Momma's Spider

December 30, 2008
By Cricket Gullickson, Culver, IN

Mommy was working at the stove, pouring chopped carrots into the boiling broth of my favorite soup. The tendrils of steam, floating up from the soup’s surface, twisted around her thin, worn face on their way up to the cracked ceiling and bare light bulb. Even from where I sat I could feel the warm, moist air heating my cheeks and the back of my hands. Mommy’s sharp knife scraped softy and rhythmically against the pockmarked cutting board as she scratched the stubborn carrots into the broth. She set the board down gently with a quiet thud, like her footfall on the linoleum.

Our new kitchen was very small—small enough that the pots and pans I was playing with took up most of the floor. Whenever Mommy cooked I pulled them out and sat close enough to not be lonely but far enough away to be no hindrance to her. In our old kitchen they only took up a portion, and Mommy had enough room to move freely while she cooked her meals. This new one, however, was cramped and small, squeezed into the apartment as if it were a last-minute installment. The walls seemed too close. A single window let in murky sunlight, but it did nothing to warm the dank room. The walls were bare except for wallpaper and a single nail hammered in to hold up the calendar. The brittle, cracked wallpaper flaked off at my touch, and only a few of the faded blue flowers of its pattern were still intact. There were four small cupboards above the stove, but two of them held all of the dishes Mommy and I needed. The third and fourth were empty except for a generous coating of dust.

My pots, ranging in size from the ones Mommy cooked rice in to the ones she cooked turkey in, lay scattered around me. I held a pan in my left hand and struck each pot in turn. The pots were chosen carefully—they blended to form their own intricate racket, like musicians in an orchestra. I sat with my back pressed onto the refrigerator. The cold linoleum floor, still unfamiliar, was hard and uncomfortable. My legs already ached, but I paid no attention, for the ringing of the pots and the bliss of their tuneless music captivated me. Still, I knew that when I stood the unsightly diamond pattern of the kitchen floor would be pressed into my skin, leaving angry, red streaks.

The refrigerator was still stained yellow with grease, even after Mommy had scrubbed it with Lysol that first afternoon in the apartment, last week. She had scrubbed as hard as she could with the coarse rag, but she had only been able to remove the newest mold. I knew that the yellow would never completely fade and that the refrigerator would never be as white and flawless as our old fridge at the house. I think Mommy knew, too, when she stared at the grease without really seeing it, dripping rag in hand. Yesterday I took the magnets out of the torn Staples box, where Mommy and I had put them after taking them off our old fridge the morning we left. I decorated the new fridge, and tried to cover up the stains with the colorful magnets. The magnets were vibrant as spring flowers and they helped brighten the room, at least a little. I don’t know if Mommy was happy when she saw it, though I wanted her to be; she just smiled sadly, and her face was as wistful as it had been when I asked for a good daddy for Christmas.

I watched Mommy’s hands, dry and rough from scrubbing the floor and walls yesterday, search out the bright green peppers. She let the cool tap water wash off the dust, and her dexterous fingers searched every cranny and blemish of the fruit for anything the water missed. Mommy sliced through the pepper’s thick, resistant skin. Like a sheet of thick plastic, the skin resisted Mommy’s knife for several seconds before giving way. She chopped with short, sharp strokes, and her brow was furrowed in concentration. Mommy left the pepper chunks on the cutting board. The spicy, pungent aroma spread through the room like food coloring in water.

Mommy’s slippers padded across the floor as she paced, looking for a pan to fry the peppers in. They crossed before me like two prowling tigers, and I was intrigued by their presence so close to my pots. I was glad Mommy had them to put on her thin feet, because she was always saying how cold the apartment was.

Mommy’s sharp gaze locked onto my pan. She stopped before me and said, “Child, give me that pan!” in a voice stretched as thin as the flattened dough, white and malleable on the Formica counter. I shrunk, I think, to the size of the pepper chunks, lying next to the dough. I didn’t know what Mommy was mad at, and though I was sure it was me, I didn’t understand what I’d done. She’d been easily angered lately, and I did my best to keep her happy, but it didn’t always work. I never blamed Mommy, though—it wasn’t her fault that Daddy had left us or that work had let her go. It wasn’t her fault, either, that she couldn’t pay for the house, which I guess wasn’t even ours anymore. Mommy said it was someone else’s, now.

Mommy took the pan from my hand. Its surface, as worn as Mommy’s face, slid easily through my pudgy fingers. It was a sturdy pan, old and strong, but it was dented and had been even before I used it as a mallet. Its cool, smooth iron was familiar and strangely reassuring. Mommy whisked it up and glanced at it, only to exclaim, “There’s a spider in here!” and her voice was pitched, full of irritation.

She grabbed up a ball of steel wool, which was lying by the still-dripping faucet, and scrubbed the dented bottom of the pan. A long-dead daddy longlegs was firmly plastered to the bottom, as if melded with the pan. Mommy’s fingers began to turn pink from the rough fibers of the steel wool, but the spider didn’t budge, just as the grease on the fridge refused to fade. She frowned and began to rub harder—angrily—and the steel wool screeched against the iron. Mommy gasped and her shoulders shook as she scrubbed. She kept rubbing until her fingernails tore, but the spider still stuck, stubbornly.

I didn’t realize that Mommy was crying until she wiped her tears with a broth-stained sleeve. She refused to let her tears drip from her chin and onto the pan. At first I thought she was crying for the spider, which had finally come loose and slid down the drain. But then Mommy let the pan clatter into the sink and turned to me. Tears pooled in her eyes, giving them a strange liquid quality. As she gazed at me her lip trembled. I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t have the courage.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “so sorry,” and her voice was listless, defeated. I think I knew then that she wasn’t crying for the spider.

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This article has 1 comment.

bluhs said...
on Sep. 2 2012 at 3:23 pm
bluhs, E, Alabama
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