At the potluck, they strut: plumed birds circling. Wives like her but manicured. Teeth bared in smiles. They make conversation as if friendly, as if their minds aren’t made up. She gulps Chablis, remembers the hospital, her second childhood home, where doctors frowned at her x-rays, disappointed by the results.
Embarrased, they praise her strength. Someone broke and hollowed her. She survived, but not intact. Her ruined core leaks like blood. “Stoic New Englander,” they say. They need her better, and brave. Her tears terrify. So she stands tall as they expect, knowing her disintegration continues, is inevitable, is necessary.
I’m like you, lined up at the school bus stop as if I’ve always been someone’s mother, a vessel tipped. Like you, I hide in suburban costumes. I see you pretending with our neighbors. I hear your exhale when you finally go inside and your door clicks closed. Do you see me? You and I, we’re fading into middle-age. We act appropriately. We’re mindful of our language, increasingly afraid. Our skin, worn thin. We do our best but we’re heavy with artifice. We bear it on our hips. Help, let’s unload secrets. This is not really me. Do you see?
Layers to Experience
Her first job was in her father’s butcher shop, at the cash register. “Let men handle the bloody stuff,” said her dad, who did his best with kids his wife left behind. No one explained his daughter knew blood, a woman already. She rang up neatly wrapped parcels, as if shielded from truth. He meant to be kind, to protect her from worse. But how could he let her brothers work the slicer, never her? Now she’s a formidable businesswoman. She keeps compassion at bay, with memories of her father. They are useless to her. Most of the time, invisible.
Even young, they knew: Time’s swift landslide erodes the familiar. Freshman year, they declared themselves sisters. For each other, they smiled in bridesmaids’ gowns. They brought flowers to maternity wards, ignoring bloodstained sheets. When the slide became grave, their losses exposed, they braided white-knuckled fingers. Together they resisted the inevitable.
layers to experience
Infused moments swell. Sensation layers to experience, identity. Thin moments shed. Unmissed, or barely. You are what remains.
Morning at Market: Newark, New Jersey, USA
The old Portuguese woman hands me money for the egg custard tarts I’ve boxed. As usual she wears the cap she knitted for her sister’s birthday four years ago. They stopped speaking before she gave it to her. They fought because, well, who knows. “Something big,” she assured me. “Imperdoável. Unforgivable.” Unlike most here in the Ironbound, I’m not Portuguese. But she’s tolerant. To her I’m the foreigner. I like that, my perception flipped. She trusts me with secrets, knowing I don’t speak the language. Her eyes bulge with congenital sorrow, ancestors’ tears mixed with her own. She regards me kindly as she asks, “Have I told you, how you resemble her?” She means her sister. Of course she’s told me. I look like her sister when they were young, sharing a flat in Lisbon, laughter and words flowing between them like warm, endless, sweet custard, when nothing was unforgivable
About the author:
Susan Rukeyser lives in the South but hails from New England and dreams of life in the Mojave. She writes to escape, to belong, and because she can’t stop. Believe it, she’s tried. Her work appears in Monkeybicycle, Necessary Fiction, Black Heart Magazine, WhiskeyPaper, and SPACES, among others. She has one novel out for consideration and another in a drawer. Find her here.