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Nanay Is Mother

Behind the books on her shelves she finds the artifacts of their girlhood, all of them fuzzed with dust: pocket-sized dolls with safety-scissor haircuts, crayon stubs, origami frogs, magnetic letters. She frowns when she finds the Tagalog flashcards, a reminder of all the things she failed to teach them: nanay is mother, kanin is rice. She places the items in a basket, sneezing as she goes, and carries them to the dining room. 

Her husband has been chiding her for years now to choose a new table; this one still bears evidence of glitter wars and errant markers. In an uncharacteristic burst of frivolity, he has purchased a vintage bar cart and, if delivery tracking is to be trusted, it will arrive in three weeks. He has forced her hand, yes, but she tries one last thing. She says, “The juxtaposition of this glittered farm table and a 1920s bar cart would be interesting, don’t you think?” He shakes his head no, but he does it kindly. 

She places one of the ugly-hair dolls in the center of the table, and straightens its checkered dress while she wonders what to do next. On the nights she can’t sleep she ticks off the last time she spoke to each of her three girls, and the last time they visited. She does it now, recites her litany in a whisper like it’s a secret. Last Monday, two Thursdays ago, thirty-six hours or so. Two weeks, one month, ten days. She stares at the doll. And then, even though she really should get started on dinner, she begins to peel the paper off each crayon, she reads and re-folds the notes from summer camp, she groups blocks by shape and color. Around and around the table she goes, moving slowly, humming, setting one thing here, one thing there, arranging and rearranging until her project reaches what feels like its natural end. It’s not quite symmetrical, not quite a mandala, but it’s beautiful in its own way. She stands on a chair and uses her phone to take a photo from above. And another and another. 

She senses that her husband is wondering why there are no smells emanating from the kitchen, no garlic, no onions. She sits down anyway and crops her photos. She runs them through a dozen filters, but decides they look better without. She chooses the one she likes best, changes her mind, chooses another. And then, finally, she sends her favorite to the group chat their daughters have set up. At bedtime, she’ll slide her phone under her pillow, and just past midnight, it will start to vibrate every few minutes. She’ll read their messages in the morning, first thing.

Veronica Montes is the author of the chapbook The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting (Black Lawrence Press, 2020) and Benedicta Takes Wing & Other Stories (Philippine American Literary House, 2018). Her flash is published in or forthcoming from wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, CHEAP POP, Lost Balloon, and elsewhere.

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