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Kitchens by Ellene Glenn Moore
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Kitchens

by Ellene Glenn Moore

X

About Ellene Glenn Moore

Ellene Glenn Moore is a writer living in sunny South Florida. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University, where she held a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellowship. Ellene's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Raleigh Review, Brevity, Best New Poets, Ninth Letter, Critical Flame, and elsewhere, and her chapbook The Dark Edge of the Bluff is forthcoming from Green Writers Press in 2017.

 

I.

I cannot explain what I am doing in the kitchen so late, the house chilled and black, and I cannot explain what my father is doing here. In my thirst I have opened the fridge, alarming him to my presence. Impassive, like all dreams, he sends me back to bed and soon this night is cupped in the uncertainty of memory, the apocryphal, child-mouthed stories I tell myself when I can’t sleep, when I am thirsty and the kitchen is in the opposite corner of the house.

II.

Alone in my first apartment, I open a gift from my mother: a knife. It is so sharp, I know, and expensive, because it is a gift from my mother. On the floor of the kitchen, I pry it from its velvet nest and run the back of a fingernail down its blade, worry the groove it leaves with my lip while the neighbors downstairs scream.

III.

I am crying again, four years old and lifted to the yellowed counters by my mother or a large woman with two names who is married to my father’s best friend. Only a moment ago I was running through the long hallway on the second floor. It begins as stairs in the kitchen, rising to a door we keep open, past one brother’s room, then another, past the bathroom where my toothbrush stands to attention in a wooden rabbit with balloons painted on the side. Then a landing, a step up to my nursery where I still sleep, although not in a crib but a big-girl bed that began as a collection of dark-stained walnut boards but somehow became a simple metal frame with a pleated bedskirt my mother must have sewn on her iron-black hand crank Singer. My memory cannot account for the mysterious discrepancy of the bed, although when I am older I find remnants of a twin headboard and footboard in an odd storage room beneath the eaves.

IV.

I am opening birthday presents early at the kitchen table. Windows wide, summer blows in, and I tear off the wrapping paper and let it stray in crumpled blossoms across the table and floor. Books, from a cousin or an aunt. Some fantasy or adventure, one a blue spine, and they are hardcover. I remember that, they are hard.

V.

When I lift these memories out of night and into light 17 years away and from a different sun altogether, I do not even know which questions to ask. Split in two, I hover above myself, arranging my hands into unfamiliar shapes, closing my body, putting a false name on emptiness.

VI.

Two years after receiving it in the mail, the knife is dull enough that when my mother slams the door to my bedroom, which I have offered her for the week, and I press her gift slowly into my arm, it will leave a white, bloodless line but will not break the skin. For the whole week, it seems, we have bickered, my plans subjugated to my mother’s vision of my life here—these groceries, that rug, this recipe she clipped from the Times—and it rises within us like bile as we walk up the stairs, into the kitchen where she has promised to help me but now takes offense at the way I say, “There’s a pen on the table” and so the door slams and the knife she has given me is too dull.

VII.

In the afternoon my friends will come for cake and tag, but while the house is still quiet, my brother and I find ourselves together at the table in a deadlock. I have left my new books strewn catty-wonk, well within my brother’s angry reach, and he rears back and throws one across the table at me. It hits my arm and I am glued in place, skin smacked red and burning, and even though it hurts, I lower my chin, stare at my brother from beneath my bangs. Having expected me to cry out, my brother now wants to win. His face is blank. He lifts another book, holds it by the corner between thumb and curled index, says to me, “I have more ammo.”

VIII.

One moment after the corner of the hallway cabinet reached out for me, I am in the kitchen, no memory of what happened in between, and my mother and the large woman are coaxing a pill down my raw throat with apple juice, which I have never liked. What I don’t know then but which my mother will make sure I know soon is that she never liked that woman, or her husband, my father’s friend, though he once confessed his love for my mother, despite my father, and my father was incapable of making friends anyway, and isn’t that so funny, so worthy of our contempt. The large woman holds my head and rocks me while I cry. Years later I imagine I can still feel a dimple in my hard forehead, a thought-line broken and dangling off the wrong way.

IX.

Soon, and for years, I will be chagrined on his behalf by this line: “I have more ammo.” The false drama, the boy-ness of it. But now I am shaken from myself, and now I am outside with my mother, unable to speak through my tears as she examines the ripped skin beneath my eye, the blood on my chin, and scolds me to tell my friends that I “had a slight mishap” if they ask me what happened.

X.

Instead, I drop the knife on the kitchen counter, melt into the floor, press my shoulder into the lower cabinet. I am senseless, I leave a bruise on my jaw and marks on my hands, the impression of my teeth. When I examine them later, they are dark rings, unbearably small, as if they have come from the mouth of a child.