December 21, 2018 by The Citron Review
by Victoria Buitron
My brother places his scrawny right hand over his stomach and uses his weight to tilt the chair backward. Only the rear legs are touching the ground.
“What a good orgasm,” he utters with a smile.
I look to my mother at the head of the dinner table. Her eyes are scrunched up, fighting the laughter that will spray the soup from her mouth onto her children’s plates. She gulps and begins to laugh.
“Did you tell him that’s what an orgasm is?” I ask her.
“He’s only ten. I’d have to explain sex if I explain what an orgasm is.”
Mom, Mami, Madre, Ma, Mother. I think of how to start my sentence to explain the severity of the situation. I want to call her by her first name: Shirley. But we’re Ecuadorians, and we don’t call our parents by their first names. Just like English speakers never name their sons Jesus. An unwritten rule.
“Madre, if he asks, he’s old enough to know.”
The pleasure my brother received from the food has vanished. The chair is flat on the ground, and he’s slouched in embarrassment, staring at his plate. School has taken care of the word “sex,” so I explain the word “orgasm.”
“You know how good it felt, like right now, when you were eating? Sex feels good too. Well, sex or masturbation. There comes a moment it’s so good that your body wants it to be over. It explodes and you feel it everywhere. That’s an orgasm. Just don’t say ‘what a good orgasm’ ever again, okay?”
My mother says, “Thank you, mija.”
Years later, when my brother is nineteen and I’m twenty-five, the three of us are watching the film Atonement. Once the word “cunt” has been uttered two times, my mother asks:
“¿Qué es cunt?”
What is cunt?
My brother looks at me to make it clear he will not take up the role of dictionary on this day. My eyes wander in circular motions, searching for the correct answer, the right words, a tone of voice that won’t make my Spanish-speaking mother feel dumb.
“Mami, the dictionary definition is ‘vagina.’ The character says he wants to taste her cunt. This is not a negative context. But it’s usually an insult, like ‘asshole’ or ‘caradeverga.’ The word is really harsh in the U.S. but not as strong in Europe.”
She says, “Gracias, mija.” I wonder if she’s asked others the definitions of foul words.
“Ma, whenever you don’t know a word, you can ask me or my brother. Google helps if we’re not around,” I say. She nods, and I think of my mother’s innocence, oblivious to words that wound.
I arrive at my mother’s apartment, and she says we need to speak in private. She has only said this a few times to me in my life, and I prepare to be chastised. She smacks the door of her room and whispers to me, “Mija, the condom broke. I’m forty-five. I can’t get pregnant again.”
I sigh and place my hands on her shoulders.
“I can’t be a sister any more than you can be a mother again. Take your purse and a bottle of water. Follow me.”
The nearest pharmacy is five minutes away. We head to the aisle—white pregnancy tests, bulging diapers, yeast infection creams, panty liners, genital soap. I can’t find it. I go to the front to ask the man at the counter.
“Do you have the day-after pill?”
“Yes,” he says and begins rummaging out of our view. My mother is behind me. She’s wearing high heels that she clings to during the weekends; her arms lack flab; glossy hair falls in light buoyancy beyond her shoulders. People gasp when they overhear me calling her “Mother.” She looks like a naïve college student, like my sister.
The man shows us a clear plastic box and pulls it apart to give us the wrapped pill. She signs the keypad in the rush of a woman determined to stop the spermatozoids from implanting her waiting egg. When we get in the car, she doesn’t put on her seatbelt and gulps down the tiny pill before I can turn the key in the ignition.
“Thank you, mija. I don’t even know how I would have asked for this.”
Victoria Buitron is a translator and writer based in Connecticut. She is currently an MFA candidate at Fairfield University’s low-residency program. She writes in Spanish, English and Spanglish when she is not hiking or rock climbing.