“Mommy,” my daughter says, touching my leg. “I don’t like it when Daddy opens my peaches. He always eats some before he gives them to me.”
I’m distracted, cooking two different dinners to please everyone, checking my email (for the finance report I need to review for the board meeting tomorrow), pushing the cat (the one I got instead of having another baby) off the counter, stepping over another puddle of dog pee (left by Lulu who needs to be put down but I just can’t yet), thinking about how to tell my girls we are getting divorced (and if I trust myself and what I think I want).
“What, honey?” I say. She’s standing in front of me holding a pre-packaged plastic cup of peaches in juice, the kind of junk I swore my babies would never eat before I knew anything about real life.
“I don’t want Daddy to open my peaches. He always eats some first. Can you do it for me?” All my heart lives with this four-year-old face, earnest with a dash of freckles across the bridge of her nose and two eyes with color so changeable I can’t fill out a registration form with accuracy.
“That’s just Daddy,” I say. I recall a meme about Daddy-Tax, swipe it aside.
She stretches her arms towards me, the peaches in her hand, and presses the length of her body against my legs.
“Mommy, please,” a whine this time. My chest is stacked with bricks, I have no more space, but try to focus on this moment, like all the saccharin kitsch I’ve hung around the house reminds me to do. I look down and that’s my freckled nose affixed in the center of the round face she inherited from me.
Seeing she has my attention, she says, “I told him I don’t like it when he does that, but he laughs.”
She nods at me and I’m 15 years old, standing in the hallway of the science wing with a dime in my hand. My teacher gave it to me, and told me to call him when I turned 18, and I’m laughing to keep the moment from being awkward for him.
“Do you think it’s funny when he takes your peaches?” I ask, and I’m 17 years old at the cast party for the community theater production of Brighton Beach Memoirs. The director is commending each actor for our performance during the run, how we’d pushed ourselves to our creative limits. But when he lands on me, he recounts a line about my character, Nora, having breasts like two peaches, how I more than fit the bill because mine are like two cantaloupes. I’m laughing to keep the moment from being awkward for him.
“No. I don’t think it’s funny,” my baby says, and I’m 18 years old, my hair swept under a surgical cap, my breasts covered in purple marker lines to map out the incisions which will be made to make them smaller, to make me smaller, to make me safe. It didn’t work. My wounds were still draining as a friend’s boyfriend announced his surprise that I was so bangable, that I wasn’t the fatty he thought I was, that I just had huge tits. I hear my friend laugh, to keep the moment from being awkward for him.
“I understand sweetie, of course I’ll open your peaches,” I say, and I’m 26 years old, standing at the fax machine at work when a woman I hardly know approaches, pokes my breast with her finger and makes a hissing sound like helium being released from a balloon, then walks away without a word. There’s no one else around to laugh for, so I don’t.
My little girl puts her peaches in my hand, flashes her crooked smile, and I’m 38 years old, being patted on the head like a dog for surpassing all of my revenue goals, setting new records in every category. My insides burning up in a group of men who think they could have done what I did even though no one ever has. They laugh and the top of my head tingles from the effort to keep quiet.
“Don’t open them all the way, okay?” my little girl says. “Just start it for me. I like to open it by myself.” Her instructions are precise. She knows what she wants. I haven’t taught her that’s wrong yet.
Caitlin McGillicuddy lives and writes outside of Boston. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Gravel, HerStry, Chaleur Magazine, the Black Fox Literary Magazine and Bitchin Kitsch. She’s a writer in residence at L’ATELIER WRITERS and is at work on her first novel which will be published by someone awesome. Find her on Twitter @CaitlinMcGill or at caitlinmcgillicuddy.com.
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