as petals fall on asphalt roads
BY AIMEE PARKISON
Sometimes there’s food on the plate, but no one wants to eat it. No one wants to eat it, but when everyone is hungry, it’s gone. It’s gone, and there’s music playing, piano music in the parlor where everyone’s stomach is rumbling, as if talking wordlessly, complaining about the food that is gone. Complaining about the food that is gone, we stare out the windows at the rain battering the rose of Sharon as petals fall on asphalt roads. As petals fall on asphalt roads, the rain pours harder, the piano music stops, and I remember when I was a child, wondering why my mother never ate at the table, why she only ate alone when everyone else was finished and only if there was food left on the plates, though there often wasn’t. Though there often wasn’t, I didn’t realize why she wasn’t eating since because of her artful misdirection I never understood food was in scarce supply in my childhood. Food was in scarce supply in my childhood, but dreams were not on mornings when I woke, remembering the vivid pastel bakery and all the wonderful cakes I had eaten, bright cakes displayed under glass like valuable jeweled sculptures, unlike any cake I had ever seen. Unlike any cake I had ever seen, these dream cakes nourished me when I slept not realizing I was hungry because of how delicious they were. How delicious they were, even though they weren’t real and would make real food seem undesirable in comparison, as the dream baker in the child’s mind could prepare the unconscious food to feed unrecognized hunger. Unrecognized hunger waited like a friend with the dream baker and the dream cakes as my mother entered the bakery as if nothing was wrong with the fact that I was nude and eating all the cakes. Nude and eating all the cakes, I was never so happy until she asked why I had saved none for her.
the forgotten daughter
BY AIMEE PARKISON
Ansel and I used to date before he went to prison for killing my mother. He lived here in this apartment for months with her body and pretended like she was still alive, so no one would kick him out. He strangled her and then beat her with a broomstick because he didn’t want to be homeless yet he feared he would become homeless because he killed her. Now he has free room and board in prison, for the rest of his life, at the taxpayers’ expense. Every time I pay my taxes, I’m paying his rent.
This bothers me almost as much as the closets I don’t want to open and all the French doors, antique doors that are so hard to lock. And the upstairs bathroom with beautiful gray-veined marble. It was Mother’s favorite room, where Ansel wrapped her in trash bags and put her in the big marble bathtub, locked the door from the inside, leaving it closed, pretending nothing was wrong.
Every time I called or came over, he got rid of me fast. It was easy because Mother and I had a falling out, over him, so I thought she didn’t want to talk to me, but I became nervous and felt guilty after not hearing from her for so many months.
“She’s in the bathroom,” Ansel said, “in the tub, and can’t be disturbed.”
Ansel’s lies by omission were not technically lies. He was a truthful person, perhaps too truthful.
For instance, he never bothered to hide his feelings about the apartment. The first time I brought him here to introduce him to Mother, he said, “I would kill for a place like this.” I never took it literally. Even then I was slow to realize.
* * *
This apartment represents my mother’s style of keeping me in the shadows by telling men she dated I was her sister. I didn’t blame her. Our timing was off because she was very young when she gave birth to me. We were too close in age, when having a child was a death sentence to a young socialite. She never let me live it down, the carefree life I stole from her, all those parties, the way I depreciated her body, her status. She was less of a catch because whoever married her would have to take care of me. We were a package deal where I lived as her conspirator and confidant, all along knowing I was the daughter she didn’t want to have, especially in New York.
In my late teenage years, I went from being her conspirator to her rival, though I was slow to realize, never wanting to live that way. The men moved from one door to the other, in the night, in the dark. I pretended it was alright. She did the same. Both of our hearts were breaking for the opposite reason.
The three bedrooms of Mother’s apartment with French doors open onto a terrace overlooking the building’s courtyard garden. I remember gazing out the French doors as men entered my room, knowing when they pulled the curtains. Today, I got rid of all the curtains.
With all these doors to lock, to check, to remember, I’ve forgotten the feeling of Ansel’s lips on my neck, giving me chills as he exhaled on my skin, whispering my name, long before I realized Mother had fallen in love with him or how much he had fallen in love with her apartment. He kept saying it was the perfect location, that he had always wanted to live in Tribeca. How could he afford it? He couldn’t, but that didn’t stop him from asking me when I would inherit and asking about Mother, visiting her often. At first, I was grateful. She was old and fragile by then, so I never imagined he was courting her. That he was kind to her was what seemed to matter most, the tenderness, as if it were his only inclination.
* * *
Ansel’s accommodations in prison must be a relief because he doesn’t have to worry about the upstairs bathroom or the way I feel when I wake to hear French doors opening at night, when I’m sleeping in Mother’s bed.
I moved back over a year after inheriting this place, when investigators and cleaners had done their work. The lawyer said to change the locks. I haven’t yet because the building has security and the courtyard is gated, for residents only. Mother never gave the key to anyone besides Ansel and the cat sitter, and the cat died long ago.
I miss the cat.
I miss Mother because she was miserable in her last years, until Ansel came along and she was suddenly deliriously happy. That’s why I’m not sure I really like the apartment anymore, now that it’s mine. When I think of Mother and Ansel, I remember becoming homeless, when they looked at me and tried to explain why I would need to move out.
I understood what she had meant and why she took Ansel away, but now I have the apartment to myself and I’m all alone, wondering, does a single woman need three bedrooms and bathrooms? No one bothers to ask me, just like no one bothered to ask my mother, though it was apparently on everyone’s mind.
Aimee Parkison is the author of Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, winner of the Fiction Collective’s Two Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, and published by FC2/University of Alabama Press in 2017. Her other works include Woman with Dark Horses (Starcherone, 2004), The Innocent Party (BOA Editions, Ltd., American Reader Series, 2012), and The Petals of Your Eyes (Starcherone/Dzanc, 2014). More information about her can be found at www.aimeeparkison.com.
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