Motherhood in 4 Acts


by Candace Hartsuyker


 

Helen

I did not ask for this: to have men die for me. The midwife cursed me when I was born. My soon-to-be nursemaid said that girl, sharp finger jabbing soft baby skin, that girl is monstrous, you’ll see. All she saw were horns, claws, wings, a tail, a missing mouth. The nursemaid was hysterical. As a babe, they said I was as beautiful as candle wax, rosy-skinned and luminous. When I turned seventeen, the same nursemaid advised my mother to cover all the mirrors, to make me promise that I’d avoid streams, lakes, ponds, my mirrored reflection.

Of course, I disobeyed her. I went to the pond. I kept coming every day to look. When I breathed, she breathed. And when I blinked, so did she. The willows trees framed her androgynous body. My legs grew cold and stiff from kneeling. Never was there a day without her except winter when she vanished. The first day of Spring I wanted to know who and what she was. My brow dipped the water. Everyone knows how the story ends.Like Narcissus, my face was my undoing.

Penelope

It means nothing to me, I said. He shook like I had pierced his chest with a fiery arrow. The tree strangled the bed like a body, warped and twisted. I had to make sure he remembered. I knew stories, how like looms they were full of knots and snarls, twists and turns. It was why I spun my web. He was no stranger when we lay together. I counted the bags under his eyes, the scars on his warrior’s body, the wrinkles on his neck. I had been without him for twenty-five years. He had lain with goddesses and slain monsters, while I had watched over my daughter and ignored other men. That was all I wanted: for him to miss me then.

Psyche

The voice of my sisters was poison in my ears. Yet how could I be sure you weren’t horned or clawed or scaled? They gave me a knife. I did not take it, I left it on the table by the bed. It was I who with shaking hands dripped the hot wax on your flesh, soft as a newborn’s. They were right; you were monstrous, too beautiful to be human, your wings feathered like a swan’s. It was an accident. You know this already. Like a raindrop falling, trembling when kissed by the breath of the sun, daughter, it was I who killed you.

Demeter

I searched for you until the skin on the soles of my feet was stripped down flesh, then muscle and bone. I thought they’d make a good weapon. They were glass slippers tapping, weeping a trail of blood. The leaves on a tree rustled. A shriveled pomegranate lay on the frosted earth, and when I broke it open, the inside was blood bright and seeping, as shiny as a jewel. The curved husk formed a mirror. In the concave surface I saw the face of my daughter, but no longer the girl I knew.

 


Candace Hartsuyker is a third-year fiction student at McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Heavy Feather Review, Maudlin House and elsewhere.