The Faceless Mother

Kendra ripped her train ticket into quarters, wondering how many of her foremothers actually wanted to give birth.

Her right hand ran out of ticket to destroy and moved to clasp a small wooden box in her pocket. The trip, the box, the morose thoughts; everything began two weeks ago, at Casbah Gallery. All other details had been lost in the ongoing consumption of her psyche, during which she could barely gather the mental energy to press buttons on the ticket machine and get shuttled from San Myshuno to her parents’ home in Newcrest.

Kendra had gone to support her friend, who had contributed a found-art piece to an exhibition on the origin stories of local artists. His battle cry for sustainability was just okay. The honor of finally breaking Kendra’s mind, however, belonged to the piece across the hall. There stood a sculpture by an adopted artist of a birth mother she never knew: a cold, imposing, faceless figure overseeing the room in stark contrast to the subject’s absence in the creator’s life. Kendra was drawn towards this idol as a couple gushed in the background about how sad it was the sculptor never met her mother.

In that polished surface where the woman’s features should have been, Kendra saw not the pain of its polisher (who appreciated Kendra’s take on her work, by the way), but that of every mother in history whose story was lost. Since that moment, she could think of nothing but the existence of this vital but nameless legion.

It wasn’t the lack of genealogy that bothered her. It was the lack of answers. What was each woman like? How did she die? What was she passionate about? Did she want to raise children? Did it suit her? Did anyone learn her story while she was alive? Kendra multiplied her questions by the number of anonymous female ancestors, a number too big to comprehend, and found her storytelling mind lost in powers of millions of possibilities.

It was that motherhood had been the default role for women, regardless of what they wanted. Some still think the purpose of life is to have children. So? People remembered Shelley for Frankenstein, not for producing offspring. Kendra saw no reason she couldn’t do the same.

It was fear of the unknown. Yes; Kendra’s latest horror poem was yet another attempt by yet another artist to put into words yet another gruesome phobia that couldn’t be explained using words. She had frightened herself, not only by imagining billions of forgotten births—most without epidurals—but also by realizing she herself could sacrifice control and risk death to create life, maybe by necessity if she were born a bit earlier or somewhere else in the world. The personal accounts she’d spent the past fortnight inhaling didn’t help; they made her loins reflexively tense in dreadful anticipation of the thing. But by definition, no sources existed to identify the choir whose belabored howls echoed across her brain in unison.

It was not being able to pin down the juxtaposition she wanted. Gore without violence. Ubiquity (shucks, each person in her way at the train station was born) hidden by silence. The notion that every woman weighs unspeakable pain against the benefits of motherhood—no, the concept of unspeakable pain vs. the concept of motherhood—before having experienced either. How can you possibly know it’s right for you, then?

It was that really, Kendra herself had lost this connection. She couldn’t remember her grandmother’s face. For all she knew, she was descended from a line of ovate-void-faced women like the one imagined by the adopted sculptor.

Kendra watched her boots propagate ripples in every puddle between the station and her childhood home, wondering how to atone for ignoring the one female Espinosa predecessor whose face she knew. Claudia. She hadn’t spoken to Claudia since she moved out. All these years watching her mother double-fisting cocktails after work every night, honoring her heritage through food, cooing with excitement over every drawing she or her brothers made, and she never thought to ask why.

Her hand again found the box containing a pair of crochet earrings. She had made them with goldenrod thread, Claudia’s favorite color. Mom would be thrilled. Still, Kendra felt it was an understatement. What gift says, hey Mom, sorry for taking your bravery and sacrifice for granted, I’m ready to understand you? What can you possibly do for the woman who fought your greatest fear—three times—and gave you life?

Kendra stopped at the curb, feeling embarrassed by her trinket, for facing her own mother like a stranger.

In anxious stillness, she retrieved her notebook and drafted the prologue of “La Madre Sin Rostro.”

Las olvidadas no pueden ser amadas. The forgotten cannot be loved.

28 thoughts on “The Faceless Mother

  1. Aw, it’s such a sad, but lovely story. Maybe one day, Kendra can face her mother again and reunite (though I understand that it’s difficult after so many years).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was a thought-provoking story, and now perhaps Kendra will have a new chance with her mother. I really loved the photo of Kendra in line with other sims and the faceless statues at the end. Like her heritage line. That was a great shot.

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  3. This coincided with some of my reading of Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? and having to come to terms with the fact that your foremothers are people too (I don’t mean that in a cruel way, I struggle with it all the time). Also I love faceless shots don’t come for me-

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  4. Beautiful, powerful, amazing story and screenshots! Your story has a lot of depth and makes you think about all the women that have come before you and the decision they often had no choice in making.

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  5. I loved the way the story integrated with the screenshots so well–especially the one shot of Kendra standing in front of her line of ancestors. Strong writing and a great story!

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  6. That last line gave me chills. And the line about the “concept of unspeakable pain vs. the concept of motherhood” – i think about that a lot. But to me the concept of motherhood is unappealing, haha, so it’s not like there’s a difficult choice to make.

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  7. Wow. That’s honestly all I can say. This is something I’m deeply interested in myself (especially after readers of mine brought up the fact that my female characters all seem to be terrible mothers, a fact I never really realized until they pointed it out), and which I’ve found myself pondering on just as well. Admittedly, I’m focusing mostly on that part here. Kendra’s POV stating that “It was that motherhood had been the default role for women, regardless of what they wanted,” that really, really made me relate to her. It’s something that is still so often assumed, the fact that women will end up being mothers… the time in which women generally served solely as mothers and housewives is still in our living memory, it’s something ingrained deeply enough in our society that there’s no way we’ll be rid of it anytime soon, leaving many women with crises like Kendra’s, here… who, by the way, is just so goddamn beautiful! I really, really love her. Hope she’ll continue to play a big role in this story.
    Absolutely stellar chapter! I’m really, really impressed.

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    1. I mean, is there any kind of mother to be in a fictional story other than terrible? Anything else would be boring; that’s just the first sentence of Anna Karenina.

      It impedes our progress now, and it also scares me to think about how many of our female ancestors were forced to give birth on someone else’s terms. How many of the greatest minds in history died in childbirth or lived lives of servitude? We’ll never know.

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      1. My coauthor and I have so many opinions about this. Baked into it is that, even though thinking “outside of the box” is considered to be a desirable skill, many people who have built their careers around the status quo feel threatened by anyone who challenges it—so much so that even creative academic fields will reject works (or people…) because they don’t fit in with the existing paradigm. We’ve both experienced this. You’re almost to the part in the story where I introduce this theme through a character whose central conflict is that they’re /too/ creative. Or more accurately, it’s one of many, MANY issues this character has. And even then, it’s centered around this character’s self-image instead of external politics, given the irony of being a creative person in a world where it’s not actually possible to create anything new through traditional means. Buckle up.

        Liked by 1 person

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