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Her body’s buried by the creek. But her tongue, that’s sealed in a jar of pickled pigs’ feet, encased in nearly a foot of cement, under the new barn out back. Just in case.
Mama never did like pigs’ feet, pickled or otherwise. Said they was commoners’ food. Still, every Monday, Daddy makes a fresh jar and, come Sunday, me and the boys feast on them like royalty. That’s the kind of man Daddy is, someone who can make you feel like a princess even as you’re slopping the pigs. Me and the boys never could figure out how he ended up with Mama. Every time we asked, he’d smile and say, “She has a voice like honey.”
He was right. Her voice was sickly sweet as it oozed into every corner of the mind and slowly rotted it away. She spoke in words no one could really understand, luring people in with that thick, golden sweetness. Once they were trapped in her tones, inside the sweet nothings, her words became poison. It wasn’t a quick death, either. She made her prey suffer, tearing their soul away piece by piece, eroding any chance of escape. And the world was none the wiser.
Daddy took the brunt of her sweet abuse, shielding me and the boys in his own quiet, laidback way. We were her blood, though, so she was deeper inside us than Daddy could ever know.
It was a bright spring day when it happened. Me and Mama was watching my youngest brother wade in the creek. His laughter could bring sunshine to anyone’s day, but not Mama’s. She only smiled in front of company, and then, only when they was praising her. They didn’t see what we saw.
She pulled me close to whisper in my ear over the innocent laughter and burbling water. “You’re going to be just like me when you get older. I can smell it on you.”
“What’re you talking about?” I asked, a butterfly stirring in the depths of my stomach.
“Any daughter of mine is definitely going to be a queen.” The warmth of her breath against my skin made me want to run. “We’re special, you and me. The boys are nothing more than drones, like your daddy.”
“I think Daddy and the boys are good men.”
She scoffed. “I got stuck with the first thing that came along. Don’t make that mistake, baby. When you begin to flower, you’ll attract many good men. I need you to wait for the great ones. Once you’ve got one of those, I’ll teach you how to break him. You’ll have everything you ever wanted and more.”
I looked in Mama’s eyes. They were as golden as her words and held a sinister glow. A shiver shot down my spine.
“I just want to be happy,” I said, but I felt something wiggle in the back of my mind, as if to tell me I was a liar.
“You’ll crave the misery of others, soon enough.” Mama smiled at me for the first time I could remember. It set a whole swarm of butterflies loose in my stomach. “You’re almost ready to bloom.”
A scream pierced the air. My littlest brother hobbled up to Mama, tears streaking down his cheeks almost as fast as the blood pouring from his knee. Mama stared at her crying child with a sneer.
“What do you expect me to do about it? Go find your daddy.”
The expression on my brother’s face before he toddled off would’ve been enough to break Lucifer’s heart, but Mama just watched him go, disgusted.
“I don’t want to be anything like you,” I said. “Don’t you see what your words do?”
“My words are my spell. They can build you up, then tear you down. Of course I know what they can do. You’ll understand the power one day.”
The butterflies surged up out of my throat along with a screech that turned the world red. I wasn’t going to allow her to turn me into someone who could make a hurting child feel even worse. I wouldn’t let her hurt anyone else, not anymore.
When I trudged into the house, covered in blood, and grabbed a knife, Daddy silently followed me to the mess I had made. He watched as I cut out her tongue, because that was the source of her power, then followed me back inside to the newest jar of pigs’ feet, where I stuck it.
He buried her that night, then started the barn the next day. We haven’t spoken of her in three months. Daddy and the boys are happier than I’ve ever seen them. Sometimes, her words echo in my ears, but they’re getting weaker. Life goes on. And tonight, we’ll feast on pickled pigs’ feet.
Interview with Shawna Borman, Author of “Poisoned Honey and Pickled Pigs’ Feet”
What inspired your story?
This piece started out as a bit of catharsis to help release negative feelings about toxic people in my own life, but slowly morphed into its own story. As these things often do.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing on and off all my life, but didn’t get serious about it until I was an undergrad at SMU. One day, Dad asked me why I was majoring in psychology when I didn’t particularly like people (I swear I’m just an introvert, not a misanthrope). I couldn’t think of a good enough answer, so I switched my major to English and haven’t looked back.
Do you have a theme you return to time and again?
Honestly, I never thought I did until Nancy Holder (one of my mentors at grad school) looked at one of my stories and declared it “classic Shawna.” According to her, I have a tendency to write about children/teens being dragged into a magical world of some sort. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. I suppose even “Poisoned Honey and Pickled Pigs’ Feet” fits that trope, though the magic there is more subtle than I usually write.
What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?
Shawna Borman holds an M.F.A. from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Though she dabbles in all genres, her true love is horror. Whether dealing with your average socially awkward serial killer or an angel/demon/mortal hybrid entering the terrible teens, Shawna is most at ease visiting with the voices in her head. She resides in Texas with her father. For more information and links to her social media profiles, please visit www.snborman.com.