Prairie Mama’s coming. You hear her heavy steps, slipping in those thick merino socks.
Prairie Mama’s been grinding bones down to flour, and you don’t know if they’re the cat’s, or hers, or some avatar of you that hasn’t arrived yet. The kitchen is redolent with the smell of new bread, and you hate yourself a little for thinking how much you wish you could sneak a bite. But if you go in, Prairie Mama might put you in the oven too for ruining her concentration, and that would be a shame. Your hands are still bubble-gloved with blisters from the last time you had to unlatch the oven from the inside.
Prairie Mama might be in a rescuing mood by the time things reach that point, but it’s just as likely that she’ll be two rooms away, rinsing down some of your mewling brothers and sisters in the cast-iron tub, and won’t hear you calling until you’ve melted into a puddle of fat with crackling skin. Not only will she have to build you up nearly from scratch, but the reek your body gives off will have ruined the bread. She’ll be so angry then that she’ll just want to melt you all over again. Nobody likes their bread to taste like roasted child or sibling, even if it is made of bone-flour. (Prairie Mama knows better than to mix blood into the dough; it makes the stuff go rancid. Only good milk for her and her brood, and clear water.)
Papa has been gone bear-hunting a long time, or else Prairie Mama has locked him in a closet. Sometimes you hear wheezing from the one that holds the stack of pelts that someday one of you will have to take to market, but it seems equally possible that the skins in there are just trying to remember what it’s like to have lungs.
Prairie Mama loves you. She cries when one of you breaks or melts or eats rat poison, and straightaway she sets to work, salvaging the parts so she can make you up whole again, like patching a quilt or darning a sock or brewing midwinter soup.
Prairie Mama loves you so much that she knits you hats all year round. Sometimes they are made of things you can wear, like wool, and patterned with reindeer or bright Scandinavian snowflakes. And sometimes they are made of things you can’t, like splinters or white filaments of mold.
Prairie Mama has your body right enough but she wants your soul, wants you to want to stay always where she is and let her fit the arch of her foot to your forehead like you’re a stone in a creekbed. But this is the one thing you can’t give her. You hear her thundering down the passage in her socks, and you quake a little, hoping that maybe this time you’ll live long enough to grow up into something big enough to be her rival.
L. M. Davenport
L. M. Davenport is a MFA student in fiction at the University of Alabama; her work has appeared or is forthcoming at Hobart, Shimmer, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere.
Artwork: Natalia Drepina, Tangle of Veins