FICTION May 1, 2020

Lean on, Mother

Years ago my mother fell and got stitches on her left breast. She never removed them, and now they work as a zipper, the folds of her skin as dividers. When I touch it, I can feel the remains of a thread, holding it all. Sometimes I put my ear next to her oversized chest and feel the talismans, the key for a broken front gate lock, a crackling story over the flame of her heart.

My mother has gotten used to walking slowly as if supporting the weight on her left side. It seems she carries more things in her bosom than she reveals. She complains that her organs have pushed down, making room for her rosary, a romance novel, a flashlight. She gets up at night to adjust her things, stack them so they don’t move when she turns in her bed. She ends up sitting by the dining table, watching the onyx sky slowly turning pink.

I insist on taking her to a doctor, but she claims she likes the way her body is changing. Life is about giving: a concept, she claims, I cannot grasp at once.

One day my mother pushes basil, thyme, rosemary seeds far inside her fold, and saplings take root. Over the next few days, she says she can feel the soft stems, unfurling leaves, the light aroma as the tendrils poke through her skin. She calls the plants her children who’d never leave her. Thereafter her legs turn wooden, and she rests against the wall in the center of the house where the sun hits for five or six hours a day, her toes pushing through the carpet. The little twines pop out of her ears, her mouth, her armpits, fresh and fragrant. Seeds like stars in her hair, a light flickering here and there in her eyes. On the left side of her chest, a sac appears where her heart used to be, milky, moon-like.

My mother says she wants to be outside, she craves the earth, the chill in the open air, wind-rubbed butterflies and crawling insects seeking refuge. So I plant her in the yard. At night, when the breeze hits her, she hums a lullaby. Sometimes I stand by the window and watch her bloom in starlight, sway in the rain and in whistling wind, unafraid, gentle, grounded. I try to remember a version of her body before it was full of glistening dirt and an herbal garden, before it was something I couldn’t hug, when I could still experience her warmth. All I remember is a blurry frame in the corner of my eye, dragging herself, stuff falling out of her bosom like ripe fruit, with nothing to give and searching for something to lean on.

Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Triquarterly, Yemassee, Passages North and others. Her full-length flash collection, Death, Desire And Other Destinations, is upcoming in September 2020 with OKAY Donkey Mag/Press. She lives in Texas.