Darina Sikmashvili ~ She Would Have Given Me Light

But My Mother Told Me

You have to know you want it. When I was four we would vis­it a friend of my moth­er’s, a woman who looked like Stevie Nicks. Blonde, curly hair and coal over her lids like a queen, like Cleopatra. I remem­ber a turquoise shim­mer­ing blouse. She was always laugh­ing smok­ing crying.

Her name was Xenia and she had a hus­band and they had a cat name Taisa, after a repen­tant cour­te­san from Alexandria who became a saint. Yefremov wrote a book where the Whore Taisa of Egypt becomes Ptolemy’s Egyptian queen.

Xenia and her hus­band could not con­ceive. They fucked and fucked and pills and mon­ey but noth­ing grew. How does it mat­ter how I knew? There were nights my moth­er vis­it­ed with­out me. These nights Xenia cried in the kitchen and my moth­er cooed and cried with.

Taisa was a Siberian cat, a gift for Xenia after anoth­er wouldn’t car­ry. Puffy and regal with a round face, stretched long across the couch, in wait­ing. Xenia chopped raw beef shock-red and cold, pool­ing with blood into Taisa’s bowl and Taisa ate it quick and lapped up the blood. Red blot­ted her soft white throat.

I mar­veled. I was a frus­trat­ing child, I leapt at dogs, draped my arms over their tired necks. I chased cats I want­ed to pet. Taisa did not allow for this. There was no touch­ing her except for Xenia, who fed her meat and fresh milk. Taisa was the only liv­ing thing I have known who did what she want­ed. Taisa loved to fuck. Spring she’d sneak out of the liv­ing room win­dow and dis­ap­pear for a week, two. Xenia went look­ing for her at first, then she stopped because Taisa would always return. Then she’d sleep and eat for three whole days. 

Nothing but sleep­ing and eat­ing. Sleeping and eat­ing. She’d wan­der into the kitchen and lay across the floor and scream. Six in the morning.

Xenia said often, I’d kill her if I did­n’t admire her so much. 

Taisa would come home and sum­mer she’d screech, heavy as a rock, around the apart­ment, and kit­tens would come. Xenia would line the bot­tom dress­er draw­er with blan­kets and Taisa would climb in. Paws the size of my palms. Claw and screech and screech, blood on her chin.

Xenia deliv­ered Taisa’s babies. Tiny, bloody things she wiped a lit­tle and hand­ed quick­ly back to moth­er. Anybody else came near the kit­tens and the moth­er hissed and puffed her tail and frothed heavy from her mouth. Xenia was allowed. To car­ry meat to the moth­er, to car­ry milk.

A pure­breed. A princess. The house need­ed vac­u­um­ing con­stant­ly, fur accu­mu­lat­ed every­where. A diet of raw meat and fresh milk. The neigh­bors ate worse was a com­mon remark. My moth­er and I did.

A woman like that fuck­ing nobod­ies. Fucking alley cats. Mangled strangers. You could­n’t come near her until you could­n’t get close enough.

A cycle of this. Taisa was con­sis­tent. Xenia kept a list. People called come spring­time ask­ing for kit­tens and got in line.

Xenia nursed the pret­ty things with moth­er until time came, then Taisa got bored and Xenia qui­et­ly quick­ly gave them away.

Taisa went away again.

We had a cat too. Mishka. She was orange and nice and big. Greedy like Taisa, always sneak­ing out of win­dows. She came back preg­nant. My moth­er called and took instruc­tions and pre­pared to deliv­er the babies like Xenia had. Careful as she could. 

My moth­er had turned away, clean­ing one lit­tle one and turned again to see a tail stick­ing out of Mishka’s mouth. Blood around Mishka’s chin. She’d swal­lowed one lit­tle one whole. Cracked through bone she made, through blood she bled.

I had to watch Mishka, I was told, but not why. My moth­er bun­dled up the rest of the kit­tens and took them to our bal­cony, warm and soaked in sun. Then to my grand­moth­er’s house. There she fed them milk from a drop­per and raised them away from their Cronus moth­er. 

Their Cronus moth­er. My moth­er asked around and the women in her town shrugged and some looked off and made blade-thin jokes like, If only I could do that. 

So, my moth­er told me, there is noth­ing bio­log­i­cal about want.


My Mother, Brokenhearted

Went to vis­it a friend by the water, deter­mined not to let her grief be seen in the town where she lived. Where the heart­break­er man lived. 

There, on the beach, she was tan­ning and cry­ing beneath her sun­glass­es. She was sit­ting and read­ing on the out­side. A straw­ber­ry between her fin­gers she bit but oth­er­wise she was uninterested.

A man sit­ting on the rocks was watch­ing her. My moth­er’s friend, a woman who soaked her­self in per­fume even for a day on the beach, report­ed it. My moth­er had fall­en in love for the first time in her life and the man she had fall­en in love with was off to mar­ry anoth­er woman at the man­date of his moth­er. A hideous brunette. In her telling of this sto­ry I always want to stop her and ask, how could this not have turned you off indef­i­nite­ly? But I know now that the heart is exact­ly that, the heart.

The man left the rocks, he approached. He was alone in the sea­side town and want­ed to know if per­haps the two ladies would like an ice-cream, or a cof­fee by the board­walk café.

My moth­er was shy and beau­ti­ful with dancer’s legs and a beau­ti­ful tan from just days in the sun. She would have been wear­ing a pair of rosegold hoop ear­rings. She would have been smok­ing with this nib­bled straw­ber­ry in her hand.

The man looked straight at my moth­er when he asked these things. Would you like an ice cream? Would a cof­fee be nice right now? In the shat­ter­ing sun­light the man, as a ges­ture of open­ness, as an act of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, removed his sun­glass­es to address my moth­er. His voice was slow and low. He spoke soft­ly, like a bird­watch­er. He want­ed to come clos­er but he knew very well to be patient, to be soft-foot­ed. These are the things she could feel even now, so many years lat­er. 

The per­fumed friend did the arrang­ing. The man was return­ing home the fol­low­ing day and he want­ed to meet for a cock­tail that evening. My moth­er only half-heart­ed­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in the con­ver­sa­tion. Enough to be polite but it could have been a scare­crow she was speak­ing to. My moth­er was whol­ly gone. Sunglasses on.

Evening came and they met at a small café not far from the water. My moth­er’s perfumed friend dressed and reit­er­at­ed that this was for my moth­er’s ben­e­fit only, this meeting.

When the man saw them approach, he stood up. My moth­er saw him then for the first time. He said, it is nice to see your eyes.

A beau­ti­ful man. Wolfish grey eyes and hair he swept ner­vous­ly back, thick and dark and slight­ly pep­pered. So she knew he was old­er. Fifteen years. Nearing forty when my moth­er was a mere twen­ty-five, her heart in her hands. He had groomed brows, dark and thick. A fem­i­nine mouth. His cheek­bones, like my moth­er’s, high. Already a slight wrin­kle around his eyes.

My moth­er tucked a strand of hair back. She wished that he would touch her, touch the curve of her ear. 

They took drinks and sat at a table. The man and my moth­er was one event in time and the perfumed friend, my moth­er, and the man anoth­er. She was a good sport, the perfumed friend, yet they made inor­gan­ic effort to keep her in the conversation.

My moth­er was in love and the man was in love and it was in the air and con­crete. You could use the mat­ter of their love to build objects. 

The man said to my moth­er, smoke in his eyes, I am a mar­ried man with a child. He held my moth­er like a ruby in his hand. He was stay­ing in a hotel, yes. Alone, yes. He would not go to the hotel with my moth­er, no. He was blind with love for my moth­er, yes. 

This, at five in the morn­ing, near the hum­ming of the sea. The board­walk full of drunks and lovers. He was pre­oc­cu­pied with sooth­ing her through the sad­ness, his and her own. He tucked her hair behind her ear. He asked if she knew how beau­ti­ful she was, if she under­stood how dif­fi­cult it was, now that he had met her, and he pressed her palm against his chest.

This, he said, this because I tucked a strand of hair behind your ear. You will ruin me.  

My moth­er’s perfumed friend had giv­en up and gone home. Neither had noticed.

The man took my moth­er to the per­fumed friend’s door. He kissed her fore­head and cursed his luck. He board­ed a plane. All morn­ing she watched the sky.  When she told me this sto­ry it was to show her grat­i­tude for the man, for his restraint when she was neon with want.


My Mother Said 

A lit­tle salt won’t hurt, a lit­tle salt is a good thing.


My Mother Reminds Me

About when I was lit­tle and I had some ideas about babies. They were blue or pink and often swad­dled in blan­kets. I want­ed one. I want­ed some­thing to play with. I nursed a hush­pup­py until I got bored.

Nothing about a child stuck to my breast appeals to me. I told my moth­er and she understood. 

It hurts, she said. I had­n’t asked but she told me.


When My Mother Miscarried

She took us to a psy­chic. The woman was old and tough-look­ing. Skin that worked to stay on. I was to see her. My moth­er said there were things she her­self could no longer understand.

A baby aban­doned her. This was the mythol­o­gy around the apart­ment. She crawled into my bunkbed and I pulled the word apart root from flower. Miscarriage. I didn’t under­stand what was miss­ing. It used to mean to come to harm.

She made like to pull her­self up and next morn­ing she pulled on a pair of cher­ry red shorts and scrubbed the apart­ment. A song the cho­rus of which was leave me alone was on repeat like a knick in the record. Hours of this, her hus­band said. But he was fright­ened. He went away.

I dressed in black not for the three-month old baby broth­er but for a psy­chic at nine at night.

It was a nice apart­ment only because the ocean rushed in the win­dows. The water growled and there was ample moon­light that night. 

The psy­chic left the liv­ing room lights off and told me to stay put. I bumped against the fur­ni­ture and inspect­ed trin­kets in the dark and thought to steal them but wor­ried since she may have been a witch.

I cracked the win­dow open and the wind shook the curtains.

The psychic’s books were all in Turkish. I looked at the words. Blocks I could not read. There were lamps through­out the room, scat­tered among the books, but the woman would have giv­en me light if I was meant to have it.


From Where My Mother

And the psy­chic sat there was the sound of sob­bing. I cer­tain­ly thought they had been laugh­ing until my moth­er emerged puffy-eyed and I could smell salt on her breath. She kissed my fore­head. I was twelve and it was eleven pm. 

The ocean was qui­eter. If there was any kind of mag­ic in the water sure­ly I would have seen it.


My Mother Received

Messages like black box­es she peered into. Messages from the psy­chic. I was afraid to ask but what I was sup­posed to do on that train ride home? The seats were dirty and orange and my moth­er looked out of place. She had worn heels to meet the psy­chic. We would have gone to church in less. I hid a run in my stock­ings as best I could, I remem­bered too late when we walked into her house. I hid the sleazy blue streaks in my hair with braids.

He is poi­son­ing me, my moth­er said. The fuck­ing husband. 

I focused on the emp­ty orange seat across from us. The moon is so rarely that color.

There were oth­er things. She was to stop salt­ing her food for two weeks. She was to wear an emer­ald, just a tiny stone but larg­er if she could. My moth­er was not to try again with this man. My moth­er was to eat fruit, the kind thick with seed. Melon I suggested.

Abundance, my moth­er was told, is to be invit­ed in. 

Nothing, my moth­er was told, is not as intended.

The three-month-old that came to harm came into the psychic’s room and apol­o­gized to my moth­er, she told me lat­er. She leapt into the air and hugged what came to harm.


Darina Sikmashvili was born in Lubny, Ukraine and raised in Brooklyn, New York. As of fall 2020, Darina is pur­su­ing her MFA in fic­tion at the University of Michigan. She’s at work on a novel­la about insom­nia. Contact her at darina@sikmashvili.com. Find her on Instagram @dvs_primary.