A pot of chicken noodle soup bubbled quietly on the stove. The scents of thyme and parsley drifted towards her as she dipped a wooden spoon into the broth. Opening her lips to take a sip, the lines framing her mouth fell into well-worn creases. “Maybe a bit more garlic . . .” she muttered.
Turning away from the stove, she shifted her gaze to the window. She could see her three children playing outside. A chorus of “Tag! You’re it!” echoed into the kitchen, prompting a smile to spread across her face.
Her two boys, Riley and Noah, raced across the lawn, a blur of red and blue cotton. They ran in circles around their sister, Emma, whose brow started to crinkle. As she reached out towards them, her fingers formed a rainbow of nail polish. After a few minutes of sprinting behind them, she paused. Her knees shook as she gulped in several deep breaths.
Noticing that Emma’s smile had begun to fade, her mother reached towards the windowsill. Her lips hovered, waiting to yell a warning to the boys. Just as she leaned towards the window frame, Riley stopped.
Emma, seeing her chance, jumped up. Her skirt billowed out as she clamped a hand down firmly on Riley’s freckled forearm. “Gotcha!” she giggled, pulling him down to the ground with her.
“Nuh-uh!” Riley retorted. Propping himself on one elbow, he inched his fingers closer and closer to her belly. Before she could stop him, he frantically began to tickle her.
“Noah, help!” Emma squealed. Twisting and turning in the grass, her white shirt pressed further into the damp lawn. Her voice grew muffled once Noah toppled onto her, intertwining his short limbs with his two siblings’.
Their mother turned away, mentally adding bleach to her grocery list. She was about to make a note on the fridge when the scent of warm soup filled her nostrils. Realizing that Alex would be home in half an hour, she rushed to the pantry.
Once she was back at the counter, she began mincing garlic in short, rapid strokes. With each new slice, its pungent scent grew stronger, causing her nose to wrinkle. As she forced herself to focus on something else, Emma’s girlish screeches echoed from outside. The sound felt so familiar to her. As she tried to place it, her mind drifted back to a similar day in her own childhood.
It was a sluggish Minnesota afternoon, the kind that made you go crazy with boredom. Her and her brother, Peyton, were outside, jumping on the trampoline. They were having one of their many competitions: this time, to see who could outjump the other.
While she lightly bounced beside him, Peyton towered over her with each jump. Curls flying in the wind, lips revealing two crooked front teeth—it was an image that she would always remember him by. Yet even thirty years later, she still felt a twinge of jealousy as she recalled how she was never quite able to reach his height.
It was this resentment that caused her accident, resulting in the two scars that spanned her forearms. The whole thing had been silly, really. Even today, when her family brought up the story at holiday parties, she would chuckle, claiming that she had no idea what had gone through her head. That was a lie, though. She remembered what had happened perfectly.
She had simply grown tired of always coming in second. She was fed up with the fact that she was a girl and Peyton was a boy, which, she had come to realize, meant that she would never win. So that day, as Peyton continued to jump higher than she could possibly imagine, she decided to outdo him in any way that she could.
She didn’t even know what the move was called. She had only seen Peyton’s friends doing it a few weeks ago. From what she gathered, all one had to do was jump backwards, and like magic, you would spin in a full circle before landing squarely on the trampoline. They made it look so effortless that she was convinced that she could replicate the same motion.
Her lips hardened as she found her resolve. Facing her brother, who still jumped high above her, she shouted at him. “Just you wait! Watch this!”
Peyton’s rhythm slowed. He crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eyebrows at her. “Whatcha talking about?”
She didn’t say anything. Instead, her eyes bore into his as she began to jump. After she gained enough momentum, she started to twist her body backwards. Though her pigtails swung in her eyes, obscuring her vision, she knew for a minute that she was flying in the air, just like Peyton’s friends. A split second later, she found herself falling onto the metal springs of the trampoline. Her arms scraped across their shiny surface, leaving a harsh streak of red. She howled in pain.
Everything after that was a blur. All she knew was that Johnny had scooped her up and rushed her back to the house. Inside, her mother went into a frenzy reaching for gauze and antibiotic ointment. Yet no matter how much Neosporin her mother slathered across her arms, the scars lingered.
They emerged like new on her previously unblemished skin: two ruddy, crusty things, both spanning the length of her forearms. She considered them to be her first war wounds, for her lifelong competition with Peyton only continued after that. Now her knees and elbows were peppered with similar scrapes and scratches.
Once she grew older, these marks proliferated across her skin. There was a slight nick near her ankle–the result of scrambling over a chain link fence, as she tried to make it home for curfew. Her skin only became more blemished, especially as her attention shifted from Peyton, to boys her own age. Continuing up her legs, her thigh was now forever marred after getting into a car crash with her high school boyfriend.
Most of these flaws were nearly imperceptible. Some disfigured her skin completely. Burn marks from curling irons and hot pans were the most visible, but she was thankful that her deepest scars were hidden. Though she never regretted Noah and Riley for a second, she was still self-conscious about the glaring indentation the C-section left behind. Part of her felt like she should be proud, bearing this mark of motherhood. Yet the other half couldn’t help but be nervous whenever her stomach was on display. It was only when Riley would kiss her belly, trying to hide the scar with his lips, that she didn’t feel ashamed or disfigured.
The thought brought a smile to her face and she reached down to cup her swelling stomach, already round with pregnancy. Yet this slight change in movement made her other hand slip, forcing the small paring knife that she held to scrape across her skin. Realizing her mistake, she shuffled over towards the sink, careful not to let any blood drop on the green rug that she had bought last week.
Ten years ago, she might have yelled or spewed out a stream of swear words, but by now she was used to accidents in the kitchen. After all, she had the scars to prove it. Turning on the tap, the stream splashed across the dishes piled in the sink. As she let the water run for a bit, her eyes latched onto the blood dripping down her hand.
When she was younger, the sight of blood made her sick. After that failed backflip, the stain across her arms had caused her stomach to churn. Eventually she grew used to seeing that sight, in one form or another. It became clear to her that the life of a woman is always drenched in blood. Whether because of a monthly visitor, or the excruciating pain of motherhood, women experience more blood than most men ever will.
Although she had no choice but to accept this fate, she never enjoyed seeing that bright fluid escape her body. Even now, her brow furrowed as she watched the blood form red beads across her skin. With a tired sigh, she shoved her hand underneath the water, suffusing her marred skin beneath its icy burn. She reached for a paper towel to staunch the blood. As she did, her eyes drifted to the window outside.
The sunlight had dimmed into a faded pink, causing her to squint while she scanned the lawn for her kids. As her eyes latched onto their slight forms, she saw Riley and Noah huddled around Emma. She realized that Emma was crying. Tears flooded down the girl’s cheeks, streaking down her bloody knee.
She rushed out the door, the paper towel still in her hand. Scooping Emma up in her arms, she patted her daughter’s back gently. She faced the boys, whose own eyes had begun to water. “What happened? Why didn’t you come get me? Are you two okay?”
The boys shook their heads, unable to hear her over Emma’s deep sobs. As their mother turned away, they followed her back into the house.
She laid Emma down on the couch, the front of her shirt now damp. A red stain immediately formed on the cushion, but she barely noticed it. Hearing Riley and Noah come up behind her, she ordered them to grab tissues and Band-Aids. As their steps retreated down the hall, she noticed that she still held the paper towel in her hand. She instantly pressed it against Emma’s wound, smoothing Emma’s hair back as she did.
“Mommy, it hurts!” Emma wailed, tears still spilling down her red cheeks.
“I know, honey. Hang in there. Mommy’s gonna take care of you.”
As her daughter’s blood started to spread across the paper, mingling with her own, she felt a harsh pang in her stomach. Bringing her hand down to cup her belly, she felt her unborn child moving inside of her.
It was all too much: her daughter’s cries, her baby’s kicks. Her own eyes began to water. When one final sob escaped from Emma, an inexplicable feeling of dread filled her body.
There was no more holding back. As her insides erupted, she allowed herself to weep freely. A lifetime of pain awaited both of her daughters. Coming to this realization, she imagined the many scars that they would have in the future. She put a hand up, as if to block her chest. She could have sworn that she felt another scar forming, this time, across her heart.