Tara’s Mother’s Skin
by Suzan Palumbo
“You eat the rice you pick out of the dirt?” I asked Tara’s Mother. I’d found her sitting on a wooden bench in the gallery of her squat, concrete house, massaging her inflamed elbow. The heat had been a noose at our throats that day and she was enjoying the late afternoon breeze, a serene expression splayed across her brow. She swayed like a dried banana leaf, twisted and weightless, framed by her doorway as I stood on the cracked earth of her yard talking to her.
“Yes, Farrah, I cook the rice children throw when they pass on the road. It’s good food they waste when they pelt it at me.” Her voice had the texture of rust-covered velvet, gritty but soft underneath. I scribbled her responses in my notepad and drew a question mark after the words Tara’s Mother at the top of the page. When I’d returned from university, in St. Augustine, earlier that week, my inquiries about her identity and the daughter she was styled after had been met with a warning: “You looking for trouble, girl. Soucouyants don’t have first names,” Neighbourman had said. “Tara’s Mother is a leech. Only thing to do is leave rice on your window sill for her to count before sunrise so she can’t break in your room and bite you.”