make me?

At dinner, I think of stitched lips and pennied collarbones

I eat silence for dessert

and soak in the darkness of my dining room

My body is immortalized in my memories of her emaciation

She cries into her yogurt while I butter toast

The disgusting part of me

is envious

Mollie McMullan is a sophomore at SUNY Geneseo. In her work, she explores themes of patriarchal control, the role of womanhood, and the concept of permanence.

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Mollie McMullan

Lockdown Lockdown Lockdown

They speak of the lives of children as if they’re guaranteed

I think of babies born with crosshair birthmarks,

cherubs suckling at the mouth of a gun (formula is so hard to find these days)

being alive is enough of a fight

I speak of kevlar textbooks,

parents who learned to scrub blood from school uniforms,

thoughts and prayers

They think of mothers as expendable,

a mere body,

a husk bisected by birth,

a skin that can be shed

(I think of the morticians, the profit)

Mollie McMullan is a sophomore at SUNY Geneseo. In her work, she explores themes of patriarchal control, the role of womanhood, and the concept of permanence.

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Mollie McMullan

On Bruised Knees

You’re four and sitting on the white bedsheets as a nurse cleans out your mom’s c-section incision that refuses to heal. He’s all smiles as he sterilizes the open wound, making jokes to your mother, whose eyes are shut tight. His assistant appears a little more sensitive, trying to hide the bloodied gauze from your prying gaze. Curiosity triumphs over any sense of self-preservation, so you stick around. The scene is reminiscent of Hemingway’s “Indian Camp,” just a little less bloody and a little more contemporary. Your mom turns her head away from you but can’t manage to stifle the occasional hiss of pain. You’re still perched next to her like a loyal little bird, but can’t seem to leave your post to comfort her. She’s been reduced to an open wound. These sessions are where you learn what sepsis is and just how lethal it can be.

You’re five when you decide you don’t want to be a mother. You own baby dolls who won’t die from SIDS, the mysterious phenomenon that you had heard about on some TLC show, so they’ll have to do. You tell your mother that you’ll never have children, even when you’re thirty, which seems like centuries away. But, again, you’re five and haven’t quite figured out the difference between minutes and hours. With a laugh, she tells you that she felt the same when she was your age. This is the first time you remember feeling fear. It is all too familiar now.

When you’re six, you tell your mom that she’s like Cinderella, your current favorite princess, because she’s “always cleaning on her hands and knees.” Being a mother means cracked palms and sweat, and you’ve pledged yourself to being clean and whole, like Cinderella post-fairy godmother. Every time you look your mother in the eyes, you hear her wistfully recount sitting in the back of her high school boyfriend’s truck and drinking grape soda. Your mom loses pieces of the woman she used to be each time she bends down to pick up a rogue Cheerio that strayed from your little brother’s highchair. Where is her fairy godmother? Where is her grape soda?

You first start going to church at eight as per your father’s requests. You supposed he wanted to put your baptism to good use. Every Sunday, you would panic upon waking up, dreading the large cold room and the monotonous hymns. You try to bury these mornings, but memory prevails. The most memorable service was about Mother’s Day. Towards the end of the service, the pastor asks all the mothers in the room to stand up to be appreciated and applauded. Your father misunderstands the request. He thinks the pastor wants all future mothers to stand. He tries to pull you and your sister up into standing positions despite the ache in your knees from coming up from a kneel too fast. With his hands around your wrists, he grits into your ear, “If you don’t stand up right now, you won’t have technology for a week.” This threat scares you. You’re eight and addicted to Minecraft. How else are you supposed to spend your time without the game? You and your sister stand for the longest three seconds of your lives before slamming down into the pew, heads down, cheeks ablaze. Shame has coiled itself in between each individual rib, snaking up into the cavity your heart lies in. You do not repeat this story for another five years before it hurts less. Your mother doesn’t even remember it. For eleven years, you do not know exactly why you were so ashamed. But now you do. You were being groomed to be a mother. And that was terrifying. You saw the ferocity of your father’s desire to be a future grandfather, as though your worth was aligned with your status as a prospective bearer of menstrual cramps and children. You do not want to be Mary, who was forced to carry a child because of the will of the Holy Spirit. You think you deserve more autonomy.

Your father and his absurdity is stained on you like red wine. You know how tough that shit is to get out from your seventh grade stint with Mrs. Ristau, your unforgettable home economics teacher. Every other day, in between sewing tutorials and laundry dos and don’ts, you listen to her tales of being a tireless wife and mother. You wonder how she’s still standing. She laughs when recalling how she got rug burn from scrubbing the carpet on her hands and knees while her husband shouted at the TV, watching a particularly rough tackle. You and your female classmates are baffled. There is nothing funny about existing just for your usefulness. Hearing this story makes you, for the first time in your life, want to fail a class. If you learn nothing, you will not have to take care of men. Your napkin folds get sloppier, and suddenly you forget how to fold ingredients into your batter mixtures. The guys in your class elbow each other and grin. You’re certain they have the same smiles as their fathers. Every night, you see your mother tend to your father’s every need. She doesn’t even eat dinner with you anymore, not even her favorite meals. The man she married is too demanding. This is motherhood. This is wifehood. You don’t want either.

In tenth grade, when your best friend walks into a church next to her mother’s coffin, you don’t let your tears escape from the confines of your waterline. No tears of yours can resurrect the mother she lost. There is no use trying to water a flower that has already started to smell of the sickly sweetness of rot. The bagpipes outside the church walls wail into the gray sky. They sound as shrill as a hungry newborn. Three hours later, after her mother has been buried, you sit next to your friend in a local diner across from her father, who is now a gutless willow tree, which is how you’d describe her mom, too. His suit is too big, cheeks too gaunt. He is hollow. You almost write “fuck” in cursive on a napkin, because man this fucking sucks. Your best friend stops you. Since then, her house has felt empty. There is a stillness that her mother used to occupy. She was the glue that kept the seam of your best friend’s life together, and now she is gone. This understanding allows you to reinforce your anti-motherhood sentiment. You will not permit yourself to be depended on so heavily that your loss disturbs the very foundation that your children had been growing up on.

The next thing you know, it is the summer of 2020 and you are cleaning out your hoarder father’s garage. Quarantine had left you stir-crazy and anxious to remove all traces of him from your life. You come across a mysterious jug labeled “poisen.” The man can’t spell. You think it’s funny. It is then that your mom laughs. With a smile, she speaks of how antifreeze cannot be detected when testing for drugs, something she picked up from one of her Forensic Files binges. Her eyes harden into obsidian despite the glare of the sun. Here’s the important part: when she gives you her bank account information in case your father kills her with the sweetness of antifreeze, do not freak out. You are allowed five seconds to silently panic before she starts to furrow her eyebrows and worry that she should not have told her seventeen year old, who can’t go to the dentist without taking Xanax, that she feels her end is near. You have spent your entire life trying to calm the waters your mother has to sail on. You cannot do anything this time. You are not Poseidon. You are Medusa. It is better to look away.

You grow up thinking that motherhood means being torn in half from your center, going hungry, being on your hands and knees like you’re praying. Being a mother often means engaging in the affairs of dangerous men. Men who don’t nibble. Men who sharpen their teeth with pocket knives and devour. Motherhood is perilous and sacrificial, and you cannot afford to lose more pieces of yourself. You are aware that there are mothers who happily choose the lives they live, who smile when stirring in ingredients for a meal meant for five people. But that is not you. You were not meant to be soft and pliant. You were born with thorns.

Logically, you also know that not all mothers are wounded creatures or broken women. But you were a pink, fleshy child who grew up being nestled against the breastbone of a skeleton. Your mother was a woman slaughtered by motherhood and its expectations, who unconsciously led her daughters into the house of a butcher. You were a pitiful “for just seventy-nine cents a day…” child who grew up to be incapable of caring for your beloved fuzzy cactus, Frank. You were a shelter dog to your friend’s mothers who wanted to nurture you, to feed the starving dog that you were. You don’t know anything else. You are a victim of motherhood, a redness that metastasizes. You want no part in it.

Mollie McMullan is a student at SUNY Geneseo. When she’s not playing with her dog somewhere in Long Island, she’s lip-synching to the longest songs possible and illustrating birthday cards.

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