June 20, 2016 by The Citron Review
by Kelsey Lueptow
“Adam’s hands are dirty, mumma,” my son explains as he packs blue Play-Do under his fingernails. “Always dirty.” On my first date with Adam, I didn’t know that scrubbing the grease stains out of a mechanic’s hands began with a ritual sacrifice of fingernails and the flesh of the tips over a small bowl sink. I didn’t know that the closest shade to human was achieved by hand-washing his mother’s dishes, or that someday he would get to meet my son.
“I hate Jimmy,” my son goes on, “he’s grumpy at school, and he’s not my friend. I hate him. I jus—hate him.”
He has asked me to conjure an alligator out of green lumps, and I’m mystified by whether you’re supposed to take one lump and squeeze out all the small limbs or curl the limbs up out of separate chunks and then attach them. Do I hold us up—one chunk of the dough—to mold a feeble apartment out of waitress tips in my hometown? Or, do I grasp at straws of Graduate School, my son’s family scraps across two states, cobbling our futures like separate chunks of clay? They are always falling apart at the seams. I pretend it isn’t seizing every inch of me up to know that I will try something as hard as I can and still fail. I pretend that it’s okay with me if I make something with my own hands that no one can decipher. I pretend that visual art doesn’t feel like forging hieroglyphics in my too-white hands. I pretend that I can put us back in the can so we don’t dry out and crack.
“Did he make you sad?”
“Yeah, he’s so grumpy en’ he’s not my friend. He gets time out for hitting.”
“You don’t have to like everyone,” I tell him as I make the impromptu decision that every alligator in my dining room will have a tightly sealed jaw because I don’t know how to add teeth, or subtract them. “But, you should be nice anyway.”
“Ugh, mumma—I’m just too grumpy to play.” He trust-falls with splayed arms onto our couch.
I let him go and smash the wads of green back into one palm. I divide it up and screw the rolled up limbs into a squat base. I dangle it in front of my son’s horizontal face where he is taking a break.
“Bobot! Thank you, mumma!”
As he re-enacts the climax of Toy Story 2, I am commissioned to buzz and slick the falling limbs back onto their native sockets with the whirring voice of a robot doctor. After he tells me three times that there are no more mumma’s in the bobot space ship, I relent to washing tomatoes in the kitchen and peeling back the layers of dirty dishes from our stainless steel sink.