Motherhood in 4 Acts

by Candace Hartsuyker



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.


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.


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.


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.


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