EAT THE MOUTH
THAT FEEDS YOU
by Carribean Fragoza
My daughter, for lack of memory, eats me. Sometimes in little bites throughout the day. I don’t even notice it until I feel a dull pain in the ribs and see it is my daughter, chewing on the meat around the small bone. She sucks the blood out of the veins, while she reads one of her books on the couch. When I hear her crunching on the bone to suck the marrow, I pretend to not notice and remember to rush back to the kitchen to check on a pot I left on the fire. I am here for her eating, what can I do?
Sometimes my daughter she is cruel, sometimes she bites into the flesh but not enough to cut far into the skin. And she watches me in her grip. Sometimes I start to pull away, sometimes I cry out and my eyes fill with tears. Sometimes without thinking I will say why do you hurt me you are so
cruel. But it’s not fair for me to say those things. It is her right. She must take those things. She must take from me what she needs.
It’s because I don’t have answers to her questions. I don’t know what to say, I never have the words or I don’t understand her questions. She asks me things I don’t know how to answer. She accuses me of things that don’t make sense.
She started by eating the letters my mother sent me every month. When she was very young, I’d read them to her with the usual news: your sister Adriana is unbearable with her flirting all over the place with the older men; your brother Octavio is very good at math but likes to fight too much; your father, well you know. Remember, if the baby is crying too much, check if her teeth are coming out. Give her an onion to chew on.
My daughter loved to smell the letters and touch the thin paper with her fat palms. Sometimes they smelled of chewing gum, a flat stick folded between the ruled sheets for my daughter. She would lick the paper, still smelling of spearmint, lick the papers with her little tongue and smear the ink. She’d put creased letters into her mouth and just let it soak and she’d suck and she’d suck until the ink bled through and stained her tongue. What are you doing, I said. Her mouth, it looked like blood but it was ink, the corners of her mouth dripping black saliva. Drink this, I said. Drink this milk. Drink it.
Even as she got older, she liked the feel of the paper, soft, almost creamy when moistened with saliva down the throat. I wondered if it could get stuck there, if she’d papier mache her insides eating all that paper. Form a delicate cast of all her organs, the walls look like mazes, like beautiful poems, like those complicated songs that never want to end. Now I imagine it might look like the inside of a house. I know my daughter’s house will be beautiful one day. Over the years, she has eaten enough pencils and erasers, nibbled on wooden rulers, sipped on ink from the tips of pens and chewed on paper and crayons to draw up a beautiful blueprint. Her insides will be a beautiful house and she’ll play music I won’t understand but it’ll be like when you play the B side of an album you bought because you heard the popular songs on the radio and you eventually grow to love those songs best of all. If you listen enough times.
She also ate fistfuls of dirt. In her mouth, black wet earth, dirt crumbs, some veiny leaves, and dry mud. She ate sand at the park, ground her teeth on the hard grains until they became fine dust and swallowed. Once we were visiting my family and my daughter she was with my sister, the single one. They sat on the lumpy bed looking at old love letters and cards and stuffed animals. They were sitting on the bed. They were eating something. It was clay. They were breaking off shards of a small pot and eating it like very fine chocolate. My sister she said, It still tastes like the river you can remember the river like this, you can remember the waters sweet like milk, do you remember sister? You can remember us when we were kids and you’d help carry the little ones on your hip all the way, taste it, you’ll remember. I took a piece, it was a dark clay, smooth and cool when you put it on your tongue but grainy and crumbly between your teeth. My daughter chewing and chewing watched me. I tasted the earth and I tasted the river. It was true. I could remember the little ones shivering wet in the river with their droopy underwear soggy in the sun. I said yes, I remember. I could see our family in the shade of a large tree, spread out on a large blanket. Me in my sundress, cradling the baby. I always thought it was a little funny and embarrassing the way they snuggled against my new breasts. Hey baby, I’m your sister, not your mom! My face was round then like the moon and there was so much more of me, hips already wide beneath the full skirts, waist cinched tight, liking the boys on my way to the vegetable and meat shops for the day.
Now look at me, mi’ja, take whatever you can now. There’s not much. I don’t know how much more I have to give.
I let her eat me. And I will go in there even though I’m afraid, but she’s already eaten my mother and my grandmother. But she didn’t eat them like she eats me. They’re already dead. She ate their letters, all of them, even though I hid them from her knowing she’d look for them. Then she ate their photographs. The last time we went to visit, the summer after my mother died, I thought she went too far. She went into their bedrooms, which no one wanted to touch or change because we still believed they might both just walk right back in, my mother huffing and puffing from the market, heavy with vegetables, coffee, bits of tripe. Or my grandmother shuffling her slippers back into the house after sweeping the dirt and bad spirits off their sidewalk onto the street. All of us, the brothers and sisters, we wanted them to remember their way back into the house and find all of their things right where they left them. But my daughter, who does not remember things the way we do, who hardly has any memory at all, she came into the rooms and started pulling the drawers, flipping through notebooks, opening the doors of the old wardrobes and smelling their contents, running and pushing her hands through everything, licking and gnawing on edges and corners. She wasn’t even really looking at anything. Then she opened the jars of beauty creams and licked the lids and yellowing rims, and then she scooped out cream with her fingers and ate it. She ate all of it. Then she went through the perfume bottles and sipped the amber elixirs, she gulped down bottles of holy waters my mother had carried from blessed wells, she sucked the sugar skeletons my grandmother brought from Guanajuato, chewed on their wax prayer candles and their plastic rosary beads. The family, they always thought my daughter she was a little crazy. Now they think she is possessed.
But now I’m beginning to understand. Now I know what she is doing. For now the best I can do is let her eat whatever she needs and wants. I am relieved that I know now where to find my mother and grandmother. They are inside my daughter.
There’s nothing I want more than to be with them again. We will live in the house my daughter has built inside and I’ll listen to all of the records and learn the words and maybe even dance again like I used to when I was a very young woman, and my hair will be long and loose again, swinging in the room filled with music, the record player playing and playing. But this time it’ll be different because when my brother comes looking for me - my mother sends him every time - I will keep dancing. And when she comes looking for me herself and when she looks at me in that way, I will be very hungry and I will be ready. I’ll grab a bite from her and chew on her plump flesh, her skin so smooth and soft in my mouth.
I’ll start by taking a bite out of her forearm, which is the body part I remember the most. It will be soft and dark and taste like the armrest of her chair and it will taste like the shade of the house, it will taste like clean tile and wet cement. My mother, she will pull away from me, think that I’m also possessed by the devil while I swallow her. It was just a little bite. She won’t be able to speak not knowing what to do with her arm, usually for keeping everyone at bay. And maybe once I start eating I wont be able to stop. I’ll eat her all up.
Then I’ll understand all of it. I’ll understand my mother. I’ll understand my daughter. I‘ll say ah, so this is it. I will say, I understand you now my daughter because with the taste of my mother in my mouth, with her flesh in my body and her blood in my veins, I will understand her too. My mother, I don’t know, but I believe she will also understand once she’s inside of me. Then, she will see what she has to do. It’ll be very important for all of us to really be together. She must also eat her own mother.
Carribean Fragoza is a writer and artist from South El Monte, CA. She has published fiction and poetry in publications such as BOMB Magazine, Huizache, Palabra Literary Magazine and Emohippus. Her arts/culture reviews and essays have been published in online national and international magazines such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, KCET Artbound, Letras Libres, Culture Strike, and Tropics of Meta. Her chapbook, “K-12,” was published by Eohippus Labs. She is founder and co-director of the South El Monte Art Posse (SEMAP), a multi-disciplinary arts collective.