Dad is inside Mom. They are so far up each other’s business that Mom engulfs Dad like a sausage casing. They operate in stereo now, in layers. The heft of them, standing on one pair of feet wearing Mom’s blue Keds, takes up space in the kitchen. Stretched and misshapen like an old man’s track suit pulled tight over a body, they have become one person.
They’re not like other parents, who read their papers or tablets in separate Easyboy chairs, far apart in dark rooms, barely speaking unless the roof falls or the cat dies. No. Our parents are into each other, attracting-repelling like magnets, depending on which way they’re turned. Always chirping at each other, two big parakeets in a small cage, they have no time for me and Brother. The parents have time and eyes only for each other, circling like Suma wrestlers, or dancers, depending on moods.
They forgot about their children. We grew hungry for food and for the larger world. Brother’s belly rumbled at the kitchen table while he played with blocks, then later, worked on counting aloud: “One plus one equals two. Two minus one equals… Mom.”
As big sister, I learned to cook, very young. Standing on a stool, cracking eggs, I learned when the hot oil would pop, when to duck. I made grilled cheese. I read novels while Little Brother worked on multiplication homework at the table.
The parents had already practiced division! How many times would Dad go all the way into Mom? Once. One whole Mom. Could you divide Dad by Mom? Yes, one time, again, the result was the same.
“How much is six times seven?” Brother asked.
“Be your own man!“ Father called out from inside Mother, a hollow voice inside a crypt.
I grew tall while they grew wide, trading off going into each other’s apertures, expanding sideways. They were more boa constrictor than human. The parents were busy bending, standing, rolling on the floor, one making gagging noises thigh high on the other’s leg, down the throat.
“Get a room!” I hollered. “Get out, if you can’t help. We’re trying to eat.” Wary of touching them, I rolled them out with a broom.
I wished they would act like adults. Soon, they rolled back into the kitchen, Mom hugging herself around Dad like a contortionist. She was a high waisted pair of stretchy pants pulled up on an old man, up to his armpits. They couldn’t get enough. They reminded me of drug addicts on the Internet, each one the other’s Higher Power. They swallowed one up, then spat that one out, giant cats retching hair balls.
By age 16, I took over all the groceries and dinners, taught Brother to do laundry. I paid the bills from Grandpa’s inheritance —Grandpa had disappeared into Grandma a decade ago. I rarely saw Mom and Dad separate, rarely saw two distinct people. When the government census form came to the house, I didn’t know how to fill it out, how to count people in our home.
Mom opened her mouth wide —to belch, to utter a syllable about Dad— and sometimes I saw Dad inside, a haunted human face in a dark cave, aquiline nose protruding from her throat like uvula. They were a real carnival act, Mom better than a sword swallower.
Dad opened her jaws from the inside, forcing his fingers crablike over teeth, holding her mouth open to speak. As if afraid his time were short. he barked brief advice: “Never mix business with family,” he said Saturday, while Brother and I folded laundry. Brother, smiling from parental attention, nodded, folding white tube socks into pairs. The jaws opened again, creaking on rusty hinge. “Girl,” Dad called. “If you let someone inside you, use a condom.”
I blinked, I tossed a bath towel over Mom-Dad’s head. “I’m good, Dad-Mom. I know about birth control. If I were going to let someone in, I’d make sure he pulled back out.”
Feeding on each other, the parents stopped eating food. Mom’s color changed. She was a stretched out container, a grey shell. It was a matter of days. One funeral should cover it.
Brother smelled the decay. Leaving home for the school bus, first he gripped me tightly in his arms. My body relaxed against his. Tempting, not to let go, but I pushed him off. “High Five!”
Brother smacked my hand with his.
“Now leave this house! Go!”
Nicole Brogdon is a therapist, a writer, and a human in Austin Texas. Years ago, after graduating from Rice University, she earned an MA in creative writing from University of Houston. Later she acquired a Masters in counseling from St Edwards University. Now she works as a psychotherapist, specializing in trauma, attachment, creativity, and multi-cultural perspectives. She has worked with all kinds of admirable strugglers. Nicole believes that her work is connected under the umbrella of wanting to help you tell your story.