Erin hands her daughter a fuzz-covered peach before returning to the dishes. Margaret smiles from the table and bites into its yellow-orange flesh, slurping to catch the nectar that spills out onto her face. Erin makes no attempt to mask her disdain for her daughter when asking, “Could you maybe try to eat a little quieter, sweetie?” Margaret stares up at Erin defeated, nectar still streaming down from the right corner of her quivering lip. She sets the peach down on the countertop and tears well up in her tiny eyes. Erin can tell it’s going to be a doozy, because the sound of her sobs is pitiful.
She grabs the peach (wincing at the combination of nectar and saliva on her hand), slaps it on a cutting board, and dices it into thin cubes. She isn’t sure why she didn’t do this in the first place, but Margaret’s tears are abated when Erin returns the newly desiccated fruit and coos, “Here, baby, this will do the trick.”
Her mother always told her that childrearing is no picnic, and that doing it alone would be no small task. She often wonders if that’s why she went through with the adoption, like some sort of challenge. It surely wasn’t out of some innate feeling of motherhood. In fact, she was quite relieved when she found out her womb is barren. Yet somehow, here she is: a mother. Her once sleek and modern two-bedroom, five-floor walkup, strewn with the detritus of a budding toddler. Crudely drawn stick figures replace the fast-food menus on her fridge; her eggshell-white walls covered in dirty handprints and long swaths of brown crayon.
Her therapist assures her that she just hasn’t had enough time to form a lasting bond. But how long should that take? Margaret has been in her life now for over a year, and every time she comes down with a cold, Erin would rather barricade the snotty monster in a room for three days than care for her. Of course, she ignores these impulses — she plays the loving mother, but why doesn’t she feel it? Why can’t she feel this “undying” love that her sister Diane boasts when talking about her three brats?
Erin nicks her finger with the steak knife she used to cut Margaret’s peach. “Fuck,” she shouts, as droplets of her blood gather at the bottom of the sink. She grabs the wet dish towel from her shoulder and tries to stop the flow. Margaret looks up at her mother with a look of faint concern that turns to marked indifference and plops another piece of peach into her mouth. Even without the abundance of nectar present in the whole fruit, she manages to slurp while sucking on it. Erin would rather be lying in a bed of needles than listen to her own daughter eat.
There are a few pieces of fruit left on the plate and, with her bloody hand, Erin tosses them into the sink. She watches as they become unrecognizable lumps of grey under the still-running water, and thinks it might be what her heart would look like if it were outside of her chest. She feels a sick sense of satisfaction as Margaret runs off into the living room crying. She wonders how inappropriate it is to return an unwanted child, or if it is too late.