Gutted By Generational Reality

Meg Tuite

Let’s say Edwina finds a broken ceramic doll in the attic and takes it to the Antique Road Show. The expert looks it over and asks what she knows about it? Her great-grandmother was thrown off of a freight train during the war between Iowa and Iowa when she was five. The only thing she was clinging to was that doll. That’s why it’s been glued in a few places and lost one eye, just like her great-grandmother.

The expert goes into a synopsis of the war and some of the artisans in that area and asks, “How much do you think its worth?”

Ed’s eyebrows and shoulders rise together like a choir and she shakes her head. Inside she’s praying she’s sitting on a ceramic goldmine, the end to her suffering, a sedative with no side effects. The expert gives her that half-smile that means ‘Let’s peg you along a little longer, shan’t we?’

“Well, if it were in mint condition,” as he points to the gorilla glue Ed put on a week ago, “this would have been quite a gem. On the market you could have gotten at least 30, maybe 35k at auction. But, unfortunately, with the mold that has accumulated on the hem of her calico dress here, and the newly-glued ear, liver, and marble ovaries that might have been found in any dollar store, I’d have to say you’d be lucky to get a couple thousand.” The expert straightens his bowtie and draws his lips together in a smug handshake between himself and himself and turns his head slightly down to showcase his pain at having wrought this unfortunate news.

“Thank you,” he says. “I hope you’ll keep this in your family for a long time to come. Truly a keepsake.” Ed holds it together for the cameras and nods.

Later, she realizes no matter how many times she tries to reconstruct the family history, it will always be a farce. Mom barely gets out of bed. Dad has blasts of mania where his spankings are acoustic echoes of clapping skin with clenched teeth behind closed doors. His rage is a spectacle of muted ejaculations. They come from a nest of incestuous bodies leaking in and out of corners at night or some that orbit the light, changing diapers and giving enemas. Ed knows this.

She is in the back of a squad car just pulling up to the ER. Blurry visuals of smoking weed lined with angel dust in a park somewhere wedges between herself and denial. No angels piss in that dust. Ed sees herself running down streets screaming I can fly, tearing her scabby nails into someone’s face, who turns out to be a cop. “Where did my friends go?” The two policemen stare at her.

When Ed wakes up she finds she is on her way to Bubbling Springs Healing Center, better known to its occupants as ‘Barfing, Spasming, Heaving, and Crawling.

Mom comes by and brings Ed’s clothes, toothbrush, and Noxema. It’s not her first time here and won’t be her last. Mom’s cheeks are bloated up like Macy parade balloons and tiny sprouting veins press against her thickly pored skin. She’s on her way to resupply her tiny keep-me-alive bottles of vodka after this at Walgreens. She’s been in institutions and is not one to linger in places that can lock you up.

“Wars come and go every day,” she says.

“Yeah, Mom. I get that.”

“It’s a constant in our family. Talk to your Aunt Eliza.”

“She’s dead, Mom.”

“Oh, when did you become so literal?” she asks. She opens and closes her purse with a snap every few minutes. She isn’t made for the outside. Her coat is rumpled and one sleeve is torn at the edge. Her shoes look like they’re on the wrong feet, but it’s just the way she holds herself as if every part of her is leaning to the right.

“Thanks for bringing my stuff.”

“You have every right to make a fuss. Outbursts are what keep us alive, if that’s what you’re going for.”

“I don’t know,” Ed says.

“It’s not like I have gaping wounds like a soldier, but I’m tortured every day, child.”

“I know, Mom.” She is a whole trench of misery.

“Well, let me know if you need anything else.” Her eyes penetrate a space just above Ed’s head.

“Cash. I need cash.”

Snap, says the purse. She hands Ed her wallet. “Just leave me enough for Walgreens.” Ed grabs a bunch of twenties and stuffs them in her pocket.

“Thanks, Mom. Time for ‘deep thoughts’ in group therapy.” The best drugs come from the old men who ask Ed to suck them off for a bag. They are frequent flyers. This is their home.

Mom snorts, snaps her purse shut. “If I had a dollar for every group I had to listen to, I’d own a goddamn island. Love you, Edlet, but you’re too much like your Mom.” She kisses Ed on the forehead. Her eyes veer down to the square patchwork sheen of tile. She staggers back down the corridor until Ed sees a blurry outline of her future.