Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

— Virginia Woolf

Sarah K. Stephens

September 12, 2016




I gave your bedroom a door when you were fifteen. Perhaps I should have waited longer.


I am not a good mother.


I am a great mother. Daughters don't leave mothers like me.


Sure, you visited, but slopping peanut butter on a cracker or wiping the table couldn’t obscure who you’d become. It frightened me, as you rinsed your hands and told your father about the chaotic heat in your apartment, how powerful I'd made you, dropping into our lives at your discretion. Closing your own doors at will.


And then one day, walking back alone from the ATM, I noticed the raw edges of a stranger’s glasses. Passing my mixer in the kitchen a week later, the pastry hook tried to seduce me. Soon enough, ragged borders and sharp points offered their services on a daily basis, but I declined.


After all, timing is everything.


On your final visit with us, you told your father you had a headache. I passed both of you on your way into the kitchen, your father leading you as you clutched at your temple. When you tripped me, I crumpled to the ground with the tray of tea and cookies I carried. The porcelain scattered its roses across my white carpet when it shattered.  Your father turned at the noise, only to find me crouched on the floor and you explaining that maybe I needed to see a doctor. Losing your balance could be a bad sign, you said.


I figured there was no time like the present.


I swiped at your ankle with the triangle of a saucer, hoping to find one weak place in you still. You remained silent, a smug smile playing on your lips as your ankle bled.


Like I said: I’m a great mother.


Your father visited me in the hospital every week at first. You visited only once.


Over paper cups of orange juice, you smiled and chatted for the nurses. Before leaving, you insisted on seeing my room, with the door that never locks and people peer in whenever they want. Saying goodbye in front of the nurses, you leaned in and pretended to kiss my cheek.


“I win,” you whispered in my ear, all saccharine and honey.


Perhaps I should have been bad instead.


Sarah K. Stephens earned her doctorate in Developmental Psychology in 2007 and teaches a variety of courses on human development as a university lecturer. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year round. Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, will be released in Winter 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing.


The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.

—Cervantes, Don Quixote

© 2016 The Indianola Review