“You’re the last person in the world anyone would talk to about a problem. You know that. I know that.” Susie pushed her upper body away from the floor by leaning on her elbows. She picked various pieces of dirt and lint off the floor.

“I know.” Susie’s mother harrumphed and slumped down, preparing herself for the inevitable depression that would result from an adult chat with her daughter. Susie’s mother strongly resented the way Susie tried to coach her in parenting. Susie didn’t even have any children!

Susie steeled herself. She continued collecting dirt and lint in the palm of one hand. Her body stiffened unconsciously. Susie tried to retain her composure by relaxing one muscle at a time, starting with her neck. She suppressed the rising anger and panic boiling away in her stomach and took a deep breath.

“Look,” her mother’s tone turned nasty, “you don’t have to tell me what to do. I’ve raised four of you girls and you were all obnoxious brats.”

Susie sighed as her mother continued. She’d heard this so many times before that she easily tuned her mother out, looking in the other direction. Her eyes squinted slightly as she stared at the white wall. Her hand closed over the lint she had collected and she forced a piece of it under her fingernail, wincing as she felt it dig sharply into her skin. She carefully pulled a piece of gray carpet with hardened glue at the end out from under her fingernail. Susie examined it slowly before she tuned back into the conversation.

“…your father never does anything around here. I am always the one to take the blame.” Her mother took in a deep breath, her face contorting to its ugliest expression yet. She pressed her lips together so they were flat and thin. From the side, Susie’s mother looked like she might explode. That deep breath was still bottled inside her. Susie could see her mother’s movements in slow motion: a layer of her hair rose up from the top of her head and fell back down in a soft wave that matched the jerk of her mother’s head. The excess skin on her mother’s face shifted backward giving Susie a shocking glimpse of what her mother had looked like before she had stopped caring about her body, supposedly due to the sexual advances of Susie’s father. Every muscle in her mother’s body tightened in preparation for the most important statement she would make during this tirade.

“Your father,” her mother said the word father with such vehemence that Susie shrank away, desperately trying to tear her eyes away from the mocking face of her mother, “never does anything around here. His highness just sits on his ass after he gets home and says ‘Woman, get me some food’ and then I am left with all the chores. I wash the dishes, I clean the bathrooms, I vacuum even though I have allergies and that jerk doesn’t. I do everything! And do I get any thanks for it? No! And I never ask for thanks either. What I do get is stuck with you kids. You kids are always telling me how to do everything like I’m not capable of doing it without your help. You’re away at college so you don’t see the stuff I do around here, how I’m made to slave away.” Her mother’s breath was still not completely expelled and her face was turning red and was taut with anger so that her excess skin hung like bread dough from her muscles and shook as she punctuated many of her words with widened or narrowed eyes and a sudden shift of her body — which strongly resembled the way in which a rebellious teenager would react to being corrected. “Meanwhile, I am forced to look after your spoiled brat of a little sister who thinks she is queen of my house. She is always using my computer and going out with her friends. Susie, she treats me so badly.” With this, Susie’s mother would hang her head and drop her shoulders as though she were to start crying. Susie would count to three-Mississippi and then her mother would raise her head, her eyes once again flushed with anger, and make her crowning statement: “I just don’t know what to do. She is such a bitch!” She would spit the last word out along with any strength she had left in her, then she would work her chin and bottom lip and start crying about how she didn’t know what to do and how no one appreciated her.

Susie sat there staring at the bent profile of her mother and thinking of all the cruel things she’d like to say. Not knowing how to handle the situation without ending up as an apologist or taking all the blame, she stared at her mother for a few moments more and then left the room, trailing her disgust. As she stepped outside of the doorway, guilt got the best of her so she stepped back inside the tiny room now filled with her mother’s hate and other emotions, kissed the top of her mother’s head, laid one hand on her shoulder and said, “You know I love you, Mom. Things’ll get better.” Then she went to get her mother a cup of water and some tissues.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

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