This Woman Is the Only Woman

by Emily Flamm Read author interview August 19, 2019

This daughter has sixteen vaginas, in all different colors and patterns.

This daughter has one vagina, and it is enormous and held together with at least ten bones.

Quantifying immaterial vaginas is a favorite pastime of hers. The more the merrier.

This daughter has a new physical relationship with her stuffed animal, a gray bunny with a white bow on one ear.

This daughter comes down for breakfast breathless and flushed and missing a tooth. When her mother asks her if it has to do with the bunny, she rolls her eyes as far back in her head as they will go.

This daughter’s mother is trying to discuss the daughter’s masturbation. The pediatrician euphemizes the daughter’s relationship with the toy. The daughter whispers “it’s called humping.”

This daughter likes to remove her clothes and underwear at dinner, baring her genitalia at the table as proudly as one wears a hat made of fruit.

This daughter pulls on a pair of sparkly tights and inspects herself in the full-length mirror. She goes downstairs, climbs on top of a chair to reach the drawer filled with permanent markers and pens. She goes back upstairs and stands in front of the full-length mirror again, this time coloring a black patch over her crotch. When her mother asks why, the daughter looks up, confused.

This daughter is a late feminist, and she likes dark ink.

This daughter has a dream about her vaginas. She tells her father but not her mother. She tells her father not to tell her mother, which of course he does. The dream is that she was magically able to try on all of her underwear at once.

This daughter informs her mother on the way to school that the reason for a vagina is underwear and the reason for underwear is princesses.

This daughter compliments her mother’s vagina as they stand together before a full-length mirror. This daughter says “I like the curling fur.”

This daughter wonders why her mother cares so much about this thing with the bunny. The mother says, “it’s private,” and struggles to clarify what the value or weight of this privacy is.

This daughter demands to know why she can’t eat boogers or poop when it’s fine to eat whole animals, and she also asks why germs are see through.

This daughter places a handful of suds on her crotch in the bath and says she is a great big mom.

This daughter announces that something is living inside her vagina. When she asks her mother about it, her mother doesn’t know what to say. It is alive and you are alive, the mother thinks, and the mother can neither reject nor accept the idea that the vagina is separate, somehow, from the self.

This daughter transposes individuals and inverts timelines when she speaks. Sometimes in stories she is the mother and sometimes she is the daughter. Sometimes the mother and daughter were babies at the same time.

This daughter mimics her mother.

This mother mimics her daughter.

This daughter mimics her mother mimicking her, and it goes on like that. They are both alive in airless space.

I do wish, one or the other of them says, that we could have been the same age at the same time, and at this, both women liquefy.

This woman is the only woman this woman both loves and comprehends.

*

This mother is four. She has a new physical relationship with her purple bear, and she tells her sisters all about it and they proudly embark on new physical relationships with their own colored bears.

This mother wears two bras to school, one on top of the other, because her boobs are suddenly quite large and two bras work better than one. She perfects the art of changing her shirt quickly in locker rooms so that her bras and boobs situation are a pale blur. She fears that someone will try to snap one of her bras for sport and find two bands, and hard questions will follow.

This mother coughs up brunch when her niece asks loudly at a restaurant, “what does it mean, to come?”

This mother believes God is a man who watches her shower, and that he watches all people shower, somehow, with at least one pure eye.

This mother is afraid to make love unless the lights are off and the covers are on, but she would never admit to fearing the combination of nudity plus lighting plus love.

This mother does not think men can be beautiful and evil, yet the men she loves are curved white knives.

This mother does not think women “can be difficult,” yet the women she loves are knotted old chains.

This mother says, at breakfast, that she is a large, selfish, all-seeing, all-punishing man and this is not a metaphor or a costume or a thought exercise. The daughter nods enthusiastically and gives a low wolf whistle.

This mother is in first grade. She wears white tights embroidered with pink hearts. She has a scrape on her leg that is oozing, infected. When she tells her teacher, the teacher pulls down the tights in front of the whole class to inspect the wound, and this child-mother wonders why she must ooze before her peers.

In the sweet privacy of her mind, this mother fantasizes about all combinations of bodies, colors, germs, and food.

This mother is dying a little before the usual age when people die. She is dying inside her own body, and at this time, she dies twice more: in the body of her daughter and the body of her mother, who is alive and aware, and is often, too, a child.

About the Author:

Emily Flamm's short fiction has appeared in Catapult, Territory, Crab Orchard Review, and other places. Her work has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and several short fiction prizes. She teaches at the University of Maryland.

About the Artist:

Lorena Turner creates photography projects that draw from the areas of documentary, journalism and fine art. She selects image-making tools that best articulate her ideas. Lorena's work is shown both nationally and internationally in venues as diverse as The Photographers' Gallery in London, the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the Arc Light Theater in Hollywood and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. Her book, The Michael Jacksons, and ethnographic monograph on the American subculture of Michael Jackson impersonators, was published in 2014. Lorena received an MFA from the University of Oregon, studied sociology at The New School for Social Research in New York City, and teaches photojournalism and documentary storytelling in the Communication department at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California.