Things That Helped

Brenda's Kid

From the Archives
Lindsay Hunter

In the past few months Lindsay Hunter has been writing some of the Internet’s most popular pieces on motherhood for Medium. They’re searingly honest, hugely comforting, and always laugh-out-loud funny. Much like her fiction. In celebration of Short Story Month we’re publishing new fiction here and on mcdbooks.com, as well as some of our favorites from the FSG Originals archive. Here’s a story from Hunter’s second collection, Don’t Kiss Me, which we published in 2013. In “Brenda’s Kid” we see a very different side of motherhood, as well as Hunter’s ability to create a language all her own. Enjoy. #fsgoarchives

Brenda’s Kid

On her way to work Brenda stopped by her kid’s house to help clear the leaves out of the gutter. He shuffled out in gym shorts and a tank, worked his bare toes into the squelch of the lawn, it had been raining, Brenda wore a 7-Eleven bag over her hair to keep out the damp. Well, she said, and her kid’s head snapped to, it was clear he knew he was supposed to do something, get something, offer something, but he couldn’t figure what. Brenda said, Ladder, in a gentle but questioning voice, and he answered, I know, I was just, but he didn’t finish what he was just, and the mean part of Brenda, the oozing eggplant-colored meanness hissed, He wasn’t just anything, and get a load of those love handles, beer-drinking monkeytoed lumberdummy that he is, but Brenda swallowed that down and concentrated on how nicely the aloe she’d planted was coming up, it seemed to love its new pot, orange clay pot, ochre, the word ochre, ochre ochre ochre. Her kid dragged the ladder over, stared at Brenda with his eyebrows raised, like, What now, lady? Brenda let him hold her purse, he slung it up and over his shoulder and stood with his arms folded over his stomach. Don’t fall now, he said. The boy had enormous brown eyes, puddles of fudge, moist and glittered, Brenda could see why the girls loved him, penis fool that he was, Lord, delete that, delete it please and thank you but he does swing that penis around like it’s tossing candy coins over a parade of sluts, sorry forgive me delete delete delete. Brenda secured the ladder up against the house, debated, but in the end kept her heels on, she was good on her toes like that. Her kid stood with her purse and his feet in the earth, squinting, the bottom of his tank rolled up a little and the hair on his stomach exposed, Feel a breeze? Brenda asked him, but he didn’t get it. Brenda began her climb. Good thing you ain’t wearing a skirt, her kid called up to her, else I’d be seeing something I don’t want to see. He snorted, Yes ma’am, I’d be awash in barf if that was the case. Brenda prayed to sweet, delicious Jesus. Grace. Strength. Whatever else. During her pregnancy all those years ago she had anticipated a bond so strong that she would die for it. That had been true. But also true was how oft en she considered harming her child, just a little. Taser gun. Mace. Roundhouse kick. Judo chop. Good old windmill. Tires crunching over toes. She had never done any of it, she had once lobbed a small decorative pumpkin at his head, but that was the extent. Thank you Lord of Light, thank you chariot God. The gutter was caked, Brenda would need a tool of some sort. Trowel? she called down. Spade? Her kid emitted a low, indignant Uhhhhhhhhhh that Brenda interrupted with Spatula? Her kid trudged into the house, pausing to drop her purse into the dirt. The sky was pale blue now, all the gray diluted and drained, Brenda looked for the sun but didn’t find it. The boy came out of the house with a small metal spatula Brenda recognized as her cookie spatula. Jesus was a child, Christ in a canoe, nature, nature, nature. Sweetest, Brenda said, ain’t that the spatula I asked you about a few weeks ago? Oh yeah, the boy said, here it is, I guess, catch. Brenda watched the spatula blading through the air. Glinty arc. She caught it and her boy said, You need me out here the whole time? He bent to pick at a toe. I got shit on pause is the thing. But yell if you need anything. Brenda said, I got it, precious treasure, microwaved honeybun, go on inside. Brenda hacked at the gutter muck, Jésus Cristo preaching to the putas, but it would require more time than she had. She left the spatula staked in the muck. Maybe it’d attract lightning, she almost let herself complete the thought. She took off the 7-Eleven bag, went in to wash her hands, the front room of her kid’s house featured her old sofa and a plate of nachos furred with mold. She went through to the kitchen, her kid in the TV room playing a video game, eyes glazed, the embroidered pillow Brenda brought over earlier in the month on the floor, a shoeprint across the face of the sunflower, and why she had thought her boy would want a sunflower pillow in his home she couldn’t recall, her kid was right, it was faggoty, if faggoty meant nice, decorative, thoughtful. He had never forgiven her for the pumpkin incident. Lord God grant me a shovel! Brenda focused on her handwashing, the cucumber hand soap she’d brought over months before still full, the lather gray, then less gray, then a perfect bubbly white, this was the kind of satisfaction her kid would never know, never care to know. Perfect, bubbly, white. So simple! What are your plans for today? Brenda asked her kid. His foot rested on his knee, his foot as black with dirt as if it had been drawn there with charcoal. I don’t know, was the answer. Well, jobs don’t get themselves, Brenda said, forcing brightness into her voice. Good one, her boy said. On the television a black man with two swords cut the head off a woman in a metal bikini, the head screamed and the eyes rolled, the black man laughed and brandished his swords. Brenda’s kid said, See what you did? Now I have to start all over. Holy Ghost on a tricycle, floating like a fart, Brenda didn’t see what she did. Her kid was playing the woman in the bikini? Okay well, Brenda said. There was no reply, her kid was back in the game. The woman in the two-piece whipped her hair and did an elaborate scissoring flip. Brenda realized there was a good chance her kid had a boner. Okay well, Brenda said again. She’d always wanted to be a mother, she knew she’d be good at it, she wanted a close relationship with her son, when she pictured her own parents they were always staring just to the right of her, she didn’t want that for her son, she wanted him to feel seen, loved, free to be himself, but now standing in his kitchen, counters covered in dried chili and cereal bowls and pizza boxes, trying not to see the tent he was pitching in his gym shorts, Brenda wondered if her parents were right to distance themselves, and she felt an unfamiliar warmth spread through her thinking of them, Mom, she thought, and Dad, Mom, Dad, Mom Dad, they were right, Mom with her tight- set hair and Dad with his bad toe pushing out of his slipper, they were right to just live their lives and not get involved. Brenda would leave now. Her kid would have to just figure it out, figure out how to clean his gutter clean his kitchen get a job contain his desire live in the world. She could see her purse out the window lumped in the dirt, and beyond was her car, she’d just had it washed, how it shone, she had to get to work, there was still that stretch of highway she had to drive, this was her life! Her own. And then she saw into her kid’s bedroom. Saw the tangled hair tanned calf and single dollop breast staring dumbly out. The girl saying, Oh hey, in a pebbled voice, and there was the other breast now, two stunned eyes. The television shrieked, something was stabbed. Brenda’s kid said, Don’t look in there! but made no move to get up. Brenda continued on to the front door, closed the door behind her. The sky was a candy blue now. She bent for her purse, she bent into her car. The girl was beautiful. God in the grocery, this made her sad, she didn’t know why. Did her kid appreciate it? Maybe that was it. Maybe it wasn’t. But anyway, the highway.

Don't Kiss Me book cover

Don't Kiss Me

FSG Originals, 2013

An explosive story collection from a bold, blistering new voice

With broken language, deep vernacular, unexpectedly fierce empathy, and a pace that'll break your granny's neck, Lindsay Hunter lures, cajoles, and wrenches readers into the wild world of Don't Kiss Me.
Here you'll meet Peggy Paula, who works the late shift at Perkin's and envies the popular girls who come in to eat french fries and brag about how far they let the boys get with them. You'll meet a woman in her mid-thirties pining...

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