Friday, July 15, 2011

Entry #30

The Ugly American’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Mothers
by J.A. Zobair


I’m hungry, she announces. Mujhe bhuk lagi hai. Nick is putting her luggage in the car, and later, when I tell about it, I’ll point out how funny it was—claiming hunger an hour after refusing breakfast. Not funny funny, Nick will say, and I will describe how I swallowed my laughter with a spectacular whooshing sound that she didn’t even notice. It’s not her thing, to notice: her daughter’s perfect southpaw pitch, the death of a Sikh teammate, jagged marks on first-summer-after-Harvard skin.

My mother is hungry, but I just stare at her, channeling the ugly American she thinks I’ve not only married but become. I don’t speak good manners anymore, my blank face says. I might sit on the couch while you sit on the floor. I’m that kind of person now.

There are leftovers, I finally say, referencing the bitter gourds and spiced pulses from the night before, the meal she downed with wrinkled-nosed sighs. She has made daily calls to the good daughter—conversations in her mother tongue debating the greater crime: that Nick is a heathen or that he’s a vegetarian. I pretend she forgets that I understand Urdu. But I know better.

It is her thing to remember.

I notice the new curve of her shoulders, the slackening jowls, and reach for her. But she’s already moving, taking her hunger and her boarding pass to the car. I follow, knowing we will burn each other up long before we let go.

51 comments:

Catvibe said...

Oh the pain of mother/daughter relationships. It sounds charged with ickiness to be in that circle.

Mz. Zobair, So good to see you HERE in this place where we first met. :-)

Catvibe said...

BTW, I LOVE your voice in this.

j a zobair said...

Thanks, Cat!

It is good to be back after SO long!

Cath Barton said...

This is excellent, gripping and so well-written.

Aerin said...

Oh, wow. This is easily my favorite piece so far. Such strong writing, not a word out of place. Love this.

Stephen Parrish said...

Exquisitely written.

amsko said...

Wow i love your style.

The strain of the relationship is so well portrayed.

Catrina said...

Wow. Pitch perfect. I love the voice.

Absolutely wonderful. Grabbed me from the first sentence and never let me go.

Excellent job.

Aimee Laine said...

Awe. You gotta love mothers. No one will EVERY be good enough for our children. It's 'the way' no matter the culture, religion, etc, though I see here there are far deeper elements within. Very nice! :)

Loren Eaton said...

Now that's a good title ...

SzélsőFa said...

these characters come well alive - and i don't know whom should i feel sorry for... mother or daughter...

Mikki said...

Great take on the mother / daughter relationship; intensely charged and almost heartbreaking. Your voice is very strong, as are your characters; I felt as though I knew them, which is difficult in such a short piece.

Thanks for sharing!

j a zobair said...

@Cath, thank you!

@Aerin, thanks! Sometimes I think the word limit actually does us a favor.

@Stephen, thank you. That means a lot. A mutual blogging friend pointed me to an inspiring post on your blog this week, and so it's very cool to have you comment.

@amsko, thank you! I appreciate the "wow" seriously!


@Catrina. Thanks! I'm glad it drew you in.

Aimee, thanks! You're right; it can be such a difficult relationship, no matter what else is involved.

Loren, not the pithiest of titles, I admit, but it seemed to fit!

SzelsoFa, thanks. And probably both!

Mikki, thanks for reading! I'm so glad the characters came alive for you.

Precie said...

Great title...and you capture the diaspora of Americanized families so well.

Aniket said...

"I might sit on the couch while you sit on the floor. I’m that kind of person now."

There is so much to this line than most people would ever get to know. I guess, you have to live to truly get to know it.

I can see glimpses where it sits close to home for you. Its just missing a certain reptile. ;)

But this is amazing writing, truly. You don't have to worry about getting published with this kind of "stuff". Stay put. You're awesome.

P.S.: Your entry came before mine, so its Nick's first appearance here. He'll be back! :D

j a zobair said...

Thanks, Precie!

Aniket, I'm so glad you "got" that line! (Once, when I was newly pregnant with my daughter and almost no one knew, we were at a gathering at my husband's aunt's home. The aunt, who did know, kept trying to get me to sit on a comfortable chair, even though lots of people much older than I was were sitting on the floor. It was very awkward!)


Anoles! Why didn't I think of that?

Seriously, thanks for your kind words, and I am looking forward to seeing what your Nick is up to.

Rachel said...

Wonderful that she "announces" her hunger, as if it is Breaking News and should be addressed immediately!

Mothers can be like that, no matter the culture, religion, background. They are, after all, at the front lines of the families - though many men don't realize it. (smile)

Do I sense a gentle caring between the two, that might disappear if exposed or acted on without kvetching?

Great piece!

j a zobair said...

Thanks, Rachel! I think that's exactly how she views her announcement. :)

Wendy said...

Really wonderful piece!

Peter Dudley said...

As others have said, terrifically written with a wonderful title. The never-ending cycle of their relationship is neatly ensconced in the final line, which brings it all back to the prompt photo. I like the cultural cut as well, and the "good" sister is a lovely touch. You can hear the derision in every word.

fairyhedgehog said...

This was masterful.

I forgot it was only 250 words because the pace seemed leisurely and yet everything that needed to be said was said.

I loved the daughter being the kind of person now who would sit on the couch while her mother sat on the floor. The characters and the cultures came across so strongly.

Josh said...

Two comments and a nit. One: This is an incredible flashfic piece. Two: Evokes tons of character and voice in such a short space. Nit: Struggled a bit to connect it with the inspiring image. However, I definitely recognize people can see very different things from a single source. Well done!

Josh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
j a zobair said...

Thanks, Wendy!

Peter, I'm glad you got the neverending part. There is no walking away.

Fairyhedgehog, I'm glad that line had meaning for you, too. Like Aniket said, culturally it's more charged than it might seem.

Josh, thanks--and that's a totally valid nit. The photo just evoked this strong image of a young woman reaching for something that will destroy her if she gets too close. But I see how that isn't exactly obvious. :)

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm interested to hear how the image fits the story. I was so taken with the story while reading it that I forgot all about the prompt and the competition!

j a zobair said...

fairyhedgehog, that's just such a nice thing to say! :)

Old Kitty said...

Beautiful. I wanted to read on - I wanted this story to go on. What amazing character insights in so few words - but words packed with psychological emotion, conflict and intensity - it's trully lovely, thank you for sharing, take care x

Ellis Bergstresser said...

The happenstance of entries being posted in batches of ten, yours was the first submission I read. It set the bar.

The tension between craving contact and separation is so tangible and familiar; the little tidbits of detail like gourds and pulses, the jagged marks on skin make it real.

Excellent.

Jade L Blackwater said...

WOW. So much voice, such a ruthless paintbrush, you've really captured the characters and their relationship so completely.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Your title caught my eye. And the from the first line the story carried me all the way through. The emotional conflict is so intense and I adore your writing voice. Wonderful work. I would like to read more by you.

Dottie (Tink's Place) said...

Good Job! The relationship between the old world and new, mothers and daughters...maybe unforgiving, but then again, maybe not.

Dottie :)

Linda Ryan-Harper said...

Am I the only one here to side with the mother? Maybe the daughter didmarry a schlep with persnickety eating habits. And don't think mom didn't notice that the daughter nearly choked on her on mirthless laughter born of mockery at her own mother's hunger. And let's face it my fellow Americans, we are downright ugly. Oh, and there's the good daughter, but Mom probably complains about her to others when she visits her as well, you can bet on that. Signed, Mother of a daughter who doesn't care if I have to sleep on a hard futon when I visit and married some guy who never puts a new roll of toilet paper on the holder when he uses up the last of the old one. PS: I almost forgot: Excellent writing, J.A.

j a zobair said...

Old Kitty, thanks for reading and for saying you wanted it to go on!

Ellis, thank you. You've made me glad for the way Jason posts these! :) That's exactly it--she both wants and doesn't want her mother near. Exactly.

Jade, thanks! Ruthless is somehow such a great comment.

Jodi, thank you. That is the highest compliment--to want to read more. I appreciate it.

Dottie, and maybe not--exactly! Thanks!

Linda, wow. Thank you for your comment! You have provided a perfect and passionate defense for the mother, a glimpse into her point of view. I think she'd be pleased. :)

bluesugarpoet said...

Marriage is such a tough straddle anyway - this brings another layer of complexity! You've easily pulled us into that struggle. Nicely done! ~ Jana A.

Sarah Hina said...

Well. You know how I feel about your work already. So I'll just say this: take a bow, Ms. Zobair. :)

(All right. I wrote a bunch of other stuff in an email that is currently sitting in my Draft folder. Tomorrow, maybe??)

j a zobair said...

Jana , thanks for reading and for your comment!

Sarah!! I do know you read everytthing with such a generous spirit. And I have my own email in drafts that says all of this made me miss you. But I didn't want you to feel pressure to read' so I was going to send it after. You have totally made me smile tonight! :)

Richard Levangie said...

Wonderfully crafted and subtle! Each little remembrance hints at dozens of small cuts and jabs left unspoken. I am impressed!

It also speaks to me of truth. I was a caregiver to an elderly parent for 13 years, and I still carry the scars.

Kunjal said...

title raises curosity:)
nice work:)

Deb Smythe said...

I was drawn to this based on the title, and stayed based on the story. Such a poignant and realistic vingette of the mother-daughter relationship.

j a zobair said...

Richard, thank you so much. And yes, given the opportunity, I feel like the narrator would have much to say about each memory. I just wish it hadn't stirred difficult memories for you.

Thanks, Kunjal!

Deb, thanks for reading and for your comment!

Brigid said...

Intriguing title and excellent portrayal of the mother-daughter bond in such a tight word deadline.

JaneyV said...

I'm Irish and I totally got the 'sitting on the floor' reference. I think it's a big extended family thing! Like everyone has already said I too found this a lovely piece of writing. I understand fully the need to distance oneself from family in order to 'be' oneself but also the need to belong and to please. You captured a whole lot of competing thought and emotions beautifully in so few words.

C Sonberg Larson said...

J.A., this is exquisitely done. You really show how the daughter feels she will never be good enough and how her life choices are treated as disloyal because they were outside of her mother's comfort zone and expectations.

Honestly, I'd begun commenting several times on this over the past several days, then backed out because I didn't feel my comments fully explained how much I appreciate this piece. So I'll just tell you this way--I really loved this! It spoke to me on a very deep level.

You Rock!

Precie said...

I found myself drawn back to this because I wanted to mention how much I appreciated the depth of this piece. It's balanced structurally, it's vivid with emotions of inadequacy and resentment...but also an underlying constant desire for her mother's approval.

j a zobair said...

Brigid, thanks. I love that you call it a bond. It is one, if it is anything. No matter how hard it is, they are bonded.

JaneyV, I'm glad you got that, too. It is definitely a big family, respect for elders no matter what thing. Thank you for your lovely comment!

C Sonberg Larson...so how much does your comment rock?? :) I'm glad you got the disloyalty part. The reason the mother is so upset is because, at their heart, the daughter's choices are a betrayal. Thank you so much for your generous comment!

Precie, thank you so much for coming back and saying that. You've made me smile!

Cath Barton said...

I'd just like to say - and no disrespect to all the winners chosen by Jason and the writers' group - that your piece was the stand-out winner for me. SUCH good writing.

Chris Allinotte said...

I really enjoyed this. Your MC speaks with such confidence, and easy bitterness that reveals so much about the relationship.

Wonderful.

Aerin said...

I whole-heartedly concur with Cath. And with Precie - this is the one that stuck in my brain, that made me smile at arbitrary times, that had so much depth in such subtle layers. But YAY that I got to "meet" you!

j a zobair said...

Wow, I just checked back to see if Jason had left feedback (I know, like he has had nothing else to do!) and I am so touched!

Cath, thank you! I am so glad to know you liked it that much.

Chris, thank you. I love that wording--"easy bitterness". Isn't that how it just beomes, after awhile?

Aerin, thank you! And congratulations!! I think we have a lot of mutual blogging friends, so it's great to meet you, too! If they convince me to finally get on twitter, I'll follow you there.

L.A Speedwing said...

Very compelling. You were able to tell so much in such a clever way. The history between mother and daughter can be so rich, so comlicated and hurtful yet you managed to do that without saying it.

jason evans said...

I like being in this character. Believable and well portrayed. Like many things, these two have wounds. Great writing!

Congrats on Forties Club!