At two o’clock in the morning my mother turns on all the lights in the house. She wipes off her shoes and shucks off her lipstick. My mother breathes like the bogeyman, leaving shell-shaped marks of perspiration on the walls. She opens a drawer to tuck in the silk grey scarf and the matching elbow-length gloves that I sometimes steal from her. I spread the stitching open and sleep in her clothes, familiarize myself with the missing perfume I coveted as a babe, the velvet-lined pockets she keeps her peppermint candies. I imprint her milk sea smell onto my skin, and it feels as warm and as intimate as a scream, a womb.
My father pokes a searching hand, and then a head and a belly, from out of the covers. My parents had bought the covers in a furniture store off Dolores Marquez for cheap. I had found them tucked into their mattress upon coming home one weekday: cotton in ugly purple and yellow geometric shapes, vaguely reminiscent of a lava lamp. I couldn’t believe a household purchase had been made that I hadn’t been informed about, let alone one that screamed bachelor pad. My father had insisted that they had been my mother’s choice and my mother, from her perch in the living room, had yelled “Liar!”
My mother sits on the side of the bed and wraps a Chinese-print robe around herself. Her eye lids are baby raw and baby thin, the heliotrope of a halved plum. She starts talking about the restaurant she and the bus stop mothers had gone to. My father makes a sharp squawking sound, opening one eye, sclera glinting in the dark. He is woken up by the careening external factor of my mother’s white arms, my mother’s thick, black voice. When I was young, the rule of the house was that if I wanted a glass of water, if I had had a nightmare, if I had burst awake in the night with the conviction I was going to die then I’d wake my father up and not my mother. The knowledge came as I slithered out of a birth canal, with the perfume of my mother’s dizzy body.
She doesn’t have a problem waking up my father. He rubs his neck with his fingertips as she gets to the part about the drag queen from Ribaroja named Cruella Bin Laden. My father, the man in the corduroys and the neat crushed strawberry shirts and the glasses, does not know what a drag queen is. The next morning, as we’re brewing the exotic chocolate tea my mother had bought on a whim in a bazaar (it’s dank and unpalatable; we later have to drain it down the sink), he’ll ask me. When I tell him, he smiles. If it had been me or my brother at a drag queen venue he would would raised his sparse cat-like eyebrows and been uncomfortably, privately horrified. But it is my mother, so we know to look at each other with the understanding of compatriots. He opens the dry, brown mouth that built the sky my mother birthed for me. He lets his inside voice bloom into laughter I coveted as a babe along with my mother’s smell, sound I followed through halls like thermoluminescence. We watch my swimming, growing, baby mother, frictionless, careless creature be.