The following is a clunky part of a story still unfinished. This is trash I took out from it. Make it your treasure. Or don’t. Either way, it’ll be buried by other words at other times.
Mom comes home one day. I’m nearly seven. She looks like I do when I lose a tooth except she isn’t bleeding anywhere, or at least, nowhere I can see. Maybe she has an upset stomach. I walk up to her to ask and she tells me to buzz off. She’s busy.
She’s busy often. She makes a lot of money and that is important, even if it wears her out. I know this because Mom tells me it is. As I stand there beside her, trying to do my best to buzz off, she informs me that her work as a secretary pays for all of this. Her hands point to everything I can see. My toys. The chair she’s sitting on. Even me. She extends her long, sharpened fingernails to me like she did everything else, quickly nods, and then moves on to her earrings and lipstick and purse and her tattoos.
Hannah calls my Mom the tattoo lady. Many of the other kids do too. It’s a nice name because tattoos are like little pictures on someone’s skin, little moments caught on life portraying life.
My Mom says that – life portraying life – because every year she captures a tiny, little piece of time in the way of a new butterfly tattoo. She started getting them when I was born, and by now, she’s covered in them. Some are big, some are small, and some, I think, are getting a bit squashed together. She likes them like that, though. They’re forming a big butterfly, Mom says.
I don’t know if I agree. Some of them are sagging and fading and though the skin looks nice on her face because she just came back from the spa, her other skin doesn’t, and when all of her tattoos will become one, maybe when I’m really old, like twenty-five or something, I think she’ll look like a cocoon or a caterpillar, not a big butterfly.
They get more beautiful with age, Mom says as she touches one on her ankle. It looks like a bruise I once got when playing in the park.
She tells me that I should get tattoos like her one-day. They make you cultured, she says. We are watching TV and eating microwave dinner. The TV announcer talks about a vacation and Mom says that it would be so nice to go, but I have school, and I guess that’s that. She sighs. I mash my potatoes around. The white fluffs look like caterpillars under my fork.
As the TV shouts something or some other about a vacation, I recall the first time I saw a caterpillar at Nama’s house. I was five and a quarter, and Nama was turning seventy-four and three quarters. We were having dinner at her house. It was old and dusty and always smelled like cooking. White, that’s what Mom said. Find the white house.
When I saw it, I yelled and Mom parked and Dad, her, and I went inside and I said Hi Nama, Hi Grandpa and everyone talked, talked, talked and I went outside to play. A huge, endless forest was in front of me. I kept moving and moving and moving, and discovering and discovering and discovering, and all of a sudden, I saw this black small, little thing creeping along a leaf backwards. Up and down, its back arching like a baseball being thrown into the air – the caterpillar didn’t look like it belonged with the green trees.
This one, Mom points to one at her shoulder, I got when you turned five.
I decided I’d show the black creepy-crawler to Mom, but when I showed her, she screamed and hit it in my palm. It looked like mash potatoes in my hand.
Mom ran inside and Nama said, Here, here, and I never saw the caterpillar again. Grandma told me it would turn to a butterfly in time, but no one can take or look at it. The caterpillar, she said, has to transform by itself.
The small skin drawing on her shoulder is a blue blur to me. I barely notice it, though. I am thinking of Grandma now.
One thing Nama always said was that you should never look into someone else’s bowl to see what they have, but instead be happy that you have a bowl in the first place.
She said it the same day as the caterpillar came and went, and I learned that this saying was her life model. Dad, while he was still around, explained that I had heard Nama wrong. Motto, he whispered, it is something one lives by in between the blinks.
Mom snaps her fingers. I blink. And this one – a fat ankle extends towards my face – I got when you were three. Isn’t she beautiful?
I nod like I always do and she keeps talking and I keep thinking about Nama and her saying. It was nice because Nama was.
Sometimes, though, I don’t think Nama understood the saying herself because whenever we had dinner, she always said that I never had enough in my plate. More, more, she would point to the mash potatoes.
She also used to hit Grandpa’s bowl with her fork saying, Enough is enough. He always laughed and I did too. Potatoes came out of my mouth like a white volcano back then.
Eat your potatoes, Mom taps my shoulder. You don’t like TV dinners anymore? You don’t like the food I pay for? A tattoo on her arm shakes in front of me.
I should answer her like I always do but I keep thinking about Nama and all I can think about is that these potatoes don’t look like hers did. And that she didn’t have any tattoos. And then I remember that Nama died months later after that caterpillar. I almost forgot.
Grandpa stopped laughing when Nama died. Dad said Nama died because she had a bowl in her gut that could never be filled. I said that if she just ate more potatoes, maybe it could have been filled eventually. He looked at me and said something about being hungry. He tried to smile and said, It’s okay, it’s okay. Let’s get some crabcakes.
Grandpa died too some time later and no one really said anything then. Dad still tried to smile, but it wasn’t a regular smile. It was gone as quick as it came, and he looked wearier than I had ever seen him.
I don’t know why he smiled back then. No one else was smiling in the house except for Nama’s graying picture on the mantel of our house. She always smiled.
It was upright in front of me in the TV room. Her face was less bright than I remember. Dark shadows covered her picture. But her teeth are still showing and she looks happy. It makes me happy.
What are you smiling at, Mom is beginning to yell at me, Fine. Don’t eat your dinner. I don’t care. Her hand extends like a hawk catching prey and my plate hits the floor with a clatter.