Mother, Prey by Tara Isabel Zambrano
Tara Isabel Zambrano’s flash fiction piece “Mother, Prey” explores motherhood through the lens of a daughter who, once reluctant to bring a child into this world, now finds herself following in her mother’s footsteps. Structured as a mosaic, the fragments not only propel the narrative through time, but also juxtapose against one another to create a textured, complex dynamic where “the only way to love is to either birth something or to destroy it.”
In true Zambrano fashion, the specific, sensory details found throughout this story, as well as the choice to embrace a first-person point of view, impress with how they immerse the reader into this character’s unique experience. An embroidered badge pinned to a mother’s dress, milk teeth the size of small bird’s eggs, kisses against papery cheeks—all carry weight and evoke an intimacy that extends well beyond the page. We hope you enjoy reading “Mother, Prey,” and that you’ll also check out Zambrano’s accompanying author’s note for more about what inspired her to write this evocative piece. —CRAFT
I was ten when I discovered I had a womb. It bloomed red. The same year I learned about space. Booster rockets to escape gravity, separated and lost forever. My mother bagged items in a grocery store, Mary, an embroidered badge pinned on her dress. She ate leftovers, said Thank you, and smiled even in her sleep. I caught bugs, filled my mouth with dirt, tasted the salt and spit, never believed in God.
My mother kept my milk teeth in a velvet pouch. They looked like eggs of a small bird. When I got braces, the metal dug into my gums. It hurt to smile but it was genuine.
I practiced falling at fifteen. First a two-foot platform, two years later a building, finally a plane, years later when I could sign the consent form myself. Moments before the parachute opened, green and brown squares hazed below, eyepatches of clouds. My mother tried to stop me, but also posted my pictures on her Facebook page, shared on her WhatsApp. Adventurous which she spelled avinturus. She mentioned I tried falling from her womb feet first.
At sixteen I became gluten-free and started swimming. My mother said, everyone has limited breaths, don’t waste them underwater.
While watching The Discovery Channel, I learned humpbacks spend their winters in the warm waters. Mothers with newborn calves travel thousands of miles to feast on krill. Their varied haunting calls carry for miles beneath the sea. Listening to them, I wondered if they were ever loved enough.
Every night, I kissed my mother’s papery cheeks, felt her petite ribs when I embraced her. Sweat and tension, a day materialized. A whining noise from her mouth when she checked the pantry, her bank account. I don’t want to grow as fearful and anxious as you, I thought, as I pressed my chest against hers.
Ways to escape ownership, I googled. Hysterectomy showed up.
After my mother died, I saw a therapist. Told him about her slow-mouthed songs in my nightmares: her voice separated from her buried body, sobs, whispers through an open vent. A life starts with a burial, she murmured, the only way to love is to either birth something or to destroy it. I performed head stands to spill her memories, refusing to lie on my back because it reminded me of her lying in the casket. Sometimes, I thought about leaving this world head down.
I chose to marry Ben, a college professor. He liked to be told what to be. Lace and tulle, cheap wine at the wedding. My belly showed, its gluten-free walls grimed from expanding. No parachute between my legs to hold if the baby decided to come headfirst, only stories to crown him. My breasts milked an ocean. I held my mother’s name tag, folded my body like paper. My baby dropped full, his shallow, white breathing wooled my heart. He sang mothermothermother, dug his uneven nails into my skin. Marked me as his prey.
TARA ISABEL ZAMBRANO is a writer of color and the author of Death, Desire, and Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by Okay Donkey Press. Her work has won the first prize in The Southampton Review Short Short Fiction Prize 2019, a second prize in Bath Flash Fiction Award 2020, and been a finalist in Bat City Review Short Prose Contest 2018 and Mid-American Review Fineline Competition 2018. She lives in Texas and is the Fiction Editor for Waxwing Literary Journal.
Image by cocoparisienne courtesy of Pixabay