The Stepmother

Sabrina Orah Mark
"You smell like Florida. We hate you." The Stepmother knows from the crushed handwriting this note is from The Stepchildren. At the bottom of the note is a drawing of a mouse. The Stepmother wants to know what does the mouse mean. The mouse seems lonely and afraid. Its eyes are too big. The Stepmother peels a hard-boiled egg, eats it very quietly, and thinks about the mouse, and Florida, and smelling like Florida. No one wants to smell like Florida. If The Stepmother had any guts she would go to the yard this instant and paint all the trees white, but The Stepmother has no guts. If The Stepmother had any guts her husband who is the father of The Stepchildren who believe she smells like Florida would come home and see the trees and say what in god's name have you done? Do you think we're living in a goddamn fairy tale here? The Stepmother would stand there with her large bucket of paint, and her guts, and tell her husband the trees are now white because she is not a real Mother, she will never be a real Mother, and also she is thinking of running away with the mouse. She would sob and say something strange and dramatic like how she feels as though she's three plagues short of an exodus even though she doesn't really have any plagues except for smelling like Florida. But none of this will happen because The Stepmother has no guts, and this is America not a fairy tale. This is a state in America that is not Florida even though The Stepmother is reeking of it. The Stepmother wants to know what does the mouse mean. It is a beautiful mouse. The Stepmother has no guts but she does have some scissors which she uses to cut the mouse out. No one wants to be lonely, and afraid, and live in a note about smelling like Florida. Once The Stepmother cuts the mouse out the mouse shivers. It is a very sad shiver. Sadder than all The Stepmother's sadnesses, and somehow this comforts her. The Stepmother isn't certain whether the shiver is from coldness or relief, but she cuts off a strand of her hair and wraps it around the mouse's shoulders anyway. The mouse falls asleep in the palm of The Stepmother's hand, and dreams of guts, and white trees, and the kindness of The Stepmother. The mouse is what the mouse means. It's The Stepchildren who mean something else. It's The Stepchildren who mean something far, far away, like a Mother. When The Stepchildren come home The Stepmother will hug and kiss them and wipe their dirty little hands until their hearts break in two.

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Sabrina Orah Mark is the author of the poetry collections The Babies and Tsim Tsum. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her husband, Reginald McKnight, and their two sons.

"Mark's collection is perplexingly captivating; she applies a poet's playful sensibilities to the fiction form and creates something astonishing and new."
Publisher's Weekly

"Dorothy, a publishing project, which is committed to 'works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women,' has, for nearly 10 years, proven an ally to genre-bending writing. Mark's book is on a par with the best work they've put out, such as Leonora Carrington's The Complete Stories and Jen George's The Babysitter at Rest."
The Millions

"Wild Milk is equal parts setup and punchline, a brilliant logic of surreal, layered humor that skips its way towards deeply felt truths. Author Sabrina Orah Mark, who has previously written two books of poetry, offers us short stories that blend fairytale, Who's-on-First-style drollery, and current cultural moment to deliver back a clearer version of our own warped reality."
The Arkansas International

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