Karen Holman

Only Child

When Mother had her hysterical pregnancies she put my hands on her belly so I would feel my new sibling move. I communicated by sign language with the brother or sister, drew a stick figure with my finger, then slashed it with a diagonal. That meant you don’t exist.


I Am Imaginary, I Thought

If Mother had been compliant with her medication, she would have known that I was a hallucination. Sometimes I took her pills so I could have a vacation from her.

She could read my mind without ESP because I was her. Except sometimes the left hand and the right hand didn’t know what I was doing. That’s how I wrote my invisible memoir.



I chewed my fingernails and Mother said I was cursing her under my breath so I pulled out my hair. It started with a single one. As the hair stretched taut my tension rose then blinked with a dot of relief when it came out by the root. Strand by strand until even the tufts of hair around the bald patches were gone. Strangely, the relief-dots never got bigger. Mother thought I wanted her to see what she would look like if she had chemo and radiation.

“Every morning I ask myself, Why does my daughter hate me?

I developed tics like bridges collect graffiti. At first mother thought I was winking at her. When the tics evolved into the contortions of a schizophrenic on medicine too long she thought I was mimicking her abrupt movements and slapped me. Then she reached for a bottle of pills.

She took her medications when she wanted a vacation from me. The side effect was that I got a vacation, too.


Clairvoyant Grove

In the fall Mother came home with a dozen three-year old saplings even though every square foot of the yard was planted. But they weren’t going outside.

She cut each one back to a few inches of twig then placed them in shallow pots filled with gravelly soil. She soaked the pots in the bathtub and set them by the windows. They cultivated a peony in my heart, dolphin caught in a net.

I knew never to disturb her over the years while she was pruning and wiring the bonsais and they grew tiny and potent as eyedroppers of distilled paralytics.



I re-filled the vase with water then the dwarf Asiatic lilies shattered. Mother saw. Bad luck for her, too. I swept the petals into my palm.

I twirled the hair I had left around my finger. Mother went to line her lids with black, swooping past the corners; pale green eye shadow shiny as aluminum to bring out her hazels. She bent her eyelashes with a tiny device, glided her lips with orange, turned her head, eyes still in the mirror, and clipped on earrings with topazes the size of quarters, their ember facets the shade of the highlights in her hair.

I went to pick daylilies because we make our own luck, right?  But pluck alone doesn’t determine which sperm and egg will join. Or what kind of luck will assist.