"-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"> Frigg | Spring/Summer 2023 | Stew | Kim Magowan
artwork for Kim Magowan's flash fiction Stew

Kim Magowan

My 76-year-old mother decides to move to San Diego, where my sister Bethany lives, instead of San Francisco, where I live. “It’s not personal, Anne,” she says.

“But you always fight with Bethany,” I remind my mother, and she agrees—Bethany is annoying and impossible to get along with—but she says Bethany will take better care of her. Specifically, she says “Bethany will cook for me. She’ll make me stew.”

“Since when do you like stew? Fine. I can order you stew on DoorDash.”

I remind my mother that the weather is San Diego is artificial, too sunny and perfect, and that she hates the famous zoo. One can never see the animals, only their eyes gleaming through foliage. In the San Francisco zoo, I tell her, animals are completely exposed.

She snorts. “Why would I go to a zoo? Bethany’s kids are in high school, and you—” She pauses. I know what she’s thinking. Violet only counts as a half-grandchild to her, because my wife, Renée, gestated her.

I tell my friend Louise that I suspect my mother’s decision is about San Francisco, more than Bethany and stew. My mother is afraid of San Francisco. She thinks it’s full of naked men and queer people, and she constantly asks about “your homeless problem.” If I say “unhoused people,” she snorts again.

“She’s not wrong about the naked people,” Louise points out. We’re sitting in a café in the Castro, where Louise and I both live, and Louise gestures to the naked man across the street. Well, almost naked: he’s wearing a gold baseball hat and Doc Martens. He has a long gray beard and gray pubic hair, but a surprisingly muscular body. “And look at us, we’re queer.”

I sigh.

Louise says, “I’m confused. Haven’t you dodged a bullet here? Be grateful that Bethany is willing to look after your mother.”

Bethany and I are 11 months apart. Irish twins, they called us, back in Kansas City. We’ve never gotten along. In high school, I made it a rule that you could only be friends with me or her; everyone had to choose. It’s hard to shake the feeling now that I had when Jessica Perucci, whom I had a crush on that I refused to recognize as such, looked at me solemnly, said “Well, OK, then,” and chose Bethany.

“How did Renée feel about the prospect of your mom moving to San Francisco?” Louise asks.

I tell her that Renée, when directly pressed, said she liked my mother “well enough.” “But she said it in this weird-ass way. She said, ‘I like your mother well, long pause, enough.’ ‘Well’ wasn’t modifying ‘enough.’ ‘Well’ was like an ‘um.’ A parenthetical phrase. ‘I like her comma well comma enough.’ Enough for what? To tolerate my mother being in a city of 800,000 people?”

Louise looks at me, like I’m the one who’s baffling, instead of my grudging wife, who won’t say directly what she thinks, or my smug, competitive sister, or my mother, with her inexplicable preferences.

Kim Magowan’s Comments

I’m getting to an age where everyone’s parents are making necessary life changes as they get older and frailer. I keep trying to figure out if it’s harder, in these circumstances, to be an only child, or to have siblings. Certainly the only children are more burdened with decisions about parental care. But many people I know with siblings, especially if those relationships are fraught, are experiencing for the first time in decades a new, sharp version of sibling rivalry. It’s regressive; it’s like they are teenagers again. The narrator knows she should be grateful to her sister for looking after their mother—her friend Louise explicitly reminds her of that—but nevertheless, she still feels blown off and wounded, the loser of some secret competition. Her hurt is both irrational and authentic.

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Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 61 | Spring/Summer 2023