Linda Brieda

 

Linda Brieda

 

(USA)

 

 

 

The Good Mother

 

 

Mathilde froze, curled up, surrounded by dead stillness of the room. Her fingers drawn in, her nails cutting into her palms. Her arms bent to hide her face – to hide the world from her. Her thighs pressed against the small bump, that she had been trying to hide. Each bend of her limbs folded in like a pocketknife, and with each fold, she hoped she could bury her body and her pain deeper into nothingness.

During the three times that she had gone through labor, the midwifes had always forced her to move around to advance labor. “Stand up!” She did not want to stand. “Walk around!” She did not want to walk. “Squat down!” She did not want to squat. She did not want to advance labor. She wanted to keep it in. Inside her, where she had the control. But all three babies had come out and all three had screamed at her as soon as they stuck their little heads out. They demanded to be fed, held and loved. She fed and held all three of them.

Was she a good mother?

 

Mathilde knew from her mother that knowing something made things worse. Knowing what the friendly smiling neighbor really though, knowing where your husband goes at night, knowing the name of the child you will never see growing up. So, Mathilde pushed aside all possible considerations of names. It was a boy. A boy she did not want. A boy that represented so many of those nights she said no and was not heard. A boy from a man she hated but could not leave.

A name started to form in Mathildes mind. M… Ma… Marcus. No! Marcel, Marvin. It would be impossible for her to raise four. No money. No support. No space. And, mostly, no patience. But, if she was to put Rose’s bed closer to Anton’s and Robin’s bed would go under the slant by the window…

She thought of her son. Robin, the oldest. His disproportionately large nose nudged to the right and was set a little too low on his face. But she loved him for his nose, not despite it. It inspired a nurturing feeling in her. A mix of empathy and the need to protect what others might despise.

When he was born, he had refused to latch on and screamed at her breast as if a knife was pointed at him. After a few insecure attempts under the looks of the scrutinizing midwife, she helplessly shrugged her shoulders. Her own incompetence drove tears into her eyes. The midwife skillfully positioned the baby and forcefully pressed him onto her breast. Reproachfully, he chewed and sucked, drawing her forward to him with eager force. She was captivated by this boy. His unspoken demands tied her down with invisible ropes, that forced her to forego the strong urge to run away. But running away was not an option. Not for a mother. That privilege was reserved for men.

Marco? Moritz? Maximilian?

 

She felt something warm trickle out of her. Slowly, she slid her hand between her legs, breaking the state of motionlessness. She looked at her fingers – bloody.  Her legs now stretched and apart. So white! Just like Elizabeth’s legs back then, when Mathilde still looked through children’s eyes at a war she did not understand. Mathilde’s mother had hated Elizabeth, but even she had to admit that the family would not have functioned without her as housemaid.

The bomb’s impact had shaken loose a third of the apartment floor, so that the kitchen, where Elizabeth had spent her happiest days, had now finally and forcefully merged with her. The kitchen wallpaper that decorated the walls had stubbornly clung to her shin. Flowers of blood on her strong thighs. Her skin as pale as the linens after a Sunday’s wash. Her limbs spread wide apart in an unnatural fashion. Like the time she had seen them quivering with passion, wrapped around her father’s broad hips.

Markus? Manuel? M….?

 

It was the apron that gave her away. Elizabeth had always used it to wipe Mathilde’s face after a meal, even if there was nothing on her face to be wiped. The motherly gesture had always made Mathilde gag. She was only a few years older than Mathilde herself. The smell of sour milk and mashed potatoes that seeped through her pores seemed to linger in the air, teasing Mathilde’s nose. Mathilde liked mashed potatoes but as a smell on a person it was unbearably sweet. But the worst was Elizabeth’s brown sweater. And just then Mathilde remembered the red sweater. Her father had brought it for Elizabeth. Red with quilling on the neckline. Mathilde’s mother, had been upset about the unnecessary money spent on a woman, who was merely a housemaid.  Elizabeth had never worn it. She wanted to save it for a special occasion. An occasion when Mathilde’s mother would be out running errands. Unfortunately for Mathildes’s father this occasion never arose.

Martin?

 

The blood running down Mathilde’s legs. It started. It finally started, and soon it would all be over. The red sweater! Her father had found it among the debris. He pleaded with her to wear it. It was too big. The sleeves too long, the shoulders too broad and the generous bulges of the sweater were not filled by her tiny developing buds. But she could not refuse her father’s wishes. Could she?

Mathilde hated that sweater. She didn’t know what to do when he looked at her with tears in his eyes. When he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tenderly like never before.

Was she a good mother?

 

Mathilde had quickly learned that if there was one thing her mother was really good at it was the skill of ignorance. No one could create an altered life so elegantly as her mother did, and elegant was not a word Mathilde would usually use in regards to her mother. She was a colossus of a woman, who felt that eating was the sign of a good life and the only real cure to any and all problems: If your neighbors gossip about you, have yourself some applesauce; if your daughter resents you, have yourself a few potatoes with yogurt dip; if your husband is unfaithful, have yourself a sausage.

Trying to find a cure to life’s pain, Mathilde hit the doorframe with her fist. Once, twice, three times. Her fist hurt pleasantly, taking her mind off the cramps for a brief moment.

Milo?

 

As she sat down on the toilet, searing pain pushed out all thought. She simply held on – a few contractions followed, turning her inside out, like she had done three times before. And every time her insides had turned out, her outsides had turned in a little more. And with each of her deliveries, the person known as Mathilde became less known to herself.

Was she a good mother? It did not matter. She was a mother! And whether she was good or bad, her children needed her.

Milan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LINDA BRIEDA is an award-winning short fiction filmmaker. Her directorial credits include PIECES OF CAKE, ONE FOR SORROW, GLOBAL TIDES, JUST A FAVOR and A GOOD WIFE. She has traveled throughout Asia for work on documentaries such as LIVING RIVER: THE GANGES, QUEST FOR ENERGY, and ONLY ONE CHILD: THE FANGS STORY. She is currently working on her first feature WILD EYES. She enjoyed teaching inner city high school students about making narrative short films in the CUNY’s College Now Video Workshop at Brooklyn College (NYC). She is now acquiring her Master at the Filmuniversity Konrad Wolf in Germany.

 

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