--THERE’S NOTHING TO COMPARE IT TO
The Clean White Pieces
He watches his mother stare at the paring knife, squinting, staring a bit too long, puzzled by something having to do with the blade, or maybe she’s summoning past events, perhaps future ones.
The boy, her son, her only living relative now, sits like a thin piece of driftwood on the vinyl chair. Inside his mind he sees a sign. It reads: RUN.
But he never can.
When she walks around the counter and comes over to him, the boy’s heart is shooting rivers of blood through his organs. She has the knife in her hands. She moves it into the air. It swings slowly. Comes to rest a few inches from his face. “Is that rust? Can you see it?” she asks.
There’s no rust. The metal gleams beautiful silver. It is so clean it is almost white, white like everything else in this house, this kitchen—the cabinets and counters, the tiled floors, the ceramic dishes and porcelain cups.
She jiggles the knife. “Look closer.”
She must want him to see it. His father had a spot on the back of his leg. It was the shape of a jagged dime. He scratched it a lot. It got darker and swelled, grew into a big patch on his calf. By the time he actually went to the hospital, the melanoma had leeched into so many places that the boy’s father died four days later.
Since then his mother is afraid of blemishes, stains, rust spots. She has even shaved her eyebrows because she thought she saw the beginnings of a mole under the cilia-like brow.
“Well?” she asks, still waiting.
“Maybe a little.”
“Ha! I knew it.”
While she scours the knife over running water, the boy thinks thinks thinks. He is thinking but no fully-formed thoughts are showing up. It’s just panic jabbing him with a molten prod.
He is twelve and hairless beneath his school clothes. His mother makes him shower first thing every morning. She inspects his body while it’s not even dry. He knows now to pluck any hair that might appear because she gets disgusted if she finds one, looking at him suspiciously as if it might be the root of some burgeoning evil.
At the door she stops him and he knows what to do without asking. He parts his lips wide. “They’re getting yellow already. No more soda pop for you, and twenty extra minutes of brushing tonight.”
He nods and waits to be excused, wondering if she’s put back the knife, if it’s clean enough for her, if it will ever be.
She wrinkles her lips. That is good. That’s her way of kissing him goodbye without having to touch him.
Now it’s decades later. The woman is dead by her own hand because of having sliced perceived moles from her back, shoulders, legs and bleeding out.
But she lives. The boy who is a man can’t shake her entirely. She is there in his nightmares, in sun-streaks that white-out portions of a window or his vision, in the blackest migraines that turn blinding white.
He watches his twins jump into a mud puddle, globs of thick, soupy dirt splattering their pink leggings and jackets. They do it again and again, the mess worse each time.
“Eva! Ruby!” his wife shouts, but he takes her hand decisively, holds it to his lips and says, “No. It’s okay. Really. Let them.”