Published in Daily Frights 2012
Pill Hill Press, November 2012
Mother broke her hip during the summer of 1979.
Jim, Beth, Sara, Michael and I gathered at the hospital and drew straws to determine who would care for the old woman upon her release. Michael lost.
The next day, he twisted his Chevy Big 10 around a sturdy oak just off of Route 9. I’d like to say it was a horrific coincidence, one that had nothing to do with Michael’s bad luck at the hospital, but you don’t know Mother.
Beth volunteered to take her, to our surprise; Beth had always gotten the worst of Mother’s wrath. Sometimes, I can still hear my sister screaming the way she had the day Tom Steelyrols (I had nicknamed this fellow “steelyballs”) visited our home to ask her to the senior prom. He’s lucky he left with those very balls intact.
Beth was not so fortunate.
Mother gathered us in the basement, tied Beth to a folding chair, and pulled eight of her teeth with a dirty pair of pliers: four on the top, four on the bottom.
“That’ll make it easier to suck his dick,” Mother said once each bloody tooth had been dislodged from its socket. “Because that’s what you intended, isn’t it?”
Steelyballs revoked his offer after seeing Beth’s gaping, skeletal mouth in school the following day. His was the first of many rejections; my sister was toothless for twelve years.
I suppose we could have abandoned Mother, but she was pushing eighty now, a feeble shell of her former, barbaric self, and obligation—and perhaps fear—compelled us. Beth handled the situation with immeasurable grace, and mere weeks after Mother’s release, invited Jim, Sara, and I to our childhood home for dinner.
The house was just as I remembered it; pink floral wallpaper and stiff furniture. Framed images of carnival caricatures adorned the walls and a heinous collection of porcelain clown figurines decorated the mantle. I lost a pinky finger for breaking one of those figurines when I was eleven years old; Mother lopped it off with a butcher knife and cauterized the severed limb with a cooking torch. She kept the finger in the freezer; I’d bet my life it’s still there, although I have no desire to check.
We sat down to eat around six o’ clock; Beth had prepared a meaty stew, which she spooned merrily into our bowls. I’d never seen my sister in such a pleasant mood, and I imagined once Mother made an appearance, Beth’s disposition would darken. I seized the moment to compliment her handle on the situation.
“Thank you,” Beth said. “It’s been difficult, but Mother and I finally made amends.”
I smiled and swallowed a hearty helping of stew. It was rather foul and undercooked, but I hadn’t the heart to show my distaste. Glancing around the table, I saw that Jim and Sara were also holding their tongues.
“It’s delicious Beth,” I said and forced a second bite. “What’s in it?”
“Mother,” she said.