My Mother’s Daughter

Shauna’s earliest memory was of her mother straddling her father’s hips, her long white skirt bunched up around her thighs. There was a bruise blossoming on her left cheek, and another one fading on her arm. “We’ll be better off,” she’d said, and it was then that Shauna noticed the sharp smell in the air, the red stains up her mother’s arms and flecked on her clothes. She’d held out one of those bright red hands, and Shauna took it, and they’d walked to the park, everyone staring but not saying anything, not calling the police for hours.

As the policewoman wrapped Shauna in a blanket and wiped the bloody handprint off her face, she explained that Shauna’s father had done some terrible things to her mother. “I’m sorry she thought this was the only way,” she said. Shauna could see her mother pressing her forehead against the glass window of the police car, the bruise on her face a deep grey-purple. That was always the clearest part, when Shauna thought back to that day, more than the bright red of the kitchen, more than the cold gleam of the knife that had clattered to the floor or the screams that had woken her from her nap, that pale, bruised face stood out stark against the haze, like a warning.

Shauna met Mark in her first year of college, in her psychology seminar. His smile was bright, and when he kissed her he was so, so gentle. They dated for six years before they got married, because Shauna had to be sure of him, Shauna had to know everything was just so. Her mother was only eighteen when she married, twenty-two when she cupped Shauna’s face with bloodstained hands and told her she loved her. Shauna wouldn’t make those mistakes.

On their first anniversary, when everything was still happy and perfect, Shauna asked Mark if he loved her. “Of course,” he said, sipping his drugged champagne. When he passed out, Shauna strangled him with a length of brown twine. It was harder than she thought it would be, and for a breathless moment as she leaned panting against the dining table she thought she saw him move out of the corner of her eye, but when she scrambled to her feet to check his body was still heavy and cold.

Shauna cut out Mark’s heart and roasted it, slowly licking the blood off her fingers as she waited. She was beside herself with excitement. When the timer went off Shauna pulled the heart out of the pan, her hands blistering, and she tore into it like an animal. Her stomach felt warm and full. She could never be alone now.

It was days before anyone called the police. They found Shauna in the dining room, curled up against her husband’s body, bloody juices staining her mouth. She put up no fight when they dragged her to her feet and cuffed her hands behind her back, and when they lead her out to the car she grinned wide. She had sworn she wouldn’t end up like her poor mother.

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