A A Balaskovits
The Mother Left Behind
She did not know when the hole appeared in the eastern corner of her daughter's room. It started out small, and she thought they had mice. She told her husband to fix it, but when he did not and it grew larger, she assumed it was rats and called the exterminator. When they found nothing alive, but filled it up with caulk to make her happy, she thought that was the end of it, but the hole was there the next morning, and bigger still. She tried to cover it with tape, then wood and nails, and finally stone, but it remained, almost the size of a dog. Once it was large enough, each night her daughter went inside and disappeared, only to arrive downstairs at the breakfast table, covering her smiling mouth as she yawned. Her mother told her not to go into strange holes and moved the bookshelf in front of it, thinking that was the end of it. Yet, three nights ago she went into her daughter's room and found the bookshelf moved, her daughter's small suitcase gone, and a note with lopsided hearts left on the bed. Her daughter was nowhere to be found.
A life left leaves objects. The mother packed up her daughter's things and placed them, none too gently, into the large box that once stored their refrigerator. She threw in the trombone she had bought the girl when the interest had been music, following that with books when she thought the girl had been into stories, the ballet slippers when it had been dance, video games half played, sketchbooks half drawn in, cookies half baked, and a stuffed elephant half grimy, half clean.
"She was never good at anything," the mother said aloud. "Not even simple things, like staying in place."
Her husband, leaning in the doorway, said "Yes, dear."
"She gets this from your side of the family."
"No one I knew ever went in a hole," he said.
The mother ignored him and placed an armload of dresses into the box. The white ones on top of pink ones on top of the green and red Christmas dress that was worn for half a day and still stained with punch.
The mother grumbled when she dropped the dollhouse and the little plastic people fell on her foot. "What's so special about a hole in the wall, anyway?"
She packed school supplies, half used, and assignments half completed, which explained the C report cards. Then she tossed in a cheap Venetian mask with a crack near the eye. She packed the tea set and the rabbit made with real fur, now matted, then the poster of some group of teenage boys.
"What could possibly be in there that we haven't given her?"
In went crayons and markers and molding clay. Then the compact mirror, nail polish and lip gloss, a scarf, mittens, and a handheld fan.
"Are you just going to stand there?" she asked her husband. He put his hands up and left.
She placed the porcelain doll, with the eyes that shut when it was horizontal, that she had bought for her daughter on a whim, into the box. She had been saving it up for a Christmas gift. Untouched, unsullied, unused. She pushed the doll down to the bottom and heard its face crack. She panted and struggled, but through sheer spite the mother pushed all the half-used things from her daughter's half-life to the hole in the wall. One by one she lifted each object, spit on it, and threw it into the hole. Hours later, there was nothing left but the box. That, too, she shoved in, punctuated with a curse on her daughter's ungrateful little head.
There was nothing in the room now except wallpaper, the bookshelf, the bed, and the mother. She stared at the hole for a long while, tracing her hand on the perimeter. Looking behind to make sure her husband was not loitering at the door, she took a deep breath and squeezed her upper body in. Her head, neck, arms and stomach fit in easily enough. Her hips and behind, large, obtuse, padded with tea-cakes and other sticky-sweet things, caught on the plaster. She took a deep breath and flexed her muscles, attempting to make herself smaller, and wedged her thighs closer into the outline. Panicked, she attempted to crawl out backwards but her body would not budge, and she wailed and yelled for her husband, though if he was home he was making a point of ignoring her.
Somewhere in the darkness ahead of her, she heard her daughter's laughter, like a bright, ringing bell.
A A is the author of Magic for Unlucky Girls
(Santa Fe Writers Project
, 2017) which won the SFWP grand prize
in 2015. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Indiana Review, The Southeast Review, The Madison Review, Booth, SmokeLong Quarterly
and many others. She is the Social Media Editor for Cartridge Lit.