Two Pieces
creative nonfiction by B. Woods

My Mother Among the Birds

In the picture she sits on a chair made of eagles—they are trapped in little squares, like cages that keep them. In patterns, they surround her small shape. My mother belongs among the birds, their stitched wings trapped in flight, just as her legs while she sits are trapped, bent at the knees and to the side. The camera seems slightly skewed, almost at an angle, and her childhood legs look so long as they stretch toward the lens, one foot in perfect point toward me. I like to imagine her running barefoot in the neighborhood, the soles of her feet slapping against pavement as she plays a game of tag, or hide and seek, a shrill giggle, like a balloon, floating up & into the air—but instead, she is silent, a thumb as a cork that seals her lips shut. Wait, she never told me she sucked her thumb. Just as she is silent, so too, are the colors, the burned oranges, and greens of the ’70s silenced instead by sepia. I so wish I could see the pink, that quiet mouth, so wish I could see her hair saturated with youth’s red orange, a fire burning on top of her head. What does she see? Her gaze in this photo is somewhere off frame, staring in the distance, darkened by shadow. What was she looking at over there in the corner? Perhaps a television is hidden there, playing reruns of her favorite Spiderman cartoon. Perhaps she is daydreaming of me, a brunette daughter who will one day write. Perhaps she is looking through a window, watching birds take flight.


Open Up the Lid & Look Inside

The first time you saw it was in her red room—placed on a vanity table made of glass, chandelier lamp made of glass, too, it throws rainbow light on the dark walls, scarlet carpet. Beside it, silver plated coarse hairbrush, mirror, comb. Lipstick lined and at the ready—she taught you once how to put lipstick to lips with your lids closed, to trace and fill your little lips with bold color. Now, it is a party trick. A performance learned from Granny Ballengee, the epitome of femininity. In her room, everything has a place and with it, in your child’s eye, a dazzling purpose. And somehow, though there are treasures everywhere, you are obsessed with one item and one item alone: the jewelry box. 

As a child, the first thing you do is run to her room, the only place you’ve ever seen with pristine red carpet, bright like blood. And upon entering, you take the jewelry box—its flat, rectangular shape, engraved with filigree—into your hands still swollen with baby fat and trace each swirl, each curve. This task requires absolute devotion. You marvel at the pattern, how much time and precision it must take to carve absence into solid wood. Now, when you think of Granny, this doesn’t seem so impossible. Surely, her absence is likewise carved into you. 

On the top of the box, is a blurry picture. Perhaps pasted, it features a scene in cool colors. A navy silhouette of a tree surrounded by a blue-green haze. When you look at it now, it seems French, but you can’t say why. Maybe your Appalachian upbringing makes you think that anything European is fancy. You’ve stared at it countless times and its mystery allows for your childish imagination an endless supply of stories, rewriting, and revision. What happens in this sad scene? And why? Once you’ve waded through the lazy stream of reverie, you open up the lid and look inside. 

Inside the jewelry box in tangles of alluring texture is costume jewelry, nothing expensive, but all of it alarmingly sparkly. In your childhood mind, you think of pirates, of leprechauns. There are strings and strings of pearls: white, shiny metallic-silver, and black. Gold-plated chains. Clip-on earrings (she never had her ears pierced) featuring clusters of rhinestones that look like flower bouquets. Lapel pins for every holiday and occasion: a silver cat with one large marquis cut cubic zirconia eye, slanted with mischief, a bejeweled American flag, a single red rose. You pore over each of these and commit every item to memory. You try on each and every piece, pose in the attached mirror, never seeming to tire of the transformation from girl-child to grown woman.

A few years later, at Granny’s funeral, you find yourself on the sprawling lawn of the cemetery. Looking back, you don’t remember her in the casket, or the people around you. Instead, all you remember is how your feet ache in the too-tight patent heeled shoes, the way your skin itches in the black dress spotted with sequins, the beautiful way the sun catches and reflects their light. 

B. Woods is a recent graduate of Western Washington’s MFA program where she served as managing editor of Bellingham Review. Previous work has published in ANMLY Lit, Stormcellar, and Bacopa Literary Review. Her debut book of poetry, Look, Look Away, is forthcoming from Raw Art Review. She lives in Ohio.