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Savage Daughters

Story by Allison Rae King (Read author interview) February 22, 2021

Art by Saif Rahman

I was born on the tail of a comet, a cluster of cosmic Chi, blind but seeing, cold and on fire, shooting in through my mother’s bedroom window. I smashed perfume bottles and pristine angel figurines, shattered time and space. My mother, still in bangs and barrettes, delivered me single-handedly by the light of a teacup candle while spitting grace.

I arrived ravenous, raging, revengeful, a maw clipped to a body. I rooted for my mother’s milk, suckling colostrum sweet as cherry cola, starving, ratcheting, rickatick ticking until her nipples bled like beets.

She burped me then gave me away—

To an Irish grandmother with thumbs made of evergreen, a back stitched with superstition, eyes like crystal balls. I learned how to make dumplings and potato stew, how to hang out linens so they crisped in the sun. We worked the garden from sunup to sundown. We fried everything in those days: eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, liver.

She gave me pie tins and twine, told me to go climb the trees. I’d monkey my way into the peach tree, tie a tin to the tip to scare scavengers, sit still as a statue until my legs went numb, waiting for sneaky crow, murder on my mind. And when he never came, I’d ca-caw ca-caw ca-caw with a jump, flap my arms and race around the yard as big as a country to my baby feet.

I was loved by the tomato hornworms, the buffalo tree hoppers, the black widows. I played red rover with moon-drop orphans, children springing from nowhere and evaporating home to nowhere. I never saw their homes, never knew their parents.

We’d wade in a ditch by the highway, our jeans rolled up, toes as cold as ice cubes, ankles bitten red by chiggers. When poison ivy ruptured my skin, my grandmother bathed me in oatmeal, packed my rash with honey-soaked marigolds, kissed my forehead and said things could be worse.

I lived and died and lived again along the back forty, the wilderness bumping up against the property fence. One day, my birth mother found me asleep there, curled under a cocoon of corn stalks and bluster leaves, satiated by the nectar from purple clover.

I’m back, she said gently.

I opened my eyes to a halo of light, my mother now a sphinx moth with magnificent wings and antennae. A majestic, mythical creature. The awe in hallelujah. The ever in never. The un and the in and the none.

I jammed my knuckles into sleep-crusted eyes, sucked my thumb like an infant.

You hated me, I blurted.

I was scared, she said. Do you hate me?

Yes, I shouted, and cursed her wings.

She nodded, her great moth wings folding around her body. I’m sorry, she said, we knew each other too soon.

From the heavens contained in the belly of the erudite apple trees sprang a song about old bones and savage daughters, of darkened wombs and cleansing light.

My ribs expanded and my heart tripped and tipped and ticked.

I call grandmother mother, I said.

I know, she said. At least she makes one of us happy.

True, I thought. Happiness is fueled by thoughts, and my best thoughts were made in my Irish grandmother’s garden. She did make me happy as I made her.

Maybe you knew your mother too soon too, I said.

My mother chuckled. I hadn’t thought of it that way, she said. She spread her wings and whispered, Always speak your voice, daughter. Then she took flight.

The music faded into soft shoots of grass, and the robins bowed their heads in prayer, and the worms stood on end pointing to the sky. I clawed the air and roared until the earth cracked, and my knees buckled, and my Irish grandmother held my hand home.

About the Author

Allison Rae King is a writer and freelance editor living in Florida. Her work can be found in Outlook Springs and The Tusculum Review. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family. Find her on twitter @AliSoleil98.

About the Artist

Saif Rahman is a photographer in Jamshedpur, India. Follow him on Insta @me_saif

This story appeared in Issue Seventy of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy
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