I’m just drifting off to sleep when a creature in the bushes outside my window screams like a human baby. I run to the kitchen. What is that? I ask my mother. Mother says, That is a fisher. I’m eight and have never heard of such an animal. A fisher, says Mother, is a kind of weasel that lives in the woods. It eats cats. It could even, she says, eat a very small dog.
In the morning Mother goes to warn the neighbors. She crosses the lawn of tall weeds, sad grass, and patches of dirt. I watch her progress from an open window. She passes through the hole in the rotting fence she has been meaning to mend. The neighbors’ lawn is a cushion of tropical green. Mother stomps up to the neighbors’ stoop in her housecoat and old plastic boots. She rings the bell. The neighbor lady comes to the door in a soft pink sweater and pearls. Later Mother tells me she warned the woman to keep her cat indoors, because a fisher will kill and eat your house cat. The neighbor lady didn’t want to hear it.
The neighbor lady’s cat dozes in our driveway all day. I stand guard beside it with a stick.
Mother loves films in which boorish men are injured by children. The mischievous child burns the burglar’s head with a flamethrower. Mother cackles. My father notes the pattern. You just like to see men get hurt, he says. Yeah, says Mother. And?
My father slips on ice in the driveway and plants his face in dirty snow. He hobbles in. Mother has seen from the window. What’s the matter? she asks, laughing. Did you eat shit?
Yeah, Dad, I ask him, did you eat shit?
The neighbor boy plays tyrant in my backyard. He throws my jump-rope high into a pine tree. I take a shovel from the shed and hold it above my head like a battle-ax and bellow, chasing the neighbor boy from the yard. Frightened, he falls and cracks his tooth on a stone. The neighbor lady is outraged. Mother makes a new rule: no more weapons.
In the public library I use the computers. Homeless men also use the computers. Wash your hands, says Mother. Why? I ask. Because those men at the library are dirty, says Mother. Because they’re homeless? I ask. Because they’re men, says Mother, and, as such, they’re constantly touching themselves.
Mother provides me with selected reading material in which a girl or woman, real or imagined, is oppressed by a man or men: A Saudi princess reveals the cruelty of life behind the veil. A Guatemalan woman details the murder of her family by a corrupt military. Jane Eyre falls to the ground bleeding after her male cousin throws a book at her head.
I ask Mother, Do you think they’re all like that? Men?
Mother says, Your father is a good man. I love your father. But, yes, they’re all like that.
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