My lips are so bitten up it’s like my mouth just chewed its way out of my face. I think my mother is about to tell me about the divorce between her and my father. Guess my age, with my parents getting divorced. You’re wrong, add ten years. I feel like I’m in a nightmare; in fact I am living my own repeating nightmare. They used to reassure me merely by laughing. Ten years after that they reassured me more soberly: “No, I don’t think that’s very likely.” Ten years after that, it is happening. I thought I could ward it off by worrying about it all the time, but I forgot that’s also a way to invite something.
My mother is served her fennel salad. That licorice smell, of course my father’s favorite. Do not say it, I silently command. It works, she begins to choke instead.
You think that no matter your personality problems, instinct will make you quick and correct when it’s called for. But instead I sit and look at my bluing mother, and say aloud, “I don’t know what to do.”
“Do the Heimlich,” someone says, urgent and pissed off, a heckle.
I go around. I wrap my arms around her and heave. Her body gives. She isn’t young. But it’s correct form to hurt her.
Is this ironically very like a birth? Will we, one day, have to laugh? I force and force, and force it out, what I have been coaxing for decades. Then there’s silence, and a clean sharp smell, hollowed out and vegetal—like the pumpkin, still taut, that you’re just getting ready to carve the grin into.
Notes from Guest Reader Tim Fitts
The first thing that drew me to ‘What I Have Coming to Me’ was the voice. I’m big on voice and love work with a fluid sense of language. Secondly, the subject of parents divorcing after children have grown has always fascinated me, but not as much as the judgmental bystander. With a piece as short as this, once all three locked into place, I was smitten.