Monster ~ fiction by Mikki Aronoff

“He’s really not, you know.” Mother peers over her readers, puts down her knitting. That infernal clatter of clicking metal. She can’t seem to find the plastic needles I bought for her birthday years ago. She yawns, stretches her legs, adjusts the reading lamp.

“Not what?”

“What you think.”

His tentacles are vying for position on my neck, my scalp, my waist. Two tentacles stretch out from his sides. The third and central and longest one, which starts from his chest, wields a manicure scissors that he uses for pretending to cut my hair. This makes my mother laugh and knit faster, which makes him snip faster. He snips an inch above my head, preferring clicking sounds not deadened by hair. Clicking is how they communicate. They don’t pay much attention to me.

“Sure, Mom.”

She purls another row. “He was misunderstood.”

“Right.” He arrived the day my brother ran away, when what looked like an ostrich egg was later found in Charlie’s unmade bed. Mother put it behind the furnace to hatch. Six days later, one day for each leg and tentacle he pushed through the shell, I had a new brother. He has a tiny appendage that mother said makes him a boy. His scaly legs form a perfect tripod, so he never needs a chair. But his torso is too long and thin for the weight of his tentacles, so his top half weaves around like a drunken lamppost. His mouth is the size of a snail shell opening and reeks of herring and jam, which mother whirs for him every day in the blender. He can’t eat without a straw. His body bloats from the sugar and salt. He has no hair of his own.

“The stars were not aligned the day of his birth.”

I’m tired of mother’s magical thinking and the daily routine she insists on, me sitting on a stool for hours in a row as he wobbles and mimes cutting my hair and they giggle their secret giggle and her scarves lengthen, row by quick row by quick row. I tell her I feel like I’m being used. She tells me I’m too sensitive when I complain.

“No, you’re too insensitive,” I mutter. Anything louder, she’ll poke me with her needles. One night, I reach the end of my tether. It’s been twenty years since I was born, twelve since Charlie ran out the door, twelve since I’ve had to put up with a fake sibling who does nothing but snip, giggle, click and belch fishy air. I need a good haircut and my hormones are raging. I fake a UPS sighting out the window, signal to my mother there’s a package. Always wary of porch thieves, she goes outside to check. I race to the door and lock it behind her, wonder how much time I’ll have.

But monsters always return. She comes back the next afternoon, toting a large bag from Village Wools full of multi-colored yarn. She pushes past me without a glance, plops in her chair, starts rolling skeins into balls.

“But isn’t it our family’s custom to disappear and never return?” I ask, generalizing from a pattern of one, my real brother’s departure always in my mind. I don’t wait for an answer. My hand is on the door as she readjusts the reading light, picks up her needles and yarn, casts on the start of another scarf. She’ll stare and smile at me with closed lips, pat the top of my stool, beckon me to sit, wait for my brother.

Mikki Aronoff’s work appears or is forthcoming in The Ekphrastic Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Intima, Thimble Literary Magazine, London Reader, SurVision, Rogue Agent, Popshot Quarterly, The South Shore Review, The Fortnightly Review, Feral, The Phare, Sledgehammer Lit, Flash Boulevard, New World Writing, Emerge, and elsewhere. Her stories and poems have received Pushcart and Best Microfiction nominations.