My mother poisoned me on the day of my first period. We spent the morning hiking through the woods behind our house to a field near our church where there was, each spring, a fragrant and abundant rash of daffodils. We collected dozens of them in a lacquered straw basket that was usually kept on top of the bureau in the guest room. On occasion, when I was very nervous or home alone sick from school, I would go quietly and take the basket down and lick the handle for a few minutes. It tasted sweet and pickled. I held the basket while my mother snipped the flowers off at the bottoms of their stalks and dropped them in. First, she would turn the blooms of the daffodils up toward the sun and say “What sweet faces they have. Don’t let their heads get crushed.” We had about thirty flowers by the time my blood started showing. My mother noticed it before I did. I was walking ahead of her and the sun glared with so much heat and whiteness I couldn’t see. She snatched the basket from my hands and instructed me to be still. She moved her fingers tersely, like a doctor, over the back of my thigh. “We have to go back to the house now.” She said. Mother carried the basket of daffodils tight against her chest as we walked through the woods, and blood pooled in the heel of my sandal.
She filled a plastic tub with bleach and water and dropped my shorts in. They looked like an organ suspended in milk, vague and dark red. I sat on the floor with my back against the bath, the bumps of my spine kept knocking against the porcelain and getting sore but I didn’t want to stand up and encourage my bleeding. Mother stood by the window chewing on her nails in an animal way.
“Do you understand what’s happening to you?”
“I already know about it all.” I told her
“You know,” I lowered my voice “sex things.”
Mother’s eyes were small, dark pebbles set far back in her head. “This is not a sex thing.” She hissed, and she scowled at me with her cold imperial mouth drawn into a thin line.
Later on that night Mother brought a glass of milk and two blue pills up to my room. I took them while she sat in a chair next to the bed watching me. Once all of the milk was gone she rinsed the glass and filled it with water and daffodils and placed it on my nightstand. “Your period can make you feel very sick,” she said “Sometimes you can’t even get out of bed.”
She began speaking in an aloof, wounded voice. “I didn’t realize you were an expert on the subject.”
“I’m not. I just know things.”
“I didn’t get mine until I was seventeen.” She said “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was dying. Unlike you, I didn’t have a mother kind enough to teach me about these things.”
Then, quite suddenly, I began to vomit. There was no warning, no wavering of my stomach or saliva flooding my mouth. It came in a sudden and vile rush. It splashed, still cold and milky, across my floral bedspread and onto the carpet. My mother lifted me up with a gentle firmness that I had seen only once before when she walked our dog into the vet to be put down. She carried me back to the bathroom and I heaved violently into the toilet. Mother smoothed my hair and rubbed my back, sometimes gouging me with her nails, as she said, “See, I told you it might be like this.” She pinched my cheeks a little and lifted my face up to look at her. My eyes, I’m sure, were red and swollen from the vomiting. My face must have been slick and bulging, my hair stuck around my mouth. Mother said, “What a sweet little face you have.”
Justine Haus’s work has appeared in PIF Magazine and The Reader. She lives in New York City