You decide to bring bread to Mother.
When you open your eyes on the day of the referendum, you are thinking of bananas, of lemon. On the news the anchor speaks with the same breathlessness of the past month. The future of the city hangs in the balance. You crack two eggs into a bowl.
The story shifts to updates about the boy. He is awake but still does not speak. He only points to God. You think “allegedly” as you chase a sliver of shell through the egg whites with your fingertip.
Banana bread is really more like cake. There is no yeast, nothing living to it.
You have bowls of wet and dry ingredients and no time to wait for anything to rise. The anchor with her wardrobe of satin white chemises confirms this – the polls are open now and will close at 7pm tonight. You study her face. Rumor has it she was sent here to Saudade after killing her child during a night terror attack because she thought he was an intruder. You fold the flour into the banana mash that looks like baby food. Her foundation crinkles beneath her eyes like a plaster wall. For all the time you’ve spent watching the news, watching her, you’ve never been able to decide if you think the rumor is true or whether it would matter if it was. You watch as bits of setting powder float down to her blazer.
You pat the remaining residue of banana paste beneath your own eyes. It is something between war paint and retinol. Whatever she did doesn’t matter. The referendum is today. You will bring Mother the loaf. You will ask why she stopped talking to you, if there’s anything you can do to help. You will vote yes.
The banana bread is in the oven. You skipped the walnuts. For all of the attention you have paid to Mother – her moods, her habits – you do not know for sure whether she is allergic to nuts. This troubles you. It reminds you that she is not yours alone. Despite the practiced informality of her title, she is really only the mayor’s mother. Mayor mother. You set to making a glaze. It’s just sugar and water, but it makes everything feel more celebratory.
Before your roommate Cora left that morning, she asked how you planned to vote. Usually Cora looked immaculate, but today her skin was dull, eyes hooded by sleeplessness. You didn’t hear her come home the night before even though you’d dozed off in front of the TV. For a moment you were offended. It didn’t seem there was really any other choice.
“I’m voting yes,” you said, resting the edge of your lip on the round of your coffee mug, its contents gone cold for the second time.
Cora nodded at you, approving. Something flared within you, an irritation you had come to associate with Cora over the months you’d lived together. It felt as though she were testing you, judging. You were both here in this city for people with secrets. Was that not proof enough that you were the same?
“See you there,” she said. Then, before you could turn the question back to her, she was putting in her headphones and adjusting the volume to something you could hear across the room. And gone.
In truth, you like Cora, you think. She has been kind to you, if distant, especially when you first arrived in Saudade. When you crouched on the floor of the bathroom on those nights anxiety and homesickness and guilt turned you inside out until all you could do was spit long strings of saliva into the toilet, she rubbed your back in slow, generous circles. “No one wants to be the unlucky one.”
Now you prefer not to wonder what switched in her when she pulled away. She never told you what she did to end up here, and you knew better than to ask who she had taken from herself or others. Or perhaps you were too squeamish to push.
“It’s a sad, long story. I’ll tell you when you’re feeling better,” she’d dodged. You let her.
In truth you weren’t sure if you felt better, or if you were growing numb to the memory of the sunlight through the windshield, of blood spreading to fill the veins of cracked asphalt. Perhaps the repetition of telling had wrung out the color, the potency, until it was just another story.
The clock on the stove is ten minutes ahead or behind. You can never remember which. You could swear it switches back and forth. In any case, you will leave for Mother’s by noon. Take the bus across the city.
They said Saudade would keep you safe. You would find solace and kinship with others who had been through this. A city of people who had killed others entirely by accident. Of doctors, who in their 32nd hour on their feet, had ordered a patient a fatal dose of morphine, of amateur chefs gathering deathcap mushrooms mistaken for puffballs for the quiche, of teenage boys pushing one another into the shallow ends of pools. You gnawed at the raw, metallic flesh of your lip as you listened to the counselor. It sounded too good to be true. You had searched for others like you in online chatrooms, in the eyes of strangers, on the streets of your hometown and found nothing. But here they all were, thriving, or at least learning to cope, away from the prying of everyone who knew without knowing, who had seen you sobbing outside of the police station begging them to take you day after day, to excise the weight of knowing: it was you, it was you, it was you.
Ayla Zuraw-Friedland is a writer and publishing professional living in Brooklyn. Her past writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Drift, The London Review of Books, GAY the Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Cape Cod Poetry Review. Twitter: @kaylasansk
Want to read more? A full excerpt of Like Anywhere Else is published in EXCERPT Magazine - No 1