A dacha, a little house, a cottage leagues larger inside than it looks from the outside. Often a mother feels this herself. Burrowing deeper into herself. The house in the woods was an animal’s body in which other animals nested. Carefully, they lived there. No. Uncarefully they lived in that legged house, which was after all a house with whims and turns and ropes. Wires and roots, men’s overcoats, pitchforks, crowbars, beets, torches, and massive aluminum pots. Numbers in script, numbers block printed, tin ballerinas, powder caps on a red roll of paper. The ceiling a captain’s wheel, the floor pitching. One animal, a roach with a name like a bell, a name like a girl well enough loved, crawled up her wall.
The oven, the stove, the hot and cold-bellied, thinks a mother. Under the stove her youngest catlike child naps. Once the mother roamed the fields. A slaughterer of mice and voles, birds, she’d eaten heads and harvest-fat entrails, but inside the cottage rules a truce, and to that reeking document, of all things, she finds herself faithful. A mouse skitters past her sleeping child to prove it. Outside the cottage, she is not this faithful to the bear, though he is large. Not to the sparrow in the pine, living on after death. Not to the roach, its name a tin bell rolling out from under her porch, and certainly not to the witch down the lane, though she sends her children with baskets of food to stoke the witch’s stove, to spill the witch’s milk. Inside, from which she rarely stirs, but stirs the embers. Not because these catlike children won’t one day hunt the fields themselves, but because that fresh and slicked bulb her heart sprung from her chest, once, seared new, and rode off in a fit of hope. And rode off to its death. Now she sits and studies, a permanent winter, the sort that never meets an eye.
When a mother was young, she so hungered for sweetness she tried to become it. She filled herself with sugar, though this often made her mean. She turned her voice into a small silver bell, she turned her skirts into a wash of light, she tucked up the corners of her mouth gently so that no man would ever feel compelled to tell her to smile, she was always already smiling. She filled her room with lilacs until she too smelled of lilacs. She wore a vial of honey around her neck. She told people how beautiful they were and meant it. The whole time, she was very still and very smart and everything hurt.
Danielle Pafunda is the author of ten books including the recent Beshrew (Dusie Press), The Book of Scab (Ricochet Editions), The Dead Girls Speak in Unison (Bloof Books), and the forthcoming Spite (Ahsahta Press 2020). Work appears in many journals and anthologies including the next edition of BAX: Best American Experimental Writing. She teaches at Rochester Institute of Technology.