RADIUM • by Julia Collins

Her husband knew about the closet stacked with art supplies. The paints, pencils, pastels, dozens of brushes of varying quality. Chalk, charcoal, and graphite. After Emma turned three, she dedicated a corner to craft supplies, glitter, stickers, markers and crayons. What she lacked in the large closet were canvases.

She contemplated her breakfast. The nice premium acrylic paint she added to her oatmeal did not make it look more appetizing. Perhaps I should have used a different shade, she thought. Still, she slowly scooped a big spoonful of the paste. Cinnamon and sulfur aromas drifted in the air, and she nearly dropped the spoon. She heaved for a moment, and then stuck it into her mouth.

The silver spoon clanged against the tile floor, dropping the bits of oatmeal she didn’t lick off. Vile, absolutely dreadful. Her tongue fought hard to push the food out of her mouth, but her willpower was stronger. She sucked her cheeks in, pushing the vile concoction further towards her throat. She quickly inhaled and successfully swallowed the glop. I can gag now, she thought. And she did. She stuck her head under the kitchen faucet, and threw the handle up. The water came out hot and scalded her entire mouth, but in that moment she welcomed anything to rid the taste from her tongue. Sulfur doesn’t taste like rotten eggs, it’s worse.

She poured the rest of the oatmeal into the garbage disposal and rinsed the bowl out. A thorough washing and scrubbing cycle with her favorite and most fragrant dish soap, and the bowl still smelled horrendous. It needed to be tossed. She threw it to the ground, then collected and disposed of the ceramic pieces before her husband came into the kitchen to check on her. He insisted on checking her hands. He took them both into his, carefully stroking the skin of her palm. No red seen on her fingers, so he smiled and kissed her cheek good morning. She shoved her hands into her pockets to hide the traces of yellow still stuck under her nails.

She would never admit it to anyone else: she never really wanted to be a mother. She didn’t hate babies, she just never felt anything for them. She didn’t feel much when she held three tests with double lines in her hands.

Her husband was ecstatic at the news, she tried so hard to emulate his passion. Their talks of names, schools, college funds bore a hole in her stomach. And after a time, she had to pretend to be happy in front of everyone. Her parents, in-laws, coworkers, doctors. The doctors especially. The ultrasound techs stared her down and pointed out every single identifiable body part on the screens. They detected the heartbeat, saying “aren’t you happy, mom?”

It wasn’t until her husband came home with buckets of paint for the nursery. She sat in the nursery rocking chair while he opened each can and painted a strip onto the wall. She chose the lightest yellow shade. Her husband held her hands and kissed her head, praising her and thanking her for making their life much more happier and fulfilling. But the whole time, she stared at his hands.

His hands, covered in dots and strokes of pastel. A thin lilac line ran across his knuckles, a grass-green blotch sat under his thumb, the pale yellow glowed over the deep tan skin on his fingertips. No piece of art; no painting, sculpture, movie, novel, or landscape of nature was as breathtaking as the paint on her husband’s hands. The first time in her life, she was breathless.

She was disappointed when Emma was born. Although she shared her husband’s crescent-shaped eyes and button nose, Emma took to her mother on everything else. She was beautiful, she just wished Emma looked more like her husband.

She was also disappointed that the stretch marks around her hips and breasts faded a few months after birth.

That night, her husband washed his hands, and she burst into tears. He immediately consoled her, the good man he was. She was semi-honest with him. She finally told him of her reluctance to motherhood, how she didn’t feel much for babies. He listened and took in every word, and then reassured her that it would all change when the baby arrived. She dreamed of ways to eternize his beauty.

Teachers notice everything, they would surely notice if Emma’s sandwiches had bits of glitter sprinkled on top of the bread. When Emma ran off the bus and into her arms, she checked her for any stains on her clothes or skin. She would wash the messy clothes. She would keep Emma out of the bath for as long as possible.

Miracles end. She dodged her husband’s affection attempts to keep her sulfuric breath to herself. There were too many close calls with Emma, when she would run to her daddy with paint on the corners of her mouth.

She never used canvases.

Emma crept into the home office hacking up a storm. Ink spilled onto the ground and dribbled out of Emma’s mouth. Emma cried even harder while she walked her to the room, the old yellow walls redone to be sweet baby-pink. She laid Emma on the old dresser, and Emma finally coughed so hard blood spilled out of her mouth. It mixed with the ink, creating a new color that dripped around her neck. There could have been time to save her, but it was too late. The fluid drew onto her shoulders. It was made to flow on her sepia skin. Just like his hands. Emma’s skin gradually paled and faded to powder blue. Beautiful, she thought, tucking Emma’s hair behind her ear as she sputtered a last wheeze and her chest stopped moving. Tears fell down her face. Her mouth stretched wide. A mother couldn’t ask for more. Absolutely beautiful.

Julia Collins loves everything weird and writes to highlight the strange, humorous, or illogical aspects of life.

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