Tucked inside his father’s arm, Roger listens to his father read the familiar story—“Fee Fie Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!”—but something is different. He has never been such a despondent or angry or loud giant. Somehow Roger knows that his father is pitching his voice to penetrate the closed bathroom door, where his mother is taking a bath.
Later Roger goes in to say goodnight, and he sees his mother is not sitting up, as she usually does, her hair in a bun. She is submerged, her hair floats all around her, her eyes are closed. In the fish-shaped soap dish Roger sees three hairpins. She smiles. He has seen his mother naked many times, but only now does she seem exposed, in a way that he doesn’t understand so much as sense. It’s as subtle as the salty scent of blood.
Thirty-five years later Roger is forty-one, in Ashland, Oregon, directing a play. When he tells the actor who plays Othello, “You must seem more paranoid in that scene,” that long-ago evening sails back to him: his mother’s hairpins in the grooved soapdish; his father’s booming, serrated voice.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.