The Horror of Motherly Love

This Sunday, May 12, is Mother’s Day. Sadly, my mom lives several hours away in North Carolina; but we chat every Sunday and I always send her a gift (though it’ll be late this year — sorry Mom).

Ahead of the holiday, I found myself reflecting on how most of my love stories fall into two categories: romantic (however twisted it may be), or familial between a mother and her daughter. The titular stories in my two collections, “The Crow’s Gift” and “Wither,” both focus on relationships between the main female protagonist and her mother. “Wither” goes one step further and includes Mother Nature — and the destructive relationship that can occur between her and her children.

sharp objects
Left to right: Amma, Camille, and Adora from Sharp Objects.

Without Condition is my first story to examine both motherly love and romantic love. While the focus is largely on Cara and her boyfriend, my first inkling of the story was rooted in the relationship between Cara and her mother. It was her mother’s unconditional love for her, even in the face of horrendous activities, that helped me think of the rest of the plot (not to mention the title).

I once read a study that claimed the bond between a mother and her daughter is the strongest possible bond between any parent-child pairing. While I can’t say that for sure, there is certainly something special about the way a woman is bonded to her mother in ways we don’t see with her father, or don’t see between a mother and her son. It’s something special to witness when it’s good, and something terrify to witness when it’s broken or abusive.

Carrie touched on this perfectly. The terror doesn’t lie in Carrie’s powers, nor just in the way she’s bullied; but in the power and influence Margaret White has over her daughter. As evil and tormented as she is, you still see their bond and the fact that Mrs. White truly worries about her. I think of in the movie, when Carrie shatters the mirror; and Margaret stops playing the piano and says in her most normal, concerned voice, “Carrie?” She’s worried her daughter is hurt, even as she calls her sinful. It almost makes it all the scarier when Margaret comes for Carrie with a knife in the climax.

margaret white
Also, this scene is just creepy AF.

I also think that the TV show Riverdale has done an excellent exploration of mothers and daughters in the fraught connection between Betty and Alice. Season 3 has been a little uneven, but the show has quietly shown how hard it is for a daughter to sever a tie with her mother, and how that tie — even when dangerous — may be the least dangerous option she has. Alice has joined a cult called The Farm, a group that Betty wants no part of; even if it means losing a connection to her mom. Out of desperation, Betty turns to her jailed serial killer father instead of her cult-worshiping mother, but when her father is (purportedly) free, he comes for her and tries to kill her (this post was written on May 7, and it’s possible revelations in later episodes may dispute these facts, because that’s what Riverdale does and that’s one of the reasons I love it in all its messy glory). Betty gives in to her mother for safety, and she’s embraced. She may still be in danger, but she’s with her mother; and with her mother, the feeling of safety is stronger and perhaps more real. This could be to Betty’s advantage or her detriment — only time will tell.

A final story that delved into this in spectacularly creepy fashion is Sharp Objects (which I also wrote about when the HBO adaptation aired last summer). Here, you have three female bonds: mother, daughter, and sister; none of whom can abandon the other completely despite the misdeeds of each. It also shows the darker side of a mother’s desire to feel needed, and how her daughter will nearly die to fill that need.

Betty and Alice Cooper
Betty and Alice Cooper.

The bond between a mother and daughter can make for excellent dark fiction when done well. I’m less interested in “crazy mom/rebel daughter” narratives, and more the stories of daughters who can’t leave their mothers behind, or vice versa; despite their dark deeds. The bond is strong, even when it’s frayed — maybe even the strongest of all. But that isn’t always a good thing.

I hope that those of you with good bonds, though, have a wonderful Mother’s Day. And, I want to wish the happiest of Mother’s Days to my mom. Thanks for reading my work, supporting me, and being an all-around gem.

New Flash Piece: “Crust”

Today is Pi Day! In honor of the tastiest, most mathematical day, I wrote a flash piece. It’s about dessert pie, perfection, and baking. I hope you enjoy a little fusion of creepiness into your morning. Happy 3.14, everyone!

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Crust

The crust was her least favorite part to make. Millie sighed as she ran her rolling pin over the stiff disk of dough. It needed to be cold for the butter to make it flaky, But it needed to be warmer in order to be rolled out. But not rolled out too thin, or else the crust would tear. And not too thick, or else it wouldn’t be a crust at all.

Millie hated making her own crust, but it was the way her mother liked it. Homemade, nothing from a can or freezer. “You can’t make everything easily,” her mother would say as she spit a piece of pie into her napkin, Millie’s latest effort publicly shown as a failure. “You’re spoiled, and that spoils your food.”

Millie would swallow back her tears — “Tears just show how much you think you deserve sympathy,” her mother would say, “and sympathy is earned” — and try again another week. She’d try and try, stirring the blueberries into a perfect compote, baking the apples in sugar until they became thick and soft, baking the pumpkin puree until it formed into a perfect, stable custard that didn’t fall or seep, just wiggle a little. Millie was excellent at filling. It was just the damn crust.

She thrust the rolling pin too hard as she rolled, and tore the crust. “Dammit!” she yelled as she pressed the dough back together. She felt it warm beneath her fingers, felt the butter melt inside the flour before it had a chance to do so in the oven. It’d be less flaky now. It wouldn’t be perfect. Millie threw the crust away, then turned to face her mother at the table.

“I won’t make it if it isn’t perfect!” she said as she blinked back tears. “I’ll start over. Is that good enough for you?”

Her mother didn’t reply. Her mother hadn’t said a word for weeks, not since she’d died at the table while finishing her dinner. Millie found her after placing another pie in the oven, sitting still, her mouth hanging open and her eyes vacant yet narrow.

She still sat there, her body crumbling like an oat topping, her skin wrinkled like an apple perfect for filling. Her eyes were dark and rotted, but Millie could still see the judgment within them. Eternally in disapproval, even though she couldn’t voice it.

Millie could hear it in her head, though — and until she didn’t hear it, she would try and try again to make the perfect pie. “I’ll make it better,” she said as she turned to the fridge to get some butter. “I’ll make it perfect.”

Stray Passage: Sea of Green

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! I love this holiday, even though I skip the crazier parts of celebrating it. My husband and I prefer going to a local bar, getting a Guinness and some soda bread, and listening to two men who play live Irish folk music there each year. It’s how that bar celebrates until roughly 9 PM, when the musicians are swapped for a DJ and patrons like myself are swapped for recent college grads wearing the traditional St. Paddy’s garb of Party City.

I wanted to write an impromptu story about St. Patrick’s Day today, but found myself writing of the ocean instead. I then wanted to write a short story about the ocean, but found myself unable to finish after the final line. Perhaps I will finish it later, and continue it in another post. Perhaps it will become the opening of another book, once I finish Please Give. For now, it’s a stray passage in need of a home – and for now, that home is here. Enjoy – and if you have ideas for where it should go next, feel free to leave them in the comments!

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Sea of Green

When I first saw the ocean as a child, I was struck by the fact that it was green. Whenever I’d seen a wave crash on television or a boat sail in a book, it had been on an ocean of blue. My mother took me to the beach, and I furrowed my brow and declared, “That’s not the ocean – it’s green.”

She chuckled at my innocence. “That is the ocean, even though it looks green. It’s the way of the Atlantic.”

I wouldn’t see a blue ocean until many years later, as I watched the Pacific crash on some rocks beneath my balcony. I typed on my computer, sipping coffee as the sun rose and brightened the cliffs surrounding the water. Bordered by oceans of blue and green, I smiled at the thought of our hetero-chrome country, its watery eyes gazing at the varied terrains in between them. I trekked across them often, as my mother stayed faithful to the sea of green, and I’d cross any mountain, desert, or plain to see her when she called.