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Original Short Fiction: Carina

Hannah Fenster

Carina can’t quite remember how she acquired her mother. She knows it is her mother because the first time someone said ‘who’s that’ and she said ‘my mother’ nothing happened; the hand of the Almighty did not strike her down; a bus did not hit her, nor did she fall into a pit to die alone; she did feel, however, a squeeze of assent against her fingers. But when neighbors ask Carina why she has a mother now and didn’t three months ago, she can only shrug. She finds people’s questions tactless. In the lift: ‘Where did you get that woman?’ In the library: ‘Does she ever let go of your hand?’ In the grocery: ‘Why do you let her follow you around?’ As if her mother’s incessant hand-holding implies deafness. Her mother’s fingers twitch at these comments, but she leaves the silence untouched.

In fact Carina acquired her mother after letting go of her grocery trolley in the Line 8 Metro. She wheeled it to a stop on the platform so she could shift the Friskies bag to her left arm, and a group of tourists caught her eye, giggly ones. This is the part of the evening Carina remembers, because she mostly remembers what she revolts, and she revolted their nonchalance. Them, twenty-one and American, floral-scented, manicured. Her, twenty-three and Spanish, mole under her left eye, a pair of ribbons knotting bleached buns on her head. They snapped pictures of each other hugging and hugging. She rolled her eyes without knowing, the kind of gesture that used to make Se√±ora √Ålvarez at the orphanage hit her before she had a chance to say but I don’t even know how to do that eye thing. After the first slap she had been startled that that much sound could resonate from her own cheek. Each blow slammed shut the silence that followed. There was never any room for defense or explanation. By the time Carina left to live on her own, she knew that resistance meant pain, and silence, safety.

Just before Carina’s mother acquired the title of mother, she noticed Carina’s hand through the gap in the trolley handle. It had the perfect profile—thin but angular, undoubtedly strong. Each finger forged its own identity from wrinkles and scratches and pencil-made knuckle bumps. These were fingers both careful and full of care, palms with story lines. Carina’s mother could see her future in them, and relaxed a little. Usually the Line 8 Metro made her longing more acute. Two months ago, her husband would have guided her down the steps, one hand on the small of her back and the other outstretched to fend off more reckless patrons of the underground. His palms would have bridged the step up to the train, the single gesture both asking if help was necessary and insisting that it was. Seated on the train, his fingertips would have wandered through her hair, so gentle there was nothing for her to do but cry. Cry is also what she did when his hands disappeared and she tripped on the stairs four out of seven days in a week. Then she began to look for new hands to fill the empty space.

When Carina reached back for her trolley, her mother reached forward, held on. Carina didn’t have time to shrink from the touch––the train air struck flat against her face, a businessman jostled the Friskies, a whiff of perfume flooded her nose and she found herself staggering towards the train to beat the closing doors. The hand was easier to tow than a trolley because it moved with her, not against. The pair couldn’t see it, but deep in the microscopic etchings of their joints, a single continuous line had locked into place. The fingers, immune to noise and chaos, layered their silences on top of each other.

Hannah Fenster [1] is a junior from Goucher College, Maryland, reading English Literature at St Anne’s’ College, Oxford on her year abroad.