by Rebecca Herring
Artwork, “Frames 8” by Alexa Gaffaney
“Pea.” Her voice, coming to me from across her kitchen counter. Her knobby, loose-skinned fingers wrapped around my polka dotted coffee mug, cutely extolling the virtues of morning and sunshine. The mug, not my mother. “You want to name my granddaughter after a vegetable? After a seed? After a euphemism for urination?”
“Thanks, Mom. Richard thinks its sweet.” Does he? Hard to say, lately. I press my hand across the growing bulge of my stomach. Even now, it feels like a costume. I have never bulged anywhere before. I have a dancer’s frame, tiny, not even brushing my husband’s unshaved chin. Until a few months ago, I could wear clothes out of the children’s department. My husband thinks it’s sexy, the minuteness of me. I have tucked this uncomfortable fact away to pull out and examine in the sleepless hours when I am made anxious by his breath beside me.
I remember the safety of my mother’s skin as a child. I remember pressing myself into her. I must have been so young, in that small space where she made me feel safe. Is there enough of me to give that safety of flesh to this future-girl? Perhaps there is, because my body frightens me now, its heft, the way my breasts have grown and my thighs have widened, and my stomach. It is a teeming pod now, alive with otherness.
My mother, with her stranglehold on life, had four daughters.
How did you do it? How could you open yourself to the chaos, the invasion, loss of control, over and over? I do not ask her.
“It’s childish. You’ll saddle her with a lifetime of people failing to take her seriously. Do you think any doctors are named Pea?” She taps her finger against the mug, gives me a look. In that look, I see, you lack ambition. For yourself and for your child. Or maybe the look is just a twitch of her eye.
I’ll saddle her with a lifetime of knowing her parents loved her to the point of smothering, I think. It doesn’t seem like such a terrible fate.
“Don’t talk to me about names,” I say.
“Not this again.” She sips her tea and doesn’t quite look at me.
Stuart. It was my grandfather’s name. Built like a mountain or an oak tree or a brick wall. I flip through the metaphors, looking for something appropriately unmovable. He had a restless impatience with the women in his life. He wanted a son or grandson to carry his name. He carried an unspoken fury toward the three daughters and eight granddaughters he unwittingly produced.
So Stuart, Mom’s decision. An appeasement, nominally. A consolation prize.
Or, possibly, at its heart, an insult, a criticism.
You want a son? You want someone to bear your name? Here, have this. A sickly infant girl, premature, little more than a speck. The last, after a near deadly pregnancy, and the least impressive, the diminutive period at the end of her line of competitive, muscular, taking-up- space daughters. Here, the runt of the litter. Your legacy.
Perhaps I am reading too much into my mother’s motivations. But I resent the name, and I resent the memory of the man who carried it before me like he owned it, because it left me always the beggar. A little girl with a man’s name.
“Pea,” I say, or I think I say. Most of my conversations with my mother take place in my head. Pea. It’s a name all its own. It’s the name of something loved. Encapsulated and growing.