Joyland

Los Angeles |

The End Is The Beginning

by Wendy C. Ortiz

edited by Lisa Locascio

The small round kitchen table was the desert and their hands were still upon it.

Marge looked at her daughter’s eyes, the blue eyes she’d given her, the brows she’d picked up somewhere else, a line she couldn’t quite see or fathom and it was useless anyway, because here is where the brow line, the eyes and the cut of jaw that they did share would end.

A shotgun leaned against the chair next to her daughter. Its casual posture, its degree of lean softened the world around Brenda until Marge realized it was swimming, wet, and was in fact a wetness in her eyes. She looked down at Brenda’s hands. Lizard dry, parchment. The light blue Formica under their sets of hands was the desert they had to cross. The gun was the sky. The place to fly off into.

Brenda stared back into Marge’s blue eyes. A bus on the main road whined and wheezed before the air went still again. Brenda wanted to move her lips, suck down the saliva building in her mouth but didn’t want her throat to constrict or move in any way. She didn’t want her mother to hear her swallow. Swallowing might indicate a need, a desire to take the next breath and the next. It was a mostly involuntary action until moments like this, when it became the loudest sound in the world.

Their universe was the kitchen, the bus a passing meteor. The kettle was cold. There was no reason for coffee this day. If they’d taken any longer to reach a different conclusion there might be eggs to break and fry, a slice of bread to toast, the only one left in the breadbox.

Butter, thought Brenda. Sugar. Co-caine.

There was no reason to speak. As mother and daughter they could speak without moving their mouths. The fact of it did not need to be discussed. It was like all other mysteries. The way the truck started up after a month of sitting idle, growing weeds around it until Marge maneuvered it onto the main road. The letters that stopped coming from family the next state over, as though they knew the future and couldn’t bring themselves to handwrite the names of their kin one last time. The spider web that grew for weeks on the front porch at eye level but then one day disappeared, reappearing on the back porch.

Signs, of course.

That spider, Brenda had remarked on a recent night. She is showing us the way. She went from front door to back door. Leading us out.

Marge listened, slowed her rocking in the glider. From somewhere the most intoxicating humming was coming and this daughter of hers was interrupting it to say something evil about the spiders and fate. When she went to bed that evening, arranging the crocheted blanket so that it covered her swollen feet, she knew they were arriving. The day was coming closer.

Some part of her had seen it. Maybe the evil part? The visions would show up between television shows. On her screen two women sitting across a kitchen table much like theirs, which seemed improbable because they’d had it for years, and didn’t people replace old junk like this more often than their family did? She’d been so busy scanning the faces, hopeful each time that the scene, this commercial, would last longer so she could recognize the people in it, or determine if they were opening their mouths, or if their chests moved with breath. Only after several viewings did Marge notice the shadow across the table.

Brenda claimed to not know what her mother was talking about, but wasn’t that just like Brenda? How did she know then to lean the shotgun just so against the table? It was as if she’d seen the commercial herself.

Shrew. Witch daughter, Marge thought. Her thumb and pointer finger began their rub.

Brenda noticed, swallowed. You tryna rub your fingerprints out? she laughed. Cuz that ain’t gonna work. You’d hafta do a lot more, something surious. Like burn it off.

Marge listened to the timbre of her daughter’s voice and knew another being was in there with her.

I saw it on t.v. You could burn the skin off your fingers, that’d be the way to lose your fingerprints.

We’re identifiable, Marge said. Why’d I want to do that? Who doesn’t know we live her, have lived here for dozens of years? I’m not tryna hide.

No, me neither, Brenda said. She allowed herself a smile and the charge in the room shifted heavy. Her foot jerked and her eyes went straight to the gun. It had been another sleepless night and how was she going to make sure she got a clean shot when she could hardly control her own swallowing and her eyes felt like they’d been propped open all night?

Marge knew the way it had to be done. It was the only way. Brenda had foreseen it and said as much but as the day drew closer she was suddenly a little fearful, even coquettish about how it would play out. She wanted to dress for it but then wanted it to seem like any other day so abandoned the purple flowered frock she had dry-cleaned special for the occasion. There would be blood, of course, and those flowers would suffer for the mess. All black seemed right but she didn’t own a stitch of black clothing. She settled for the housedress she wore most days. She wondered if her mother could smell her. Beads of moisture rode her upper lip. Brenda decided to move, just move, and she leaned into one thigh, making the chair squeak.

Marge looked at the gun, suddenly demanding a lot of attention with its high whine.

Brenda looked from her mother to the gun.

This is the way it has ta be, Ma.

Yes it does, Marge replied. She swiveled her head and looked out the window. To never see this ratty grass and the pepper tree. To never see the grave markers again, the ones they used to drop fresh flowers at on the regular, flowers they’d yank and cut from their little plot that dried up months prior. No one to visit. Gnarled hands and liver spots. The flowers turned into husks, fell apart, and the wind smashed up and scattered what was left of them. It was quite something to let everything go.

I will never see that road again, Marge said.

Nope, Brenda said. She let herself look out the window and see that road one more time. Just one more time. She knew she had to pick up the gun, make it snappy. It should be a one, two, three movement. Pick it up. Point at Ma. Pull the trigger. Then do a switcheroo so the gun was turned and the barrel kissed her own forehead. It had to work. If not, she might be a vegetable, but there was a piece of paper on the bookcase explaining to take her off any kind of life support. Life support was nothing they knew about.

No one to visit. To never see the mail carrier’s truck or the cropdusters and the jet airliners cross the sky. It was a nuisance, this life.

Brenda and Marge found each other’s eyes again. A little ripple went across Marge’s face. She barked out a laugh and then pressed her lips together.

This little girl of hers had been something else from the start but now? A fright. Someone to be careful of. Someone with a special connection to places Marge had never seen and never wanted to see.

Look at me, girl, Marge said.

Brenda looked. Had been looking at her mother, this way, for most of her life. She tasted the whine from the metal just near her leg now. It was sharp, tangy. She rolled her tongue around her mouth. Sweet now. It was only right for the daughter to take over, now.

She grabbed the shotgun. Marge smiled. Blood eclipsed the light wandering through the window. The table, etched with its deep red pattern, waited for the next visitor, a crack in the sky letting in sheer sun.