A D Jameson

photo by Matt Walker

Mothers and Daughters: Four Conversations

—Do you remember being stung near to death by paper wasps?
—No. When did that happen?
—When you were seven, in the summer of ‘09. We’d gone to summer at the lake.
—Hamilton Lake?
—Kennedy. We didn’t know what was wrong with you at first. We stood grilling tuna steaks, when we heard you bawling down by the water. You’d bothered a nest, with your shovel.
—There are wasps at the beach?
—Sand wasps.
—I had no idea.
—The mind blocks painful memories.
—I had no idea.
—Except for the wasps, it was a fine outing. Uncle Nicholas grilled the tuna steaks to near perfection.
—Did Father summer with us?
—No. He traveled, on a business trip to the Vatican.
—What business carried him there?
—He was swindling them. He cheated them out of certain priceless statues, e.g., Cellini’s Nymph of Fountainbleau, if memory serves.
—Thus the priceless Cellinis in the foyer—
—I dressed them, when I was younger, in cloths and beads.
—No, that was Veronica. You feared them.
—Yes. You wouldn’t go anywhere near the foyer; you’d shriek and cover your eyes and try to run.
—I had no idea.
—Veronica adored those statues. She stood there for hours, singing, dressing them. She named each one of them.
—Tell me again how she died.
—You shot her through the forehead with Father’s crossbow.
—I don’t remember.
—And through the chest. It was rather a bloody spectacle. You’d been playing at Beatniks and Swine.
—And she was the Beatnik?
—No, she was the Swine. You were the Beatnik, in the midst of a Beatnik rebellion. You’d found the weapons shed unlocked.
—And I shot her through the chest and the forehead?
—It was accidental, of course. You were only thirteen, didn’t know that the crossbow was loaded.
—I had no idea.
—The weapons shed should never have been left unlocked. We fired the Beatnik who was responsible.
—I had no idea.
—She died at an inopportune time, Veronica did.
—Did Father cry?
—He wasn’t there. He had left for the War.
—Which War was that?
—The second one. I begged him not to go to the War—I pleaded and begged, but to no effect. He remained unmoved. “The opportunities,” he told me. “War offers such wonderful opportunities. Museums, private collections...”
—I remember him, a little. Wielding his crossbow. Wearing his cap and goggles, his silk scarf billowing.
—He cut a dashing figure, I must admit.
—You adored him.
—I adored him.
—How, then, did he die?
—He isn’t dead.
—I had no idea.
—He lives quite comfortably in Munich.
—He never came home?
—The War had changed him. He wrote me a letter. He wrote, “The War has changed me. I’m going to live in Munich, quite comfortably.”
—What does he do there?
—What did he do here?
—Have you heard no more from him since that time?
—Only once, in a postcard he sent ten years later. Its front was a picture of the Harlequin. On the back he wrote, “I am living here still.”
—Did he make any inquiries as to me?
—No. He never cared for you. I never could convince him that you were his child.
—Am I?

—Mother, was I adopted?
—In what sense?
—In the sense that you and Father didn’t conceive me.
—You are certain?
—You were cut from my womb by Cesarean section. I’ll show you the scar, if you like.
—I like.
[The mother lifts her shirt.]
[The mother lowers her shirt.] —You’re unusually sensitive to sights like scars and blood.
—That disappoints you.
—You will never be the surgeon that your Father and I dared dream of.
—I am sorry. Grandmother—your mother—was a surgeon, was she not?
—She was. It was she who performed the Cesarean section.
—Grandmama? But she’s so old! She sits in a chair all day, so senile and palsied.
—At that time she was a master, ranked at the top of her field.
—Was she gentle?
—She wept all the while she made the incision. She wept, but her steadfast surgeon’s hands refused to shake.
—I’m afraid I can’t picture it. Not Grandmama.
—She didn’t shy from the sight of my womb slashed open, you nestled inside. Inverted.
—Was that what had caused the need for emergency surgery?
—Yes. You had turned around in my womb, such that I could not push you out.
—I’m sorry I did that. In my defense, I knew no better at the time.
—I may yet forgive you.
—Do you resent my having asked about my adoption?
—I may yet forgive you.
—All children naturally doubt their parentage. They wonder as to the means by which they got here.
—Some children have better cause than others. ...Your sister Veronica was adopted.
—Adopted? Veronica, my twin?
—She’s not really your twin. That’s a little stratagem of your Father’s and mine, instigated so that she wouldn’t suspect adoption.
—Yet she and I are completely identical! We are exactly alike in every conceivable sense!
—Your Father and I requested the agency send us a wholly equivalent child.
—But this is impossible!
—Birth itself is rather impossible, yet it somehow happens daily.
—Two infant girls, born miles apart, yet absolutely identical!
—Lacking a surgeon’s instincts and training, you are ignorant as to the marvels of modern surgery.
—Your sudden announcement, Mother, has rendered me stunned!
—Bear up, my child, bear up.
—Your shocking disclosure has stricken dumb all of my senses!
—Bear up, bear up.
—Your revelation burns like a dagger in my ear!
—You are old enough now, at last, to be able to handle the truth.
—I fear that this knowledge, when made widely known, will spell the end of Veronica!
—She’s always been weaker than you. I pray thee, do not tell her.
—Mother, I must now confess my ruse. I am Veronica, the forgery twin, your adopted daughter.
—Are you? I did not suspect. I’ve never been able to tell the two of you apart.

—Mother, I realize now I’m much smarter than you and Father.
—Daughters your age often come to just such a realization.
—I am amazed that you’ve managed to keep me alive thus far, let alone successfully raise me to sexual maturity.
—No minor accomplishment. The doctors predicted you would not live past four.
—I was sickly?
—Yes. You were premature. When born you could fit inside a shoebox.
—Most newborns can.
—A very small shoebox.
—No doubt this was due to some error on your part, mistakes that you made during my gestation.
—I will admit the possibility. At that time, it wasn’t known that pregnant women should not drink or smoke.
—Did you drink and smoke?
—No. But at that time it wasn’t known that pregnant women should not ride roller coasters. I may have ridden a roller coaster.
—I’m overcome with relief I’m an only child.
—Your Father and I would have liked to have had other children. But after your birth, we feared that the risk was too immense.
—Would that you had shouldered that risk. A brother or a sister may have made my unpleasant life more endurable.
—How cruelly we have wronged you, my precious peach!
—Did you and Father never suspect that I was a genius?
—I had concluded as much. You had me enrolled in the Idiot Track at school.
—Where you proceeded to fail every one of your courses. We never had any hopes for you, academically.
—I was frustrated by my teachers’ insipid fawning, the stupidity of my classmates and by the Idiot Track course materials.
—Yes, we realized as much by the time you reached junior high.
—Now I’m doing quite well.
—You’ve made up for lost time. But even still, you fall far short of the standard of genius.
—I spoke only relatively. Surely I’m smarter than Father.
—There’s truth to that statement, I must admit.
—Father bungles numbers.
—Equations and sums are not one of his strong suits.
—He misquotes Shakespeare as a matter of routine.
—It’s true, he does.
—“I have done nothing in the care of thee, / My dear one, thee my daughter.”
—He’d do better to reference the source text before reciting.
—“Now my skin’s all o’ergrown, / What complexion I have’s mine own.”
—Time has, very sadly, not treated his once peerless memory kindly.
—Father fancies himself a respectable scholar, yet he is a fool.
—One wishes he’d think a bit more clearly before he babbled.
—You could have done better yourself. You could have had somebody better.
—I don’t recall having been wooed by wizards or by royals.
—You never gave other, more preferable men the proper chances.
—I was in love, in love, in love.
—At the very least you should leave your husband, my Father, at once.
—I am in love, in love, in love.
—You should have known better than to mate in Indiana.
—I was in love with the endless cornfields and the standard regional accent.
—I am sick of the corn. I may with training manage to lose the accent.
—How dreadfully cruelly we have wronged you, my precious peach!
—You make a mockery of my pain!
—It would be best if you left this house, this state, this country at once, and got on with your life.
—I intend to. My luggage is already packed. I’ve purchased a ticket for the Evenstar Express.
—You will be happier in some city overseas, where your genius will take root and find full flower.
—I shall not repeat the life-crippling mistakes that you made with Father.
—Turn to the wind and find for yourself a new direction, my precious snow pea!
—And I’ll certainly never duplicate your catastrophic error of procreation.
—Then I take it you’ll be having the operation, after all?

—Momma? Where do babies come from?
—They don’t come from anywhere, darling. They simply are.

A D Jameson is the author of the novel Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson) and the prose collection Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound), both forthcoming in late 2010. His work has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Birkensnake, elimae, Caketrain, and dozens of other journals; more is forthcoming in Fiction International, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. Adam is also a video artist, performer, and an instructor in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Writing Program. In his spare time, he contributes regularly the the group literary blog Big Other.

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