You’ve made a portcullis of your mouth. Since your daddy left, you’ve turned me into a monster, a shrieking gorgon. I am all of the Disney villains, but especially Ursula from The Little Mermaid because you haven’t uttered a sound since he slammed the front door, his black Slazenger gear bag slung over his shoulder.
You think I’ve stolen your words? Like I ever could. You were always prattle and chatter. When you played alone making houses for your toys out of shoe boxes, you’d sing radio tunes to yourself. I’d hear you talking in your sleep in excitement the night before a play date or a holiday.
Where do all your words go? Where have you hidden them? I know they are in there, building a torrent, or waiting to spit up and burn like oil on the pan. This is what it is to be mother and daughter: to walk around the edge of each other. Neither willing to cross over, breaching the thin place between. That would be giving in.
Can I just hold you and stroke your smooth curls and tell you that it’s a waste of your power withholding from me?
As a woman, as a reader of myth, as a mother, I know that somewhere on your path, you will be silenced, muted or ignored because your second chromosome is X. Think of Ovid’s Philomena and Shakespeare’s Livinia, whose tongues were severed by their rapists to hide the crimes. There will be times when you hesitate with words, afraid you won’t be believed: perhaps tricked by Dolos, god of lies, or set up like Eve and Pandora.
Your favourite phrases (I listened at your bedroom door while you did your Spanish homework: eres mi media naranja, eres mi media naranja, eres mi media naranja), your bites of emphasis when reading aloud, your me-and-daddy-North West-coast-idiolect – use them while they’re still yours.
You wanted to punish me? Well, it’s working. You pass me, in the kitchen, in the living room, as a ghost. Our home is icy without your humming, grumbles, and your new Twitter word of the week stuck five times into the same sentence to see if it feels right between your lips.
Don’t leave me in this monologue. Come back to me. I was your first word: ma ma. Talk, talk to me. I’ve been listening since the first rumble of you. Scream if you must, bawl mimicking your birth, looking for me, needing me. Do you remember your sister’s cot death, the night she didn’t shake the house with her cries for a feed? Nothing’s ever felt so lonely to me as your living silence now.
© Bayveen O’Connell
[This piece was selected by Sommer Schafer. Read Bayveen’s interview]