The Spice Portrait
By J.M. Evenson
They said my love for my daughter was excessive, that I made her weak by kissing her and singing in her ear at night.
They also said I killed her.
My mother did not believe in tenderness. She was gaunt, all teeth and hair, her face hard as a stone lion. “If she wants to be fed, she must work,” my mother said.
She hunched over a copper vat of bubbling breadbean stew, stirring to make sure it didn’t burn. Powdered white liverwort dusted her eyelashes and the edges of her black headscarf. A dozen vats boiled behind her, each with a different gaunt woman stirring it.
Three young girls carried large bundles of firewood and loosed their loads into the flames beneath the vats. They couldn’t have been more than six or seven, but their shoulders were already wide and knotted with muscles.
I looked up from my own copper vessel and snuck a glance at Damla. She was sitting in the crook of a juniper tree collecting berries. She had dark eyes ringed in lashes that curled upward at the outer corners like a cat’s and a black ponytail that spiraled down her back.
Damla was smaller than the other children, even the younger ones. She’d been premature at birth and struggled for every inch, but I was proud of her length of bone. By some miracle she’d survived infancy—many didn’t—so I still had hope she’d catch up to the others.
“She’s too young,” I said.
“Nonsense,” said my mother. “You started when you were five. Like everyone else.”