Today’s essay is the winner of our 2022 spring essay contest. Tomorrow we will announce the two finalists and hear from our judge Windy Lynn Harris on her choices.
by Aria Dominguez
The long blade of the scissors presses into Momma’s pale fleshy throat. The tacky blue plastic handles lend an undignified air to the whole affair. If someone is going to undertake something so dramatic as killing herself, especially with an audience, a better tool is in order. A big shiny stainless-steel number like Gram keeps in her sewing basket, maybe. Momma’s shrieks intensify, her jowls jiggling.
“You better apologize right now! If you don’t work this out, I swear to God I’ll do it! I don’t care! I’d rather be dead than deal with you! If you don’t believe me, just watch!”
Her screams wash over you in a blur. Nothing exists besides the glint of sunlight on the metal blade. You’ve been sitting here on the floor letting words break against you without recognition for hours. Soon the sun will go down and you’ll have to find something to focus on besides the play of light. She never stops her tirades to turn on lamps.
Momma’s face grows more mottled by the moment. Maybe she’ll keel over from a stroke before she has a chance to slit her throat. You could call 911, but the phone is on the other side of Momma. You have no desire to look down and see scissors buried in your flesh up to the blue plastic hilt. And you don’t quite believe her threat that they’ll put you in the psych ward instead of her, but you’re only twelve—how should you know?
Imagine the flickering lights of the squad car beckoning the neighbors. Out will come your basketball coach and her son. Micki will waddle over, leaning heavily on her cane and dragging her wiener dog; Janet will emerge with her children you babysit. Rick and Joslyn are too proud to come gossip in the street, but their sons would be there looking for something new to torment you about. Peaches and his wife would arrive last, acting as if they have better things to do but leaning to catch every word.
Janet would start, “Did she finally have a heart attack? All that weight is hard on a body.” The massive Micki would glare, suggest maybe someone fell down the stairs. Finally, your neighbor Tamika would emerge from the Victorian duplex, an eager crowd awaiting her proclamation.
They would still be gawking when you came out, crowd growing by the minute, drawn to the flickering lights that promise a real live COPS right on Hague Avenue. They all want a story to tell at the dinner table. Swiftly it spreads to school to your friends to their parents and you’ll never escape their knowing eyes.
So you don’t bother with the phone. Will she really do it this time? She’s threatened to jump off the roof for years, but has never made it past the first step of the attic stairs.
“I’m giving you ten seconds before I kill myself! 10! 9!”
The blade puckers her sweaty skin more and more, still not quite drawing blood. You’ve imagined Momma’s death, but never like this. It was supposed to be a heart attack or something natural. Possibly an overdose of her many pills. Nothing so bloody and gruesome.
“8! 7! Any second now I’m going to do it!”
When Momma gasps for breath getting in and out of the car, every time she has to rest on the flight of stairs up to the apartment, when she clutches her chest, saying you’re going to kill her with your attitude, you wonder how long she has left. You’ve heard Grandma and Grandpa, shaking their heads as they tsk about how unhealthy it is to be so heavy. Heavy is the euphemism they use, their way of averting their eyes from the shame of their daughter.
“6! 5! If you don’t fix this, you’re going to regret it.”
Snooping in her room, you found a paper from the clinic, where they can’t even weigh her, labeling her super-super morbidly obese, which makes being fat sound like a superpower. But Grandma told you how her mother was too heavy and died in her arms of a stroke when Grandma was thirteen. You’ve always hoped it wouldn’t be like that. That you’d find Momma ‘sleeping’ only to realize she’s dead. Or maybe she passed out while pouring a glass of Coke, and you’d find her stuck to the kitchen floor in a puddle. You’d close her eyes like they do in the movies, wipe her off so they don’t find her like that. You don’t want her clutching at your arm begging for help with her last breath like Grandma’s mom did.
“4! 3! It’ll be your goddamn fault if I die! I’m giving you one last chance. 2!…”
You don’t have another plan, so you revert to the regular.
“I’m sorry Momma; I’ll never do it again.”
After some time Momma is placated and sends you to your room without dinner. You rummage under the bed for the backup stash of stale graham crackers, swallowing hard as they grind towards your stomach. Momma’s taken all your books again, so you’ve got nothing better to do than stare out at old Mama Hayes’ backyard. Her mangy matted mutts snuffle around dispiritedly, the bitch spaniel dragging a swollen teat on the ground. They’re just as trapped as you, hemmed in by the dilapidated fence on every side, although they manage to bolt and taste freedom every once in a while. When Mama Hayes hollers for you to help chase them down, you feel like a traitor dragging them back to the grassless patch of hard dirt with rusted appliances, busted furniture, and a collapsing garage so full of junk it offers no shelter. But would they be any happier on the street? Where would they even go? Maybe it’s better for them to stay where they’re sure of bones and scraps being tossed out the kitchen door. Maybe some creatures belong where everything is broken.