My mother is frying up steak and mushrooms. Her whiskey is sweating on the counter, and her face is red from the effort of being my mother. “You always say you want the recipe but when I cook you’re never in the kitchen.” She waves the wooden spatula in the air like a baton, but no one obeys. We’re the musicians who never show up to play.
My ex-boyfriend leans against the stove in his boxers, spatula dangling like a limp extension of his arm. He’s waiting for the pancake to bubble so he can flip it over. He should know better than to cook with no clothes on because the splatter really hurts. I’m counting the stitches on a sweater I’m knitting for him. What happens if he gets fat and the sweater no longer fits? I’ll never know. I gave up my right to know this sort of thing when I moved to another country without talking to him first.
I knit my mother a shawl once. I chose a turquoise yarn spun from cotton because wool makes her itch and I thought the turquoise might look nice with all that black she wears. She never wore the shawl, says it got lost during the move. I think she gave it away to charity. I hope its new owner wears mostly black, too—and earrings as big as hula hoops, the kind that would make my mother cringe.
My ex-boyfriend tells me he still wears some of the things I knit for him. I wonder how his girlfriend feels about this. Maybe she’s wondering the same things as I am. Does he remember me every time he scratches his head under his hat, unbuttons his cardigan, grips his handlebars under his mittens? Does he imagine me on the couch, knitting and purling each stitch with him in mind? Or does he see the objects for what they are: functional items of clothing designed to fend off the chill?
Does his girlfriend ever wear any of it?
The smell of pancakes in the kitchen, the sticky residue of maple syrup when you put your elbows on the counter, little bits of wool stuck to the soles of your feet, along with the hair and flour-dust you promise you’ll sweep up later. My mother says people outgrow each other.
Whiskey breath when I kiss her goodbye after dinner, the stench of cigarettes in the book I’ve borrowed for the ferry ride home, a kernel of homesickness in the pit of my stomach like an undigested dud of unpopped corn.
But what home are you sick for?
One evening I came back to my apartment and found my wooden spatula covered in green fuzz. I thought the fur was cute until I realized it might kill me, so I drowned it in vinegar. I found black mould on the wall, too. But angry scrubbing is efficient; you imagine you’re scouring the face off of someone who was mean to you till nothing remains except for some scratches from when you dug your nails in too deep because you got carried away. I always get carried away.
The next day I lug my new dehumidifier up eight flights of stairs. The whirring keeps me company when I’m making stuff.
I try to make stuff every day. Food, pictures, stories, pieces of clothing, decisions, mistakes. My sister says when you make something for someone, you can’t take it back. You can’t take back your mistakes, either. I have pockets filled with mistakes like sea glass from the beach. Sometimes I like to play with the pieces in my fingers, hold them up to the light, put them in my mouth, swallow them.
My mother has very savage opinions about everything I make. She says the floral prints on my dresses make me look like a woman who’s just resumed her job as a vendor peddling fruit and vegetables at the market after giving birth to some babies. She says the only people with the right to make clothes are those who’ve studied fashion design. She says I should stop sewing, invest in a handbag, a tailored shirt, some shoes, and trick a rich man into marrying me.
I’ll parade around the city wearing my mistakes like sea glass on a necklace.