The Tired Daughter

Dara Yen Elerath

The tired daughter finds threads of insomnia in her soup, twisted among the bits of gristle and chicken. What is this? she asks the anxious mother. It’s nothing, the mother replies, eat your soup, so the tired daughter sips the salty liquid. At night she cannot sleep. Anxious mother, she says, what’s wrong with me? When I close my eyes I feel I’m dying. The anxious mother tries to calm her, you’ll fall asleep, she says, don’t worry, but the tired daughter watches the ceiling. She weeps.

She does not know her mother weaves sleeplessness into her water, into the sandwiches and nectarines she eats for lunch. She does not know her mother longs to loosen her skull like the lid of a jar and store her own anxieties inside: her fear of spiders and cars, her fear of cavities and cancer, her fear of old age and dying alone. I have no other place to keep my worries, the anxious mother moans. She goes to bed dreaming of how, instead of her, the tired daughter will carry the letters and postcards of anxiety, the ampoules and vials of doubt, the books and encyclopediae of nervousness.

The tired daughter feels these things rattling inside her and can never fall asleep. Weeks of insomnia pass and the daughter longs for her mother to hold her. In her longing she grows roots and leaves. In her longing she becomes an apple tree. She spreads her arms into thick, gnarled branches, and the anxious mother plucks the fruit that dangles down. These are sweet, she says, forgetting her cares; I like you this way, she croons, watering her daughter daily.

In time, the daughter’s apples will brown and rot. In time, worms will weave around the apple pips and stems, yet neither mother nor daughter guesses this now. They’ve found a way to live together peacefully. The daughter sprouts apples of forgetfulness and the mother eats them; as she eats she sings a lullaby. The daughter, heavy beneath her blanket of apples and song, grows tired; she ceases to speak. She slips into a deep, unknowing, apple-scented sleep.

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