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.