Footnotes to Family Recipes

by a contributor

JJ Lynne

1. Separation is natural.

Ever since I moved out, the batch of groceries that she leaves for me repeats like an untreated case of acid reflux. The contents in the single brown paper bag are always the same, but the frequency changes. For the first month it was weekly, because my old room was ripe with the smell of me – reminding her consistently that somewhere outside of the newly whitewashed womb there was a funhouse mirror of her. That month, the groceries were accompanied by quick talks over burnt coffee about me going for my GED and shedding my anxiety like dead cabbage leaves.

2. No substitutions.

Eventually, the food cropped up on the kitchen table every other week like a lukewarm lover slowly pulling the perforated edge of that damn paper bag away from the zipper-toothed seam, removing the stability of the united paper ream. By the middle of the third month, Aunt Alma had to call her with an assault of accusations, a parade of faults pounding through the hall – an entire procession headed into a single boiling pot. The bag would arrive on the apartment steps two days later: sorry I missed you. Without looking in I can name every imperishable that is pulled from the bag like a white rabbit from a black hat – predictable, without room for grey area:

two jars of crunchy peanut butter, tar-thick with the sound of static as I chew,
two loaves of market brand bread (because Hostess folded like a paper fan and left me without Wonder),
one gallon of raspberry ginger ale: mild astringent,
one box of Cheez-Its,
a gallon of whole milk – pasteurized and virgin pure,
a value pack of instant Mac ’n’ Cheese,
a box of Oreos to keep the theme: our black tie affair, bleached bondage,
and lastly, a few rolls of toilet paper to wipe everything clean.

That ought to sustain me for two days, perhaps three. Doesn’t she remember what it’s like to be nineteen and ravenous, hungering for everything that can be consumed, orally and otherwise? The nourishment that she gives is processed and preserved, salt-soaked and sprinkled with traces of formaldehyde. Perhaps if I were emulsified like the peanut spread in those plastic jars, she would be my mother again. She must be tired of my body being a question mark, neck bent to avoid hitting my head on the low doorframes, a dick drooping where I thought a period should sit.

3. No preservatives added.
I’ve stopped eating all of that shit and am spending my nights pressing her paper bags into origami fortune tellers. Aunt Alma is afraid that I am becoming one of them, collapsing in on myself again. Last time it took five firemen and three paramedics to get me out of my clementine crate, bedroom doors and windows boarded to keep me fresh and safe from pressure, exposure to the elements. All I wanted was to taste a bit of citrus, to feel what organic means: without any masking tape over my crotch or black finger paint tire-tracked under my lids. In the two weeks at the hospital they pulled back my pleated layers and saw every omen written on my skin. I was telling my own fortune then.

4. Stirring of contents may be necessary.
Hers are like conjugal visits. They serve one purpose: to fulfill her need for self-satisfaction, some thinly sliced version of what she calls love. The only things that we share are twin eyes and a pack of cigarettes. When she says Ethan, I say I prefer Collette. That’s the catalyst that forces Gemini irises to collide like meteors, ashes slipping from cigarette butts, lashes dripping with mascara slag. You know I can’t handle this. I am not sure which one of us said it, but I know we both feel its residue in our mouths like morning breath. Alcohol will burn it out. Mom orders hers shaken, not stirred. I am wondering how to say that in me there is a girl like her, grinding against a grate, her chafed image falling into a glass where she will conglomerate with a hard cock, a baritone echo – anything that operates like a man. My hands are saying more than lips, like oracles pulling meaning from the tabletop’s Ouija placemats. Tonight each limb is a tarot card waiting to be turned over, and before I let go of her, I will show mother every card in the deck.

JJ Lynne is a recent graduate of Merrimack College and recipient of the Bishop Markham Medal. Her poems have won first and second prizes in the Rev. John R. Aherne Poetry Contest and her writing has appeared in Common Ground Review and Meat for Tea. JJ currently works as a library assistant and looks forward to seeing her work in forthcoming issues of Mock Orange Magazine and PANK’s online edition.