Mommy is up against the cool pink sink, robe open, bare breasts hanging, brown eyes fierce. I edge away from the powder room and toward the dining room table where my schoolbooks are stacked, a leaning tower balanced on vinyl plaid with scribbled formulas, timelines, verb conjugations and love notes protruding like broken wings. Growls from the basement furnace rumble up the stairs.
“Don’t back away from me,” Mommy snaps. She juts out her chin and raises her eyes to meet mine. She’s indignant that I’m taller than her 4’11” frame by a good four inches, and growing—a reminder that she did not give birth to me.
I reverse directions and step to the powder room threshold. Less than two feet from her now, I glance at the toothpaste splattered on the medicine cabinet mirror, the wallpaper’s pink roses climbing verdigris stems, the pink and beige tiles, her pink-painted toenails, chipped at the edges. If only I hadn’t dawdled at the closet door, moving my handful of skirts and blouses back and forth across the rod, hoping to see a new way of putting them together.
Kathy, my willowy sister, and Mary Ruth, the svelte one, are probably halfway to school by now. Both 5’8”, they easily march in step while they argue about which of them is smarter, a contest that began before I could talk, a contest I will never enter. What would they say if they were here?
“So, you can’t stand to look at me, can you,” Mommy snarls. “It’s written all over your stupid face. You can’t hide anything from me. And you can’t hide from this either. Look!” She pulls down her baggy underpants and rips off a thick gauze bandage to expose a wound so raw it appears to have a pulse all its own, like Edgar Allen Poe’s telltale heart.
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