The fabric is thin. I do a quick spin to get the feeling of it when I move. I want to go down to the reflecting pond to get a look but mom says we don't have time.
She's agitated again. Keeps flexing her mandibles, but I know she's not hungry. We're going to meet with her artist friends.
“What do you think?” mom asks. “Do you like it?”
There is only one answer, but I haven't yet worked out the reason. It's thinner fabric that an adult would wear in public, but on me it isn't taut against my midrax, and probably won't be for another year or two when my scales push up. I can still get away with it, but if I wasn't with my mom there would be questions in every raised eye that I passed.
The same questions that I have, but whose answers are rendered moot when I respond that I like it.
“Good,” she says. “I don't want to be late.”
And with that I'm half-dragged, half-running behind her as we leave the small thatch for the larger and emptier buildings on the edge of town. Past the wormery and up into the far hills where industry sits. Industry and artistry, nestled in the feet of the mountains — out of the direct light of the city but warmed by its glow.
“Can we get some sweet caps on the way back?” I ask. I'm really too old to be requesting these, but every time I help with errands mom gets them for me. I guess I realize I'm old enough now that she wouldn't get them necessarily unless I request them.
Mom swallows, though her mouth seems dry. “Sure baby. After we see my friends, on the way back, anything you want.”
Mom's artist friends have been taking up most of her time lately. They used to put on plays and concerts, but I haven't been to one of those in ages. In fact I haven't seen most of her friends in a while. Occasionally one will stop by the house when I'm still awake in bed, but I haven't helped with painting an advertisement for a gig in a long time.
By the time we reach the warehouse, we are both sweating. The new wrap is now mostly transparent where the sweat has stained it, and there is no mistaking my midrax when it pushes tight due to my hard breathing. I stand up as stiff as I can to keep this from happening.
“Good Taste,” says a man addressing my mom. He comes forward from his makeshift stool of piled thatch. I think I recognize him from one of the plays — maybe a lead in one of them. He's clutching something in his left hand, and my mom can't take her eyes off of it. “This is your daughter?” He gestures with a pincer at me.
Mom nods. “Seya.”
“Good taste indeed,” the man jokes. His two friends on their own piles of thatch laugh. Mom tightens like she's been punched, but then relaxes.
I don't get the joke. Mom's nickname was because of her penchant for picking the perfect songs to accompany the work of the group, and her impeccable fashion sense. Although I'm wearing a new wrap, even I can tell in my naiveté that the words slapped my mom. And she just stood there and took it.
I hope this guy knew what he was doing, because he did not want to see my mom turn on him. It must have been because of their work that she didn't, because I saw that she wanted to.
“So is she ready for her audition?” the man asks.
Mom hadn't mentioned anything to me, but it would explain the new wrap. If she wanted me to be a part of a production though, it would have been nice to ask, or prepare a little. Maybe she wanted it to be a surprise. Mom has been pretty stressed lately, so maybe she thought this was a way to do something nice.
But it doesn't feel nice. And there are only three men, and no costumes. Not even a stage pushed clear from the storage in the building.
No, this was definitely not an audition.
Mom just nods, and with her ascent the man approaches me. He reaches out to touch the wrap but I knock his hand away with a closed pincer.
“Mom, he tried to touch me,” I shout at her, but I see she's been watching the whole time. Her face is all compressed like it's about to explode.
And then I realize. Mom is here to teach these guys a lesson. Just like when I was in my fifth year, and I went to school with only my indoor wrap on. Even though mom told me when I left to bring a cover because it was supposed to rain.
And it did rain. And we went outside for lunch. And I got soaked. And it was freezing but my teacher wouldn't let me back into the school. He said that, “Poverty was no excuse for impropriety”, and made me shiver against the school until the break was over.
But even worse, he wouldn't let me back in the class with my soaked wrap on. He said it would ruin the parchments, and that just once he would like the rules to apply to all students. And when he said that, some horrible idea crossed his mind, and he forced me to take my wrap off and sent me to the office.
The nice ladies in the office thrummed a sweet message into the education network, but when my mom showed up and saw me without my wrap, she went ballistic. Even though I was covered up under a blanket in the office. She threw off the blanket and had me stand up tall and proud. The office ladies averted their glances but my mom made them look and tell me I was beautiful and that there was nothing to be ashamed of.
She marched me down my classroom, naked as I was born. My teacher saw me, and the facets in his eyes nearly cracked when he realized my mom was on the warpath. My wet wrap wasn't even hung to dry, it was balled up in the corner of the room.
The class normally would have laughed at a kid without her clothes on, but everyone looked down at their cushion, and it was deadly quiet. I remember the sound of the teacher swallowing. My mom made him look at me. Had me march right up to where he was seated, forced my bare midrax in his face and then gave him a verbal vivisection on just why he was so fond of staring at naked children.
He must not have thought that some poor woman would do anything except smack the child that came home without her wrap. But people always under-estimated my mom. They didn't know what she was capable of. What she would do when she cared. A person's true nature comes out when their life or livelihood is on the line, my mom told me that day. One can hide who they truly are, but it eventually gets uncovered.
It was love, and I saw it that day. My mom loved me. Her love got that teacher transferred out of the school once the story spread to the other kids' parents.
And it was love I saw in my mom's eyes now.
“Honey, just let him see if he wants,” mom says. I can tell this is going to be good.
The man makes my scales tighten with disgust, and I can't wait for the retribution mom is going to deal out. I try not to flinch as the cool evening touches my midrax and my wrap falls to the floor.
I do flinch, and step back when the man runs the side of his hand against me.
I look out for guidance from my mom. It is definitely love in her eyes. But not for me. It is for the small sack the man carries in the hand that is not trying to grope me.
“Seril, come on now.” I desperately want it to be a plea for him to stop. But it's a summons for the satchel that he finally tosses to her.
Mom tears into the bag, dipping her fingers and then tracing the outermost facets of her eyes. I know what's in the bag, but my mom's love of it hadn't seemed concerning before. Everyone likes something that they know isn't good for them.
Mom lets out a huge sigh, as though she had been inhaling the whole day and can finally let out a breath. She waves her hand in my direction, and runs another ring around her eyes that are already flickering.
Seril isn't asking now. He grabs me behind my back before I can even contemplate escaping. His front scales are rough and peeling, their sharp edges scraping my midrax.
This isn't happening. I won't let it. Seril reaches for the ring on his own wrap and I am gone. I still don't remember exactly how I got free, but I flail and flee. And run.
Deep into the warehouse, where it was so dark there are no shadows. Or only shadows. Seril gives chase until it is clear he will never find me. Through a sliver of sight I can make out my mom, sitting on the ground with the bag between her knees, facets sparking.
She must have taken too much at first, because she would never let this happen to me. I risk one last plea. “Mom, don't you love me?”. There is no response.
Seril peers deep into the room, but gives up on me, and turns on my mom. The first thing he does is kick the satchel away from her. The second is kick her plastered head like he is booting a ball. Mom lifts up a little and then collapses among the thatch like she herself is made of it.
Seril calls out my name. Kicks my mom. Calls my name. Kicks my mom.
It all stops if I come back out and finish the audition. I've already revealed who I really am, he says. It's nothing to be ashamed about, just come back out so we can finish.
Seya. Whack. Seya. Thud. Seya. A sickening tear that I know my mom will never recover from. Seya.
My name, repeated like a mantra by Seril as he kicks the life out of my mom. Never using his pincers. Never even opening them. Just kicking. Kicking so much that his friends finally pull him away.
Seril walks over to the satchel this whole evening has been about, stopping to see if he can keep his shoes from sticking. But it is no use. I like to think some part of my mom will stay with him. But mostly I hope that he will die.
Long after their footsteps are gone, I stand over my mom, but I don't recognize her. I look down at who she really is, but all I can see is who I really am. Someone who let her mom die. I didn't even try to stop it. I kept waiting for her to save me, but she was the one who needed saving.
I run towards the lights of the city. I try to flee the darkness and my mom, but she has attached herself to my shoes as well, and I do not think I can cry enough tears to ever wash them clean but I try my best on the way back home.