Content warnings: mentions of death, weight loss, ill physical and mental health.
One night later
With a purple paddle brush littered with multicolored zig-zagging bristles, the daughter smoothed out the back of her head, gracing her hair upwards into her left hand, cupping, holding, then securing a pink and red strawberry scrunchie three times around the mound of tangling hair into a high ponytail.
She then felt the strands of short hair at the back of her head slowly crawl down from the scrunchie vice, and tugged out the elastic in defeat, letting the long stretch of rich mahogany cascade down her shoulders and spine in dented and frayed waves. A few pieces landed softly next to her left ear to frame her face at the front, snaking down past her navel.
On her right side, she dragged her fingers against a metallic silver headband sitting on top of her Sony boombox. She pushed the headband up onto her head to comb flyaways back – particularly the ones at the side of her face that were just long enough to tuck behind her ears but not quite, looking like mutton chops detaching from her cheeks.
Illuminated by a healthy honey glow from the lamp, greased up like a Christmas turkey with all of her bottles and tubes of skincare, wearing an oversized t-shirt with Snoopy lying on their iconic red hut decorated with Christmas lights and snow floating from the neckline, she was ready for bed.
One week earlier
“Shall we drive to the venom eyes?” The smile lines near Mum’s eyes lifted as she asked that question, thinking she made an incredibly witty remark and inside joke.
“I brought that up ONE TIME! One time! I made a fleeting comment about how they looked like Venom’s eyes and now you won’t let it go. I regret ever bringing it up now.” After dramatically flouncing her arms in the space between her and the glove compartment, the daughter smacked her left forearm onto the car's windowsill and leaned her body weight into the anchor.
The daughter sighs into her left shoulder, hoping if she crumples her body closer to the car door she could exit this line of conversation. A whisper of embarrassment swirls in her belly like a draining sink, a familiar sensation whenever her mother decides to repeat something she says as the new insole joke she did not mutually sign up to, feeling mocked rather than endeared.
“Well, I can’t unsee it now whenever I go up there!”
“Oh my god, get over it. I didn’t expect you to bang on about it for weeks after I’ve said it.”
5 days earlier
“Do you want a drive to the venom eyes?”
“Stop it! We need to stop calling it that!”
“Well, what else would you call it? The deerstalker spot?”
“I prefer that over bloody Venom eyes. Let’s go to the deerstalker spot, then.”
A drizzly mid-tone blue veils over the broad and vacant skyline, the long sunlit days slowly closing into nighttime hues. The monolithic silhouettes of trees and fields replace the distinct patchwork of countryside greens and sun-bleached browns. Inside the dusty silver Suzuki Jeep was a strawberry-blonde mother grasping the steering wheel and her daughter in the passenger seat, the meat of her palm resting against the edge of her tanned jaw as she leans her elbow against the windowsill.
Both stare down the shape of a tree in front of the single country lane, the weighty corners of the branches bent downwards and create two oblong convex shapes in the negative space between the tree and the road – angular, distorted, and glaring, they stare back at the two women like a pair of Venom’s eyes, the symbiote and anti-hero from Marvel comics.
“Have you had as bad of a week as I have?” The Mum asks with a rising pitch in her inflexion at the end of the question.
“Yep.” Responded the daughter in a low, defeated but accepting tone. A thunderous explosion of delirious laughter bounced across the car’s glass windows and pulsed in the spaces between the daughter’s ribcage, wheezing from the inevitable breaking point.
It was too dark to see the Mother's scatter of freckles bob on her rosy cheeks and blushed face as she laughed. In daylight, they delicately spread across her face and body, as if the melanin was gathering like Army troops to shield her from overexposure to the sun. In daylight, they replaced the awe of stars in a sky untouched by light pollution; seeing the details of her freckles was like finding the constellations hidden in a bright night sky in the countryside. The same night sky that the mother and daughter sat under in a car held upright more by duct tape than metal and plastic, laughing hysterically like a weeping dam that had burst to the brim and exploded. It was drastic and sudden, almost relieving.
“These two weeks have been...shit, to put it lightly.”
“Tell me about it.” The daughter flung her left hand to her forehead, resting the weight of her skull against her elbow on the door's windowsill – as if merely mentioning the weeks were tiresome and draining. The mother continued,
“What with your Grandma being her usual self, you not getting the job, and your Dad almost dying.”
“Yep.” She repeated, this time pushing it out with a guttural exhale, like a breath she held to keep herself from deflating. For the past two weeks since the news about her father’s near-death experience, the daughter felt that the mechanics keeping her alive weighed heavier in her body. Her heartbeat thudded faster at any pause in a routine, and exhaling exerted more energy and effort than before.
It was the core reason why both of them were having such bad, terrible, awful, nightmarish weeks. When the father thought he was speaking his final words to his ex-wife. He wasn't obviously in hindsight, but no one knew that at the time.
The daughter taps at the fragile silence;
"I'm sorry you had to deal with all that by yourself. I know why you did, but still. I'm sorry he rang you and you had to talk to him. That's not fair. That's not fair on you." The mother exhales,
"I mean...it's not your fault honey, you were stressed out with your interview–"
"I wasn't stressed, but yeah I get what you mean–"
"It was on your mind, and I didn't want that to color how you did."
"Well, I guess it doesn't matter now, anyway."
"I'm sorry, sweet."
"I'm sorry too."
“I think...another thing I’m having a hard time coming to terms with, is that…considering how Dad doesn’t speak to his family, when he does die I will, as a result, would then be cut off from them too. Like I know we weren’t even close to begin with, but without Dad, I won’t have a reason to speak to them at all."
“Well, in reality, you have family in other ways–”
“No no, what I mean is like, you know, the only thing I have that is Indian about me is Dad’s family – which isn't anyone's fault! It's just the way it is what with Dad's relationship with his family, you know – so when he dies I guess I, technically, won’t have any tangible connection to being Indian anymore. Not like others would.”
And there it was, the silent confession that was kept close to the daughter's chest for so long was now shared information, it was too revealing but still wasn't enough to explain what she was feeling. Even if it felt like she had already said too much but couldn't take it back now.
"Ah. Well, we really need to sort that out then. You still in touch with your cousin."
"I mean, we don't not talk to each other if that makes sense. Like we don't purposefully avoid talking to each other, we're friends on Facebook. But I don't use Facebook that much and, yeah. I just don't talk to Dad's side of the family much, he barely talks to his brothers at all, to begin with."
It was a well-spoken truth between the mother and daughter that the father's relationship with his siblings was thinner and colder than the film that starts to form on water in sub-zero temperatures – like an ice cube tray that was taken out of the freezer too soon. Each brother and sister filled the spaces in those trays.
How was the daughter supposed to interact with a dynamic like that? What was she supposed to do when the only thing that gives her the 'you're South Asian' pass can suddenly disappear at the notice of her father's cremation?
The two women continue to sit in the car, exchanging rambles and silences, at staggered – yet prolonged...intervals.
Under the sunken stars in a dark ocean of a solemn cerulean sky, the unshed tears and invisible scars were exchanged for words too honest to document. Too much for dialogue in one sitting but too little for the two generations to explain all that has happened before the Venom eyes. The sinister shape created by the tree's negative space was as sharp, piercing, and unnerving as their "I'm sorry"s, "You have nothing to apologize for"s, and "If you need this, I forgive you"s. The words they needed to hear, but neither knew how to comfortably carry them in their chest and breathe steadily at the same time without staccato.
At the sunless and moonless boundary between too late in the night and too early in the morning, the mother and daughter decided it was time to head home. Waking up the Suzuki Jeep, the mother drove back so they could finally go to bed for their restless – but perhaps more peaceful – sleep.
One night later
Walking past her desk where the daughter was getting ready in her Snoopy shirt and slippery skincare, she left her room and was at the door to her Mum's bedroom in three steps. The distance between them was often very short. She scanned over the cluttered heap of duvets and sheets to find a pop of warm tangerine hair and a pair of glasses peeking out from the pile; a cool stream of light poured from a phone, painting peaks and valleys onto the woman's face where the desk lamp wasn't strong enough to brighten the dim room.
The mother craned her neck over the duvets to look at her daughter, standing diagonally in her doorway. One foot in, one foot out. She lifted her glasses to the crown of her head,
"I must say, you are glowing", the daughter huffed out a breath in disbelief, ready to pivot out the doorway. Wasn't interested in hearing another tease about her looking slimy and sticky from skincare.
"I'm serious", the mother added, "you look better than you've done for a long time."
The daughter's skin was improving slowly, and she apparently looked like she lost weight. At least according to Mum on the first day she came back to visit her this week. It wasn't meant out of malice, she knew what she meant. And not that the daughter was purposely trying to lose weight either; she likes who she is regardless.
Quickly, she understands how her Mum felt when she was losing weight from stress and people were complimenting how well she looked. Quite an ugly thing, to praise plus-size bodies for looking nice and well in the context of weight loss. They don't know how hellish June has been.
Pausing, thinking, remembering, the daughter replied,
"Remember not long ago, when you were wearing all those dresses you barely wear because you couldn't be fussed do the laundry for your normal clothes, and everyone was complimenting you on how nice you looked, and you kept telling them you didn't get that because you were feeling your worst? I get that now."
Erupting from the duvet pile was an earthquake of shakey laughter, followed by wheezing. The figure still standing by the duvet pile's door joined the hysterics and wheezed in tandem, hunching over to catch their breath and contain the sprites of pain escaping her lungs.
"I seriously get it now. Because you think I look great when I really fucking don't feel it." The laughing continued,
"I don't feel good at all! These past few weeks have been an absolute nightmare. I totally get how you feel when people say that now!" They couldn't stop the fits of unhinged giggles, gasping for air at intervals like commas, a shared ache from the seconds of joy after a fortnight-long tidal wave of being not okay.
"Fucking sucks, doesn't it?"
"What a week – what a month we've had, honestly."
"I'm glad we had that conversation, at least to talk about some stuff about your Dad."
"Do you feel better about it now?"
"Yeah, I feel better. Do you?"
"Good. Alright, well, goodnight Mum."
"Love you lots."
"Love you lots, too."
"Yeah, you too." The daughter started walking back to her room.
"Have a good night, and best of luck attempting to get some sleep, Mum."
Editors: Joyce P.