un·sound (un-so̵und′), adj. 1. not sound, whole, or perfect; not in perfect health or condition. 2. at variance with fact, truth, or reason; false; ill-founded. 3. not safe, firm, or solid; insecure. 4. not deep; light: said of sleep.
Well, we are in the final hours of February and this is the final post for this year’s flash fiction february. Enjoy this story from the mind and pen of writer Liz Warren-Pederson.
A Church-Going Woman
Marjorie! In English, while you slept bent over your desk, I actually listened to Mr. Blankenship go on about Horace, and do you know what he said? He said, “For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, must suffer.”
Oh, Marjorie. The Romans weren’t as funny about gender equity as the Greeks, but we know better now. For the sins of your mother, you too will suffer. I am sorry about that!
Marjorie, your mother’s shop is cluttered and smells like granny soap, so the yarn my mother buys when she buys from your mother is saturated with granny soap smell. And then the afghans she crochets with that yarn smell like granny soap, and so I always know which afghans came from your mother’s yarn. I’d like to go through the house and smell all the afghans and take the ones that came from your mother’s shop and set them on fire in the backyard. But it’s not the afghans’ fault, it’s your mother’s, and besides, my mother loves her afghans.
Marjorie, I’m tracking you. Have you noticed? I saw you making out with Tommy Jarman on Fifth Street. Does your mother know about Tommy Jarman? …would she like to know?
No one hates a browser like your mother, Marjorie. She gave us the beady eye right away when we came into the shop, but I thought she’d be content just to glare. I went to look at magazines, because I don’t “craft,” but my mother gets lost in all the yarns and beads and pretty colors, and everyone knows that Marjorie. Everyone. The people who don’t know it for sure can guess just by the way she acts, and your mother doesn’t have to guess, she knows: my mother is unsound. She is not of sound mind.
Marjorie, your mother is two parts 1950s librarian to one part Dog the Bounty Hunter. Your mother sells yarn, but she gives the scorn away for free.
Did my mother’s mother do something to your mother’s mother, Marjorie? Are we stuck in a terrible cycle? I can break the cycle, Marjorie. While you and Tommy Jarman pump out librarian-Dog daughters bent on my destruction, I will leave this little place, and go far far away, to the city, and to college, where I will be happy and free. There are more cycles to break than the one your mother continued, Marjorie. No one should have to live the way my mother has to live, and her genes can die with me.
Marjorie, your mother pushed by me where I stood looking at the magazines and she left a powerful granny soap scent in her wake. When I looked up, she was holding my mother by the upper arm as if my mother was a sticky toddler. She muscled my mother halfway across the store, past the mailman and the mayor’s wife, and scolded her about shoplifting. Unjust, Marjorie!
Marjorie, I saw you cheating off Teresa Johnson’s geometry test. Did you know that besides teaching geometry, Mrs. Billings is the drama club advisor? Did you know that I am her star pupil? Marjorie, I can cry on demand. It is true that everyone hates a tattletale, but Mrs. Billings loves academic integrity, and when I blow the whistle, it will be reluctantly, through many tears.
Your mother made my mother cry, Marjorie, did she mention that to you while your whole family sat down to a pork chop dinner?
By the time I got to them, Marjorie, your mother had dumped everything in my mother’s purse out on the counter. Her apple, her crochet hooks, her lipstick, her Kleenex, her paperclip necklace collection, her colored pencils, her small jar of mayonnaise, her peacock feather (snapped in half), her glass marbles, her dusty crumbs of a piece of toast, her lined notebook, her rubberbanded stack of motel keycards my father gave her, her chess pieces, her bobby pins. Do you know, Marjorie, there was no yarn, there were no beads, there was nothing from your mother’s shop.
You must know, Marjorie, that there are church-going people and there are good people, and they are not always the same. I know your mother is a church-going woman, but I have it on authority that she’s no good. We are alike in that way, at least, your mother and me.
Oh, Marjorie, I am so sorry for the awkwardness you will feel when you have to tell your mother you need new underwear. It is so strange, the way they seem to disappear from your locker while you shower during P.E. I hear they’ve been turning up in Tommy Jarman’s locker! He must think you’re a very naughty girl.
Marjorie. My mother is still in bed. Did you know a person could stay in bed for twenty-one days? I feed her toast and tea, so she must have the strength, but still she will not crochet.
Your grandmother and my grandmother live here, Marjorie, and their mothers did too. We cannot help it if they hate each other or if until now their hatred lived in us, dormant, unnoticed, until I saw your mother decide my mother was a thief. Did you know your mother called the police on my mother, and on me? Would you have done the same?
I see your mother in you, Marjorie, and you are easier to reach.
Liz Warren-Pederson lives and writes in Tucson, in a 1950s bungalow overflowing with pets. Her novel-in-progress follows the attempts of a bit-player from Andy Warhol’s post-Factory days to reexamine her experiences in his entourage and reconcile her self-imposed exile to Sedona. Liz blogs about herself in the more natural first person at Girl of the Golden West and can be reached at liz dot pederson at gmail dot com.
On the creation of “A Church-Going Woman”:
I was really excited about the word “unsound,” but discarded the first story that came from it, or rather, the story just kind of petered out. This story started out in a really old-timey vein, a sort of frontier gothic, with this precocious 13-year-old narrator and a situation (suspicious shopkeep/mother with unspecified mental issues) that just arrived fully-formed in my mind, along with the name Marjorie. Things got really overwrought, so I updated the time period, but kept the antiquated diction, ‘cause that’s how I roll. It’s still pretty overwrought. And I’m not sure what to make of all the repetition; it’s heavy-handed for sure, but I figured flash fiction is about the only place I could get away with such shenanigans. It’s over quick, like a shot.