Originally published in Mom Egg Review Vol. 13
History of a Girl
A blue cloud aureoles her hair, making her a madonna or hinting at the moment a smidge past perfection when petals begin their downward drift.
Without the children, she is left with too much fruit. Three platters on the drainboard, their chips and cracks mitigated by heaps of peaches, nectarines, plums. The sweet stones she dreamed of all winter, like Demeter, like her own mother, mourning loss of fragrance, sipping boiling water for comfort, reaching back toward a hotter life.
In the movie the children die. She should have chosen a different show, some summer trifle where the men are sex fools and the women are goddesses, sassy but forgiving. All the mistakes she’s made, all the dangerous omissions. That afternoon when she and her friend sat griping pleasurably on the park bench: how did it happen that they commanded sunscreen, water bottles, yet still fell short, failed to precaution the two boys, the girl, against every danger? Failed to extend the protective mantle of maternal instruction against stray dogs, strange men, slippery banks, polluted water, so on. Failed to say, quite explicitly, that it was forbidden to hike up to the waterfall. But then, they were old mothers, decades fanning out behind them as they imagined their children into life. They had gotten away with murder, redefined the status quo. At what point would exceptions no longer be made? At what point would there no longer be time?
For sex he wakes her, laying a hand on some round part. It’s too early—she’s set the alarm for a hundred years. “Go away, I’m practicing,” she says. Curved forms appear lenient but she’s not. No one’s worn a white petticoat since maybe 1969. Under sweatshirt and mom jeans, her spotted skin, her graying hair.
Autumn Stephens is the author of the Wild Women series of women’s history and humor, editor of two personal essay anthologies, and former co-editor of The East Bay Monthly. She has written for The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous other publications. She conducts writing workshops for cancer survivors in Oakland, Calif., and teaches private writing classes.
Video by Sabrina Mahfouz