The scab of the family doesn’t say much, so everyone thinks she’s trouble. In high school, she gets grounded twice a week but only for things she should’ve done rather than things she shouldn’t have. When the scab of the family stays out too late and comes home quiet and jumpy, the mother calls her awful things—traitor, trouble, rat. At holidays, the scab of the family is second in line to hug the grandmother and tell her she loves her, but the only one to really mean it. When the scab leaves for college, she doesn’t pack anything sentimental, but cries on her first night in the dorms when her roommate requests a room change.
The scab of the family only goes to some classes and doesn’t get invited to parties or accepted to any sororities, though she goes through all the hazing. She tries to talk to the warm slouching boys that sit beside her in class, but they turn up their headphones before she can finish saying hello. The scab only flies home for funerals, so the mother marks her “deceased/missing” in the family registry in the back of her black crumbling bible. When the scab graduates, she walks the stage but doesn’t invite anyone to watch. That night she burns her sociology degree over the little tin trashcan she keeps beside her bed—she doesn’t understand people any better now than she did before.
The scab of the family remains in her college town and finds a job in data entry. She buys a whole new wardrobe, pencil skirts and warm sweaters and thin heels that accentuate the sharp bones of her feet. She sits in a cold, blank office besides much older, much colder people who listen to audio books on two-times speed and eat tepid lunches at their desks under the bright glow of their monitors. The scab asks her cubical mate out for drinks who refuses: she already has plans that night to cry in the shower. The scab adds it to the end of her hourly planner, right underneath “bus home” and before “brush teeth,” and likes it so much that she does it every night.
The scab of the family lives and works and never goes home, not even for funerals. She calls the arthritic ornery mother only on days when it hails and tries not to cry as the mother says she is selfish and traitorous and unlovable. On her thirtieth birthday, the scab decides she wants to know what trouble really tastes like so she gets rebel tattooed on the wet inside of her bottom lip. It tastes sweeter than she expected, and she chews it off while she sleeps.
The scab of the family adopts a pet rat, not a fancy rat all fluffy and sweet but a gnarly one, gray and twitchy. She names it Pebbles and after work holds its struggling warm body against her chest while sniffling along to K-Dramas. When she grows bored of subtitles, the scab goes to bars to find someone to take her home. So used to the cubical, she sits in the darkest corner, hides in her hair, and potential suitors miss her when they glance around looking for lonely, frightened women. She drinks Bloody Mary after Bloody Mary until her mouth tingles and her throat scratches and she can’t sleep for the bubbling acidic pain. By thirty-two she has invasive emergency surgery to remove all the horseradish-induced ulcers.
The scab of the family is the only child to return home to take care of the mother when she gets too crotchety to be left alone with waiters and too fragile to walk up stairs. She bathes her and dresses her and sings her lullabies all while the mother spits and calls her awful things, traitor, ungrateful, defector, scab. When the mother dies alone in her bed, the scab notes it in the family registry but tells no one. She carefully leaves the bible where it belongs on the mother’s clean mantelpiece between graying family photos and baby pictures and fake sprigs of fir. She flies back home to her college town and her itchy rat greets her sleepily by the door. While she sits on the cool kitchen tile, she lets her rat lap warm gravy from her finger and feels almost loved. She is not so much like a scab anymore, but the shiny newly woven skin underneath.
Mialise Carney (@mialisec) is a writer and MFA student at California State University, Fresno. She is an editor at The Normal School, and her writing has appeared in Hobart, Maudlin House, and The Boiler, among others. Read more of her work at mialisecarney.com.