by Nissa Nordland
My Mother died on vacation. She was walking on a beach in Miami when she stepped on a jellyfish. This didn’t kill her, but she was hospitalized. During Mother’s hospital stay she was served mashed potatoes (no butter or salt), sliced carrots, some sort of bland poultry and green Jell-O. She ate her Jell-O first, then she stomached the mashed potatoes and poultry. She saved the carrots for a prime time TV snack. While Mother watched Dancing with the Stars she choked on a carrot piece, like a child on a hunk of hot dog. Mother hit the big red Nurse button on her bed for help, but just minutes before six teenage victims from a drag race related car accident had came in, along with a carbon dioxide poisoned family. Mother wasn’t assisted immediately, so she tried to do the Heimlich Maneuver on herself using the bar of her bed. This didn’t kill her. It took a couple tries before the solid carrot bit flew from her throat, but she broke a rib in the process, which lengthened her stay at the hospital.
Two weeks later, Mother was out of her standard gown and back into her stretch pants and pastel polos. Before she checked out, she decided to use the bathroom. She carefully lowered herself onto the cold porcelain using the metal guide rails on the walls. She didn’t notice the Brown Recluse spider that crept out from under the rim of the toilet. It continued onto her naked behind as Mother finished urinating. She began to rise, and the spider, frightened by the sudden movement, dug its fangs into her fleshy cheek. Due to all the painkillers, she didn’t notice the bite and left the hospital. This did kill her.
The following morning at the Day’s Inn, a housekeeper named Inez found Mother sprawled on the bed in her room. She had a strawberry-kiwi wine cooler in her left hand; postmortem the bottle spilt on the floral comforter. My sister ended up paying for the stain.
Burt Weathers, of Weathers and Rock Law Firm, explained this all to us systematically, so experienced with death that it came out like sports highlights. We missed the game and he was giving us the play by play. His slate gray suit was pristine, his black shoes as shiny as his head. All the while Mr. Weathers was reading off the basic legal protocol, a moss colored booger hung inside his right nostril. I was hypnotized as it jiggled with each inhaled breath at the beginning of a sentence, and again as he exhaled at the end of a line. Mr. Weathers’ breathing was as mechanical as his reading.
My sister, Marilyn, was nodding along with each statement. She sat across the table from me; a large expanse of glossy walnut and twenty-seven years of sibling rivalry separated us. Marilyn had her hair in perfect curls, still a china doll after thirty-four years. She was wearing her mourning dress of an alluringly modest cut, which she paired with little pink gloves. Who wore silk gloves to business meetings anymore? Marilyn was still playing house.
“Mr. Weathers,” Marilyn politely intruded. “Do you know how long this meeting will last? I have to pick up my daughter from her violin lesson and get her to her tennis lesson.” She smiled with her pearl pink lips. “I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to be rude.”
“No, I understand Mrs. Daye. I can move into more pertinent information for you and Cher,” Mr. Weathers replied.
“Thank you, Mr. Weathers,” I said. “Because I also have an important meeting with a sexual partner of mine this afternoon that I cannot reschedule.”
Marilyn shot a tight-lipped grin at me. It looked like her face was caving in, her skull revealed under her taunt skin. “She’s kidding, Mr. Weathers. Cher has always had an odd sense of humor.”
I don’t think Mr. Weathers heard anything. Either that or he didn’t care. He merely nodded and returned to his paper work. He flipped forward through various pages, licking his fingertips for traction, a habit I hate. He finally arrived at the page of interest. “To my daughters, Marilyn and Cher.”
Mother had named us for her two favorite fashion icons, Marilyn Monroe and Cher. I don’t think she realized how these divas would infiltrate our lives. Either the persona was embraced or completely rejected. I think it’s easy to tell which daughter did what. Don’t let my garish interpretation of “If I Could Turn Back Time” in a revealing, fringed bikini fool you. My entire life has been filled with pick up lines like “I got you babe” and bad New York Italian accents quoting “Snap out of it!” I don’t know how many gay friends I had in college that were sad to find out I didn’t worship the diva icon.
Marilyn, on the other hand, has a costume party every year where she appears on her staircase in a pink satin sleeveless gown and matching long gloves singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. She named her daughter Norma Jean. Every letter she mails is with Marilyn stamps. And she says I have an odd sense of humor. I bet her husband calls her Miss Monroe while he bangs her.
Mr. Weathers continued. “ ‘If you are reading this I must be dead. Sorry. I hope it’s not too inconvenient. I won’t take too much of your time.’”
“Oh Mommy,” Marilyn said into her delicate gloved hands.
“‘I don’t have much, as you both know. But what I have is now yours. That’s why you are listening to this in Mr. Weathers office, correct?” Oh mother. She was drunk when she wrote this. “But I love you, and I think you might love me too.”
“Drama queen,” I whispered. I dabbed at my eyes with a tissue.
Mr. Weathers went on in monotone. “ ‘So here it goes, darlings. My ball gowns and glamour dresses I leave to Marilyn. You use to wear them when you were little, and I think you might still now. I’m leaving you my porcelain doll collection as well as the Barbies. Cher, you can have all my jewelry. And the kitchen appliances because I know you have no wife-y instinct at all and only own a coffee maker. Take the cook books as well, Marilyn already knows how to cook.’ ”
“Wait,” I said. “Does that include her pots, pans, silverware…stuff like that?”
“Let me check,” Mr. Weathers skimmed over the rest of the page. “It doesn’t say anything that would oppose that.”
“Silverware?” Marilyn asked. Her blue eyes were like sparklers, pretty but stinging. I knew then that she had remembered, just as I had.
“Yes. Silverware.” I replied. “Knives, forks, spoons.”
“I know what silverware is, Cher,” Marilyn said. She had the talent of sounding just like a snotty sixteen-year-old. “I’m concerned about which knives, forks and spoons you had in mind.”
“Well, mother left it all to me. So I guess I have it all in mind,” I said.
* * *
My mother had a collection of silverware we were never allowed to use. When asked about it, mother would reply “It’s for special occasions.” She kept the pieces locked in the bottom drawer of our china cabinet. The silverware wouldn’t be so mysterious if she hadn’t spoken about it so often. We would be putting away wineglasses from Mother’s dinner party, merely standing beside the cabinet, and Mother would warn us about that bottom drawer. “Don’t even think about it!” She sat on the sofa watching reruns of The Facts of Life, sloshed from the party. “Hands off.” Mother was so cautious, yet so proud of these unseen eating utensils.
Of course, this made Marilyn and I curious. We scouted out the key like our hidden Christmas gifts. We tried to jiggle the lock open with bobby pins. We even attempted to push the drawer out from behind, squishing between the wall and the china cabinet. These moments were the only time Marilyn and I really got along. We wondered if these forks were made from pure gold, or spoons encrusted with diamonds. Maybe the knives were made from whalebones or the ivory tusks of Saber tooth tigers. Or maybe royalty, like Queen Elizabeth or Princess Grace Kelly, had dined with these utensils.
There never was an occasion special enough for the silverware. None that Marilyn or I ever attended, anyway. It remained out of reach.
* * *
I was leaving Mr. Weather’s office when Marilyn grabbed me by the shoulder. “I need to speak with you.”
“You do?” I asked. I attempted to continue to my car, but Marilyn didn’t budge. “Is it about Mr. Weather’s booger? I couldn’t concentrate on half of what he said, it was just dancing in there-”
“It’s about Mother’s will.”
Marilyn took a breath and huffed expectantly. “You know.”
“Do I?” I smiled and turned towards the parking lot again.
“Cher!” Marilyn finally raised her voice to a natural human level, instead of that fake proper doll. I faced her. “Cher, it’s the silverware.”
“Mother left it to me.”
“Well, she left the appliances to you. I didn’t hear a specific line that granted you the silverware.”
“Marilyn, she left me all the kitchen stuff because you already have all those things. She knew I didn’t. End.” I began to walk away when Marilyn ran in front of me. Her eyes shifted, now large and despairing.
“Cher. I know you don’t want a family, and I do have one. I want to have that silverware and actually use it. For real special occasions, instead of keeping it in a drawer. I want my family to be able to enjoy it. I plan on having at least three more kids, and how great would it be for them to have what we didn’t?”
“So just because you choose to have kids and I don’t means you should have the silverware?” I asked. “Smooshing something out of your pussy means nothing. Don’t you think that might be why she left it to me? So it could continue to be unused?” I had her. Marilyn was gapping at me like a dead fish, perfectly arranged on a pretty platter.
“But-But I have…she would have wanted-how do you know what she’d want? Please, Cher. Consider what I’ve done for you. I paid that debt for you when you couldn’t. Remember college? My husband and I-”
“Okay.” I covered Marilyn’s mouth with my hand. She strained against me, but I held strong. I wasn’t a dainty housewife; I was a gym queen. “I’ll make you a deal. I can’t always keep your mouth shut for you. I want you to shut up, and I mean not just now, but forever. I don’t have to go to any family events, or listen to your family stories. I don’t need to go to you costume parties. Mother is dead, and I’d like you to be dead to me too. I will give you the silverware if you will do this for me.”
Marilyn had stopped struggling. I released her mouth, lipstick smeared on my palm. There was a long silence. “Fine,” she said. “But you have to do one thing. One last dinner party. We’ll use the silverware.”
* * *
I stood alone Marilyn’s dining room, a wide room with a high ceiling and a crystal chandelier. The walls were a cream color, and when the chandelier was lit, the room glowed. A long table was in the center, covered in a delicate lace tablecloth. Fine china plates with real gold details were already laid out, along with crystal wineglasses that matched the chandelier. The silverware wasn’t set yet, that was my job. Marilyn was in the kitchen, still fussing with the turkey.
I hadn’t opened the box. For some reason, I couldn’t look the silverware yet. It was a moment I had been waiting for, but something had prevented me from taking a peek. The anticipation I knew would only last so long, and once seen it would all be over. No mystery left. It would be solved. Part of me wanted to take the box and flee, bury it with Mother. But I was sacrificing forks and knives in exchange for freedom from my sister.
I laid the old box on the table. I thought of Mother. Hands off. Of Mother’s glassy eyes. Her wine and Doritios breath. What the hell, I lifted the lid.
Inside were knives, forks and spoons of various sizes. The silver gleamed. Sterling, by the looks of it. No diamonds, no gold, no ivory. Not any rubies or saliva of royalty. I have to admit I wasn’t that impressed. I didn’t even care to look at the engravings. I began to set the table.
I started blindly at first, pissed that all these years we had wondered over something stupid. Something basic. I felt gypped. Of course Mother would leave me the biggest disappointment, being that I was her’s. Then, as I slammed down the last fork, I caught the glimpse of a strange detail. A nipple. I raised the fork closer. Breasts. Naked breasts attached to equally naked women. These women stretched languidly over the handle, spreading their legs, revealing their bushy vaginas.
I was stunned.
I grabbed a knife. This time men, just as naked as the women, with ass cheeks like scoops of ice cream. Their cocks erect, testicles dangling below their nest of pubic hair. Apparently they had spied the women on the fork. Indeed, on the spoons they were engaged in various sexual positions. Women had their legs stretched up the sky while men pounded them, another couple were doing it doggy style, while others found pleasure in oral favors. All of these erotic scenes were depicted in ornate, careful detail. My sister’s table was transformed into an orgy.
Marilyn entered the room, several jeweled guests behind her. “Cher has been setting the table with our Mother’s special silverware.” She grinned at me and flipped her curls. I would soon be rid of the diva bitch.
I grinned back and grandly addressed her rich company. “Yes. These are my Mother’s knives and forks. And now, they are Marilyn’s.”
"My Mother's Knives and Forks" is the title of an old children's rhyme.
Nissa Nordland was a lowly theater student when she wrote this, but now she is a theater graduate! Huzzah!
This is not where we set the bar for length, humor, genre, form or content. This is just to give you an idea of where we've happily been, though we'll happily be taken in whatever direction you will politely guide us - with your smartly-crafted and perfect story. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for a title and the opportunity to participate in our inaugural round, Trucker Lingo!