A Girl Opens a Museum

by Ruth Joffre

A Lipstick Called “Catsuit,” 2019
Jet-black tube, lipstick nub, vegan

A rarity—her lips unpainted. Her favorite color wasted. In the before time, how I watched her fingertip dab dab dab the stick and swipe the color across her lips. A chocolate shell on every sentence. White cream teeth reflected in the mirror. Not a vanity—just a compact flashing for a minute between the crack and flip of an egg. Breakfast harried, dairied, full of fat and love. Imprinted on the cheek. Marked as her daughter—her blood. Mama C’s chin dimpling when she finds the tube at the bottom of Mom’s purse only a week after she died. I want to unremember it.

One-quarter Joy (FEMI NIST KILL JOY), 2017
Metallic pink buttons, bitter clasps, blood

Once a set. Now separated. Divided. Each bright button a pop of color in its own frame of grief. Impossible to bring them together. Unbearable to be sitting in the same room with Mama C crying. Instead, we create containers for loss: buildings inside buildings, closets inside closets. I spray-paint this museum gold. Construct it out of cardboard and black electrical tape. Accent it with chevrons. Detachable roof. A hinged façade. How wrong of me to believe that pain could be elegant. It metastasizes—a tumor on her thyroid, in her throat, in her jaw. Everywhere I am she is dying. Everywhere I am she once felt joy.

Baby Blanket at Rest, 2010-2020
Hundred Acre Wood, fabric, square

No longer a source of comfort or warmth. Now a patch, a memory the size of my infant fist. Tiny screaming face in every baby picture. Soothed only by the bunch of the baby blanket around my hips. Pantsless Winnie walking through the wood in search of honey—that neverending quest. “You were always, always hungry,” Mom once said, and I was always fed. Never picky except when it came time to spoon her hospital food. Cubed carrots. Meager mashed potatoes. Eventually, the feeding tube, the loss of her lullabies. Duérmete, mi niña. Duérmete, mi sol. Still half-asleep, I cut the sun out of the blanket. Mounted it on the wall. Mom.

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast, which was longlisted for The Story Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Lightspeed, Gulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, The Masters Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle, where she serves as the Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House and co-organizes the Fight for Our Lives performance series.

 

Artwork by: Justin Dickey