42.1 Feature: Jessica Alexander Reads “Things We Have Had to Overcome”
Jessica Alexander is a candidate for the PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Utah. Her fiction has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Fence, DIAGRAM, and PANK among other places. She is currently a fiction editor for Quarterly West.
Things We Have Had to Overcome
by Jessica Alexander
Listen to Jessica Alexander read “Things We Have Had to Overcome” from 42.1.
We were always hunting mother. Down the spiraled staircase, through the gallery, into a million ill-tuned rooms that unspooled like accordions. We found only her Victrola, which countered our four blows like a burst sewer line and doused us in her Shostakovich.
There are other mother portals and parodies we have slain. My brother, for instance, has tried taking lovers, peels off his mother murdering self-worth like a soggy bed sheet and spills forth his tragedy.
For my part, I discover a claw foot tub can be a matronly parenthesis. My double bladed axe thumps against its base. I am thinking of yesterday, my bowels aglow with disgrace. How the sea was dotted with ships. How I wished I could dip my hands in them and scatter their innards across the ocean. How I couldn’t.
Mother says she doesn’t enjoy much anymore.
I hurl my axe at the chandelier. There is nothing now that is not her.
“I am sure there are people enjoying things still,” she says, “only, I don’t know where they go.”
This morning it rained and by afternoon the courtyard was strewn with snails. I used forceps and a mallet to crack their shells. But I failed. I failed!
“Shut-up! You raving floozy!” says my brother.
He, on the contrary, wants to be swallowed by a whole new relational logic. Call me Brian. Or Mike. Call me Dave he tells his many blonde victims. Still they scream the curse of our mother’s mad name into his blank, unblinking face.
Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra.
On a bad day, not to murder is impossible. Our mother was a fruit fly. I murdered her nine times, my brother murdered her five. Our father was an armor-clad orangutan. We feel no loyalty to him.
When our mother cut him open, an entanglement of smoldering men emerged from his groin. They smashed the windows and the fountains. They taught her a lesson. Animals too are inordinate misogynists. “Shut-up!” Says brother, “It’s never been proven.” By dusk they prowled the gardens: chauvinist dogs, chauvinist lions, chauvinist boars. Red adders lashed the dust. “Who?” said the servants, “No one has been here in years.” They, unlike the animals, were loyal. They broke the castle walls and rebuilt them around our mother. We hear her voice one room over but will never find her. Instead, we discover a family of monkeys wearing mother’s necklaces and rings. We raise our axes over their heads and they shield their faces with bejeweled fingers. They do not want to be murdered, so long as there is so much sex and cleanliness, so many natural resources. Outside the house snow falls and the wind comes in our busted windows.
My brother tells me he would have liked to be a beekeeper or an aging violinist. He cannot tell the difference between women and artifice. His axe is tangled in a tapestry.
“I fear we’re on a fool’s errand,” he tells me.
I’d like to slide through mother’s conduits to the decade before my implausible causation. I’d like a ham sandwich. I’ve been gravely disappointed. It is a truth universally acknowledged, we are fools and this is our errand.
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