After he died there was still her brother and sister to feed. His two pearls, mouths open and hungry at the table, one older and one younger. My mother was expected to hold them all together upon her tongue. With every fall of the cleaver, I could hear my mother spelling out grief. Crabs thrown alive into the metal basin. Their scrabbling salted the room gray, dried up any tears before they could bulb. I felt relief when I heard the crack of her mallet on the shell, a spot she told me many times was an instant kill. I can’t tell you where that tender fissure lives. I was never looking when she pointed this out. I was always halfway out of the door.

3 Comments

  1. Alina Stefanescu

    O Jenne I love the title of this! It caught my attention immediately. And I love how the he stays nameless–how the mystery of the character isn’t assuaged with a naming convention.

    I’m going to take this line by line with thoughts and comments and places where you can tinker or play or give yourself permission to go wilder.:)

    “After he died there was still her brother and sister to feed.” Perfect opening–the suspense is here; the frame is tight. I think you might be able to play with the second clause somehow, maybe “After he died, her siblings still needed feeding.” That would exploit the sound and make the image even tinier? I think this sentence could add be spread out into the next line, where you could add the genders of the siblings… “his two pearls, a boy and a girl, mouths open and hungry at the table, one older and one younger.” ?

    Love love love the image of “his two pearls”–the materiality of it!

    “My mother was expected to hold them all together upon her tongue.” Love this line and image. Now I’m wondering if the she in this story is the mother, and if the speaker is one of the siblings? If so, you could bring a plural pronoun into the first line (“After he died, we kids needed feeding.”) If not, maybe give us a small additional line to explain who the speaker is in relation to the siblings. Just to keep that clear.

    “With every fall of the cleaver, I could hear my mother spelling out grief. Crabs thrown alive into the metal basin.” Perfect images and sounds here.

    “Their scrabbling salted the room gray, dried up any tears before they could bulb.” Gah, the tears “bulbing” here! Fantastic images.

    “I felt relief when I heard the crack of her mallet on the shell, a spot she told me many times was an instant kill.I can’t tell you where that tender fissure lives. I was never looking when she pointed this out. I was always halfway out of the door.”

    This whole last part reads so well and expresses a sort of intimate distance that reminds me of Diane Willams. Love how the anaphora in the last two lines gives us this tiny beat at the end, like two feet attached to sentences, leaving. Thank you for sharing your work with me.

  2. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Jenne, This is a gem. “With every fall of the cleaver, I could hear my mother spelling out grief,”
    And the crabs…”Their scrabbling salted the room gray,” –images to taste on the tongue! This is prose like poetry, and the last two lines nail it– a flash scene taut with grief, a mother’s, a daughter’s.

  3. John Van Wagner

    Jenne
    Wow. The tongue, the mouth, tastes in the mouth, of salt, of grief (it’s interesting how somehow “salted”, though assigned to a color, moves from its place and ends up in my mouth — synesthesia!) “Tender fissure” too, of meat, of grief again—this piece does something I’ve seldom, if ever, seen—it overrules word order and constructs a simultaneity of image, thought, feeling. Its brevity makes this possible in part, because of the way I read and over-read sentences; that ‘now’ in a sentence can be relatively thick and broad.
    And I love the break by which you bring this to a close; by looking away, in essence. Looking away, you leave the story for us, leave it behind. You step out of the room, a considerate act, to leave us alone with it.

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