Square knot, surgeons knot, bind or bight?

We fought for you to go with your aunt to Europe.

[Unspoken caveat: your high school grades must be perfect.]

I know I’m failing Chemistry. They don’t. I am failing because I am in an advanced class that expects me to induce all the laws of basic chemistry from experiments. I don’t know anything about inducing anything.  I don’t know anything about chemistry. I ask for help. I am told you are supposed to be confused. I am. For the entire year. I do not tell my family. Why would I? I want to go to Europe. I’ve read all of Jansen’s giant History of Art. I engage in avoidance behavior. It looks like I don’t care. I do. I really do.

I go to Europe. I go wild. I love it. I wander like a female flâneur. I dress in scarves and sandals. I know it won’t last and it doesn’t. I get a letter from my parents indicating my grades came in the mail. I am correct. They would not have sent me had they known. This is shameful, and I will never be allowed to forget it. I am sixteen.  One cousin thinks I am feisty. Another will never speak to me again. That one dies the next year. I think my life may be over. It’s not.

Constrictor knot: Like hues of blood and a scarlet A, they stay. It’s later, but not much.

My mother is dying of cancer. I cook. I make the wrong food. My father banishes me. I go back to school. I can’t seem to concentrate. I read paragraph after paragraph without comprehension. I’m trying. The knot is tightening. I pledge a sorority. I do mindless things. At a game in the Astrodome, my name scrolls across the scoreboard: MARTHA JACKSON CALL HOME. It’s terrifying; has she died? I scramble up the forever concrete steps to find a phone. I stumble, skin my knees, tear my nylons. I can barely breathe. I reach my father. He yells over the phone, “Where were you? Your mother has been calling for you all night.” I gasp, I’ll be right home. No, he says, she’s sleeping. Don’t come. I don’t. He holds it against me forever. Double-bind. You win Dad. And if I had come home?

Lashings: My father cuts a deal with my mother when they are married. He gets to blow up when he comes home because his job is stressful. She loves him. She never thought anyone would love her. She thinks she’s ugly. She isn’t. She’s brilliant. That puts men off. She agrees. When she’s sick, he forgets I didn’t make that deal.

Loops and Bends:  When my mother dies, he expects me to be there. I figure the rope bends back. He banished me. I banish him. I don’t come home. I travel. I think I’m teaching him a lesson. I’m not. He doesn’t see it; he’ll never see it. He holds a grudge.

He says something must be wrong with me.

I don’t feel loved. I yell at him about politics. It is the sixties and it will go on being the sixties until it is not, knots yet to untie and knots yet to tie.

Martha Jackson Kaplan is a Pushcart nominated poet who is excited to venture into writing flash fiction. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. More about her can be found at marthakaplanpoet.com.

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