Kim Magowan ~ The Physics of Motion

I. Friction

When they kick her and Ethan and baby Rose out of the hos­pi­tal, Iris thinks how could they be so irre­spon­si­ble? She has no idea how to care for a baby. Look at the fucked up way Ethan installed the car seat. First home, Rose vom­its breast milk all over Iris, eject­ing milk even through her nose. Rose cries, Iris cries, what a water-logged home. Though eight months lat­er, when Ethan dies, Iris turns stone. She keeps replay­ing how Ethan banned her from his motor­cy­cle once she got preg­nant, and at first she resent­ed his over-pro­tec­tive­ness and then, preg­nan­cy turn­ing her into a ball of fear, insist­ed he quit rid­ing it too, and he wouldn’t, and she snapped, “Take care of your­self as well as me!” So now she has to do this all alone. The fog and fug. When Rose is twelve, she gets so thin Iris pic­tures her being lift­ed and car­ried kite-like by the wind. It’s some eat­ing dis­or­der Iris has nev­er heard of. The good news is that Rose has no invest­ment in being thin; the bad news is she hates all food. “You can’t do this to me, I can’t bear it,” Iris tells her; she’ll use any­thing, includ­ing guilt. Rose gains weight, gains crazed prin­ci­ples. In the book­store, she chas­tis­es Iris for buy­ing Obama’s book: “Mom, how can you buy a book by that war crim­i­nal?” Rose guards her pri­va­cy like a rap­tor with an egg, snaps at Iris: “Like you don’t have secrets.” Skulks around with her ter­ri­ble boyfriend. Iris knows the first time she sees Jeremy, all flint and lava, that he’s wrong for Rose, the mag­net draw­ing her met­al fil­a­ment. What’s the point of get­ting old­er and wis­er, if Rose won’t listen?


II. Momentum

His eyes snag Rose in the hall­way, the boy who said some­thing smart about veloc­i­ty, so Jeremy has a brain as well as that pleat­ed chin. Thursday, he offers Rose a ride home, and she accepts before she real­izes it’s a motor­cy­cle. She promised her moth­er she’d nev­er mount one, not after what hap­pened to her dad. But Jeremy is already hand­ing Rose a hel­met, so she wraps her arms around his lean, warm stom­ach, and her hair whips behind her, and her face hurts from smil­ing. That ride is a metaphor for the next three months, fast and wild, clutch­ing Jeremy for dear life, as they say, since life is sud­den­ly dear, pre­cious and expen­sive. “This is all hap­pen­ing so fast,” her moth­er says, wist­ful­ly, her moth­er whom Rose uniron­i­cal­ly called her best friend because for fif­teen years it’s been just the two of them. Now Rose smiles and waves and runs down the block to the cor­ner where her life is wait­ing, with the hel­met upon which Jeremy stuck a scratch n’ sniff stick­er of a rose.


III. Friction

It’s so effort­less, the slide and pitch of their bod­ies togeth­er, until it isn’t. Things burn and chafe, Jeremy’s stub­ble on Rose’s cheek, but even his body which seems all sharp bones: hips, jaw, knees. The things he says emit sparks: “You’re such a Mama’s girl.” Everything’s a com­pe­ti­tion, and he needs her always to choose him. Rose sees in her mother’s eyes her fear for Rose, the way she’s spun away. Once on a fam­i­ly camp­ing trip, Rose’s two cousins were on either side of her, pulling her arms like she was a tug-of-war rope, Toby say­ing “My Rose,” Kaylie protest­ing “No, my Rose.” Being claimed felt intox­i­cat­ing, but remem­ber how her yanked arms hurt? She knows before it hap­pens that Jeremy will find some­one else, some­one who hands over her whole self. The last time Rose has sex with him she cries, but his adhe­sive eyes are shut.


IV. Momentum

Sometimes Iris thinks par­ent­ing is a cat­a­log of error, let’s count the ways she injures this not-ful­ly-cooked crea­ture, who eel-slips from her hand and nose-dives off the chang­ing table when she’s six months old, the bump on Rose’s fore­head a knot­ty peach pit, and Ethan kiss­es it and weep­ing Iris “to make it bet­ter,” but two months lat­er Ethan’s gone and Iris has to do all this shit on her own: the pair­ing of socks, the buy­ing of skates, the cook­ing of meals, Rose’s resis­tance to eat­ing, the kind male nurse at the hos­pi­tal who takes Iris aside and tells her that Rose should eat alone in her hos­pi­tal room so she doesn’t imbibe lessons from the oth­er girls in the ward, both anorex­i­cs, her slow recov­ery, her ter­ri­ble boyfriend Iris hates, part­ly because when Iris was six­teen, he was exact­ly her type (it would creep Rose out if Iris let her know how much Jeremy reminds her of Ethan), final­ly, thank God, Jeremy’s gone, though Rose cries (the num­ber of times they both have cried!), the hap­py tears when Rose gets into col­lege, the presents they exchange, Iris gives her the Runaway Bunny book she always used to read to her and threat­ens to fol­low her to New York, Rose says “Mom, that bun­ny moth­er is a stalk­er!”, but she’s smil­ing, she gives Iris an “I <3 Obama” cof­fee mug, the poster shop­ping togeth­er in the Village for her dorm room, Rose  picks a New Yorker cov­er with two brides hold­ing bloom­ing bou­quets, Iris hopes this means she’s done with ter­ri­ble men, but she keeps the hope to her­self, “Don’t bur­den her with your lone­li­ness,” her emp­ty-nester sis­ter warns her, so Iris forces her­self to keep smil­ing, to catch and release her love­ly daugh­ter: Rose goes.


Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teach­es in the English Department of Mills College at Northeastern University. She is the author of the short sto­ry col­lec­tion How Far I’ve Come (2022), pub­lished by Gold Wake Press; the nov­el The Light Source (2019), pub­lished by 7.13 Books; and the short sto­ry col­lec­tion Undoing (2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fic­tion has been pub­lished in Colorado Review, Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many oth­er jour­nals. Her sto­ries have been select­ed for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.