Len Kuntz

Punctured
 
In the umbra of her resolve, I watched Mother stick pin after pin into her skin.
 
It scared the life out of me. I tried not to vomit or shriek or cry.
 
Her entire left arm was covered. In between the silver sheen, a few spooky streaks of red ran down the underside of her elbow, dripping splotches on the floor.
 
Out of pins, she flipped her head like a panther’s tail and said, “Go get more. There’s a big tin in the pantry.”
I obeyed. To do differently would have produced disastrous results.
 
She immediately went to work on her foot, calf, the thigh area where she had bunched up her baby blue bathrobe, the ratty one with a cartoon duck pattern.
 
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
 
“What do you think?” she asked back, though it wasn’t really a question. Young as I was, I had already learned that any question could be answered with one of its own by simply adding a slate-black stare.
 
Mother pushed hundreds of pins into her skin. It took the better part of the afternoon.
 
At one point, she removed her robe. She said, “You’ll need to finish the rest.”
 
I didn’t want to look at her private places, didn’t want to stick pins in her, didn’t want to breathe or even live any more. Nine years was a long life for many creatures. I was elderly by comparison.
 
“I won’t do it,” I said.
 
Her eyes spun. “You will.”
 
And so I took the first pin. “How hard?”
 
“Do you really think it matters?”
 
I jabbed her hard, drawing a crimson pimple. She did not yelp or flinch or even inhale.
 
I poked dozens and dozens of pins into her pale skin. I covered her breasts and stomach and stuck them across her buttocks and through her meandering pubic hair.
 
When I was finally done, she told me to go to sleep. She said she would take it from here.
 
I sauntered up the stairs. She watched me, or so I thought, catching glimmers of eye-whites glinting around the silver.
 
I closed my door hard, then softly reopened it. I tiptoed to the edge of landing and knelt down, looking through the slats of the banister, waiting, same as her.
 
After several hours, he pulled into the drive.
 
I watched my father through the window. He was wearing a mid-weight herringbone suit with a soft pink shirt and a tie that looked like the belly of a fish. His shoes were butterscotch, “Salesman Brown.” My father, the tailor, had already taught me much about textiles and weaves, thread count and fashion. He’d taught me, too, how to dismantle a family. He’d taught me about suffering and—via mother’s self-inflicted torture—just how much pain the human heart can bear.
 
When he opened the door, he found my mother’s arms outstretched. She resembled a silver crucifix.
“Take one,” she said, “As many as you like,” she said. “One for every last lie.”

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Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State. His work appears widely in print and online at such places as BLIP (formerly Mississippi Review), Camroc Press Review, Moon Milk Review, and also at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.