Mother wore her manipulative face this morning, my least favorite. She blew out a long breath, filling the air with the rancid scents of disappointment and aggravation. That was her modus operandi: out with the bad, in with the good. But Miranda Grant never found enough good. She could never inhale enough hope or contentment to keep her from suffocating. So she struggled through every second of the day, a perpetual frown thinning her lips, a rigid frame and cold, dismissive eyes.
She yelled more often than not, reminding me I was more the cause of her disdain than the utter despair we found ourselves in. The world had gone to shit and she didn’t ask for this life. But then again, none of us did. Mother handled it more poorly than everyone else—her moods and actions swinging violently back and forth across an invisible pendulum. One moment she would dismiss me without so much as a glance or flippant gesture, and the next she would strike out. But I learned to use the reflexes I was given, snatching her wrist before her hand could make contact with my cheek.
This morning, she chose the well-trodden path of disdain when she should have been mourning. If I knew my mother, she would soon go into fix-it mode because she knew better than everyone else in Blackwater about what was wrong with the world. All anyone had to do was ask her. And if they didn’t ask, she would gladly offer the solution in detail, at which point I would gratefully fade into the background and sneak away. Her voice was like nails on a chalkboard. Hearing it often enough, I was sure, would make my ears bleed.
I tugged down the sleeve of my hand-me-down dress until it grazed my wrist, almost reaching to where it should ideally lay. Mother leaned against the Formica countertop, assessing me. Her steely blue eyes took in every detail, every stray thread; the way the dress didn’t and would never fit me the way it had my sister. I would never measure up to Mercedes; never fill her shoes, literally and figuratively. My sister was beautiful, petite, and full of life. She was happy; the embodiment of everything Mother thought should be mixed together to create the recipe of the perfect woman, the perfect daughter. I was her exact opposite.