The Mothership [Fiction]

Fiction, special to the Clarion Content every other Monday.

From Kate Van Dis, read more at The Palmetto Blog here.

photo by Kate Van Dis

photo by Kate Van Dis

The Mothership

by: Kate Van Dis

I once knew a girl with a giant tattoo of a candy jar on her back. The jar was filled with green and pink and red swirls. She designed the tattoo herself in honor of her mother, she said, who was always feeding her saltwater taffies, the kind they sell at the seashore. She asked if I would like a tattoo to commemorate my mother and I asked if she could make a tattoo of a TV dinner. I ended up with a violet on my ankle instead, but in my mind it is a tray of Salisbury steak, pearled onion, and mashed potatoes. Sometimes, when I look down, I get confused, like I am looking back into someone else’s childhood.

So I ask the group, I ask them, If you got a tattoo to commemorate your childhood, what would it be of?

An empty swing with no one on it, says Sasha, who is sitting to my right.

A sunflower sprout, says Nadyne.

A pair of glasses, someone else says, with one lens broken.

A bottle of Coca-Cola, you say, with a straw in it.

A magnolia blossom.


Josh says a Lazy-Boy.

Loren says a web of Spanish moss across the inside of her thigh.

A stalk of rhubarb running up my forearm, says Issa, who then adds, but then what about the white of my grandmother’s teeth tearing at the pink flesh? What about the bowl of sugar she dipped it in?

Maybe a pie instead, someone offers. A rhubarb pie?

But then there is discussion about how one would know the pie was rhubarb, and whether or not it mattered if other people knew, as long as she did.

Just outside the circle, the fan oscillates in a lazy circle, the fronds of the palm plant fanning us in its wake. Someone stands to open the garage door and we listen as night drifts in.

A bicycle with a flat tire, someone says, just as the group is breaking up.

A single mitten.

Because wasn’t something always missing? Wasn’t something always broken? And isn’t this life? The putting it all back together again?


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Kate Van Dis

Though Katherine Van Dis is a long time Durhamite, her roots are in Michigan, where much of her fiction takes place. After seventeen years in the Bull City, she thought she would try her hand at fiction set in the south. Palmetto Blog Durham is a project dedicated to the people and places of Durham. Each tiny fiction is paired with and inspired by an original photo taken in the city. Katherine’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review and The Carolina Quarterly. She is currently finishing up a short story manuscript.

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