There is a kitchen somewhere with carrot orange counters thanks to an untimely insurance claim. This sparse thing is a place to write Christmas cards, to burn bread and throw it away, to drink soggy milk straw drinks, to shovel pears and ice cream into fruit-starved kids.
Inside it, there is a mother and a daughter. The daughter is playing with her friends: the tiles, the hot tap of the sink, the cup for special occasions. The mother stands near the back door with a smoke wriggling away on her bottom lip. The daughter is asking a question.
“Who was the first person on Earth?”
The mother stands and stands and stands until she is standing on top of the question. She looks at the view of the atheist, non-conspiracy making, sensible life she wants for her child.
“Us,” she replies. Her daughter does not say that us means more than one person.
Now at the sink, the mother’s smoke gets drowned as she rinses the dishes. It’s body is soggy and limp as she takes another desperate puff. There she thinks of a time when there was just a womb and a mother; a togetherness where another version of herself was born.
I am reading for a non-existent postgrad deadline. My mouth is open like the inside of the recycling bin waiting to taste pages. I have been munching on Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation as a late night snack. Her characters bounce around in my stomach. There’s one, the wife or I or me depending on where you are in the story. Sometimes I think she is me. The version of me when I become a mother. Mothers as writers but never writers as mothers. It’s impossible to sustain a child of words.
On Russell St, there’s a literary journal launch at a bar. All of our drinks are talking about publication, ABNs, dodgy internships. One of my friends has one too many. I take her and swaddle her in the backseat of a car.
She puts her head against the window, pointing: “Bird.”
Last week my sister sent me a niece-update message: Baby L-O-V-E-S chatting to her friends at the park at the moment. Must be swooping season.
She sends me a link to an article about magpies.
According to BirdWatcher009, magpies have great self-awareness thanks to convergent evolution. They’re one of the very few species, other than humans, that can recognise their reflection in a mirror.
Driving my sloshed friend home I see a black and white wing soar past my rear view. I press down on the brakes until I realise it’s behind me. Out of superstition, I pull my hair in fear that I killed the bird. I don’t remember who taught me to believe in such things, and still my hands tear at my scalp.
If I was actually writing a thesis, I might ask for reading recommendations like Maggie Nelson or Nayuka Gorrie.
My supervisor might ask why am I writing about mothering when my closest scenario to motherhood is watering the dead fern in my bathroom.
I might say it’s because I’m trying to figure this all out before I’m given the title of m/other.
We go through phases of choosing baby names. Is it a lesbian thing or a woman thing or a I-didn’t-want-to-be-a-mother-and-now-I-do thing?
The first time you talk about the future of our unmade children, I’m angry about how enjoyable they sound. I lean into your voice explaining they’ll interrupt me while I work and I’ll lose my train of thought and love them regardless.
But I want to ask: what do I love more than that idea?
In my purse, there’s a note from Shirley Jackson. It’s a line from one of her books that stares at me whenever I pay: “I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster…and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside.”
Fuck, Marry, Kill: clucky-lesbian-baby-holding-friend me, post-fringe-trim-that-won’t-sit-right me or learner’s-permit-photo me.
While babysitting a friend’s kids, I decided to bake cookies. Their two heads crane over the electric mixer peering into a museum of yolk and flour. I ask them if their noses are still attached when I turn my back to wash up.
I make up lies for why I can’t submit my fake essay to my fake supervisor.
Well, it started with the nose cookies you see…
During the baking stage, we sit on the floor near the oven. All of us have our fingers stretched towards the oven almost touching the burned-glass. Later, I’ll Google if this can give kids heatstroke.
“Who can keep their hands up here for the longest?” I ask.
“You’re gonna be a good mum, you know. Your kids will have so much fun,” the oldest girl says.
In a surge of maternal energy, I move to rub flour from her cheek as a silent thanks. Then she says, “you’re out,” and I remember we were playing a game.
It’s Sunday during display home season. Somehow we’re the only two gays looking at a squashed house near Fitzroy.
It’s a three bedroom with a height chart on the inside of the entryway door frame. Each name is smudged on with a Sharpie and a date.
It’s making me sweaty just looking at the family tree of growth. There’s a name towards the bottom that has been rubbed off but a few of letters remain; PAR —
I call my mother and she asks if I’ve seen Moana Hope and her wife are having a baby. I haven’t. “Well, I’m thrilled for them”, she says. Beside me, my lover is writing an essay on women and revenge and slaughter.
“That’s nice,” I say.
“Yes, there’s this kind boy at work who used to date her wife. You know, if you’re interested.”
I hang up with the excuse of upcoming assignments under my tongue.
Before we fall asleep, I take out my earrings. Our bedside table has the feeling of Flinders Street Station at peak hour – an expansive, smothering community for the weary. In my hands, the gold studs look up at my jewelry parenting questioningly. My lover has her palm waiting for me to press them into, knowing. It’s then I think we become mothers without children.
Maddison Brake is a writer and editor living on Wathaurung land. Her work has appeared in Matters Journal and Verandah among others. She is the recipient of Deakin University’s Judith Rodriguez Prize and will undertake a mentorship with Writers Victoria in 2020. She edits nonfiction for Voiceworks.