The Roaring River

Window- Todak, Alexandra

Alexandra Todak

On a bed in the center of a large room, two children pause at the edges of stormy sheets; they are neither sitting nor standing.  One whose skin is the same color as her mother’s lips in wedding photographs. The other, their mother’s lips now, as she tucks last breaths of air into her lungs like she would the whites of eggs into meringue. There are no last words, only these choppy breaths, rising up to a foamy crest, flattening. Rising up, flattening. Flattening. Later, the girls will wash and fold the sheets, release them from their nine month-long creases.

Soon they would be running on the banks of a river; they would jump over the roots and tendons of the earth that sit up to trip them. The branches would twist and flick a finger under their unwashed skirts. In their pockets they would be carrying the names their mother called them, Rose and Snow—the names which they would carry in their pockets with a sweaty hand until the sweat dissolves what is there. It is merely a petal; it is merely icy water. It is nothing. They would run until the river ran out.

At the edge of the bed Rose sits and watches her mother dying. The room is restless. She looks under sheets as if looking for oars to steer them straight; her socks are wet from spilling, furious seawater. Her mother’s eyes are only slits and with them she sees her daughter’s growing belly.  It is only a mound, a pile of meringue on a plate, but in a second it’s a full moon, something in it kicking, which the mother feels at the back of her spine. There is something kicking her out of her skin.

They would run until they met a bear, curling up in its force at the edge of the bank, like their father’s hairy knuckle clenching the stem of a glass. In the light of the full moon, the bear drinking from the river with its fish-sized tongue, Snow would beg her sister to run. “Please,” Snow would hiss, “please let’s leave the bear.” But Rose would withdraw her hand from her pocket to shoo her sister away. She would drop the last soggy petal from her sticky palm as she did.

Snow has laid herself out to her parents, like the lace tablecloth upon which they eat. She has promised to give herself to no one but them. Her father nods his head like a boat dipping over the morning tide. “Yes, this is how it should be,” he said, “until a man comes.”  “Yes,” the mother said, “until a man comes.” They wipe their mouths with white lace clothes. They waited for Rose to speak up but she sits burning, lapping up the blood left behind from the meat on her plate.

Rose would ease herself into the river. The bear, lapping up the water with his fish-sized tongue, would lap up her skin. He would send a slippery fish-sized shiver between her thighs, where it opens up and blooms.

The mother has left her daughters behind in their youth. She does not have the energy to pat down their hair. They were her girls; they were her babies. Soon Rose will give birth on the bed where her mother died. Snow will sit crying in the corner of the room, waiting for a man to come. Outside, in the spilling, icy light of the moon, there is a bear, pawing at the mound where their mother is buried.

“Push,” her mother says. “Push.” With it, her last breath.

1 Comment

  1. Alexandra,
    I love the carefully crafted breaks in this story, and think that the nonlinear action works so well to develop the whole.
    Erin

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