When they cut flesh again and again sometimes the muscle buckles, like how metal can only be soldered so many times before it’s fused to itself, and like over-chewed gum it will crumble in your hands. That was how it was with this mother. On her abdomen for an inch in each direction she had no real skin, just scar tissue, cross-shaped, taut and the iridescent pink of a new baby’s soaped flesh. Each of her children had a story she could illustrate by lifting her shirt and sliding her finger 10 inches on her belly: horizontal, vertical, horizontal, vertical, and, finally, a fat fist of knot where they sliced the third time in the same direction. When this, the final child, heard her story she knew she was especially responsible for her mother’s troubles. For weeks after the baby’s birth her mother seized up when she stood, but after a time grew used to it. The lump just sat there mostly, a flexed bicep without an arm, obscuring what was left of her belly button. You could see it through the mother’s shirt like an unskilled shoplifter. The girl who made the lump had trouble seeing her mother’s face, so instead she talked to the lump. She would tell the lump good night and the lump would murmur in response, “You did this to me.” Now the child is nearly an adult, and the fist has woven itself into the mother’s torso. It was a classic villain, appearing harmless at first, lulling her into inaction, while it slowly ruined her, by the time she knew what was happening, it was too late: the lump spawned cilia, finger-like, that massaged their way into her stomach, intestines. One sat malignant choking a kidney. The mother and doctor’s agreed this was total surprise but the girl knew there was some warning. She just didn’t know how to tell anyone that lately the lump had been getting louder and louder when she kissed it goodnight.
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