You listen from the vestibule to the clicking of compacts and lipstick as your mother gets ready to testify. She stopped raising you before she could share this specific ritual, but she tries to make up for it.

She says “take this mascara, I never use it.”

And, “take this nail polish honey, this is a great color.” She places these tools in a Ziploc for your flight back to Portland.

Between rooms, you can see most of the apartment. It is sparse; she brought little with her from California in your uncle’s minivan over a decade ago.

Two large, abstract paintings in crimson with stripes of yoke-yellow lean heavy against the rear wall of the living room. A corner computer desk, a beige couch, a candle set. You wonder how she managed to fit the paintings in the van, if they rested on her meager pile of clothes and crimson blankets, if they kept her occupied crossing all that flat land.

The kitchen is a space of pride for her. A clove of garlic and a knife set rest on the island countertop. Lately her staple is steak, cooked in a pan on the stove, placed over a slab of butter. You watch as it melts into a golden pool on her dinner plate at your grandmother’s house, where you’ve decided to spend most of your week-long visit because—by house rule—grandma’s is a place of sobriety, no alcohol allowed.

Your mother joins you in the vestibule; her hair is done up in large curls, kinked-up spirals dyed burgundy. Her faux leather jacket, lipstick and nail color are all coordinated in shades of maroon.

Her presence is magnetic, salt on eggplant, withdrawing small beads of story—an unfamiliar need you feel to confess and divulge: back home you are lost. After eight hours on your feet you shower off the smell of coffee and mayonnaise first thing, only to find your boyfriend in the same place you left him. You walk to the Sapphire Hotel alone and order a well gin and tonic, squeezing the lime, catching weekend jazz, reading sci-fi amidst the manicured couples. You post the moment: drink and read, your one message to the world.

It’s ironic, because you’ve always been in a kind of vestibule with her. Your head leaning against the wall as she drops stretchy dumpling dough into bone broth. You—in the passenger seat of the car, watching her smoke curl, missing the cracked window. You—peeking through the opening in your bedroom door, wondering if she might ever turn off the music, stop dancing, sleep. You’ve always been in this useless space, the center of her orbit.

You pity the maroon, her perfume, the anti-frizz spray. Because, especially today, her appearance is also her credibility. You read somewhere that a woman will return to their abusive partner an average of seven times. You’ve learned so much about her from the internet, much more than she is willing to share.

You place your palms on her cheeks, forcing affection. You too, put on a mask and say you believe in her. None of this is familiar. This is your space and now, here she is. You’ve never seen her so up close before.

After the trial she walks to Walgreens in the night and returns with a plastic bag.

Inside are seven shades of “fruit” scented chapstick, the kinds in the little globes, as if you can’t find chapstick in Portland. As if each were a carefully concealed word.

Lily is a barista by day and word slayer by night. Her favorite snacks are coffee and peanut butter from the jar, in that order. She is a senior editor with Typehouse Literary Magazine and graduated from Portland State University in 2017 with a BA in English and minor in Creative Writing. You can read her other works at Angel City Review and in the latest issue of Coffee People Zine. Find more on Twitter @lilyblackburn93 and at

© 2019 Lily Blackburn. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, August 2019.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Artur Shageyev).




by Lily Blackburn