Euphorbia Milii

Edith Louise Mulvihil sat silently on top of an oversized wooden trunk. Her eyes fixed on something in the distance as she softly chewed on the inside of her lower lip.

Those awful little flaps of skin drove her crazy, and it was only a matter of getting this last one trimmed with her front teeth and then she would leave it alone. She’d been told to leave it alone, to stop chewing on herself. She had also been told to stop biting her nails, talking with her mouth full, gulping her juice, and most of all to stop leaving her things everywhere as if she were the Queen of England.

Moments earlier, Edith had been hidden behind the overgrown euphorbia milii at the top of the stairs while her mother argued with her father. She sat snuggled in the branches of the odd houseplant with a funny little scowl on her face as she listened to her father’s voice quickly escalate from a reluctant, yet authoritative groaning into the frustrated shout of a man being denied access to the lavatory.

Albert Moorehouse Mulvihill, you may not raise your voice with me.” Stomped her mother.

Edith crinkled up her nose and mouthed along with her father’s customary “I am not yelling at you Connie, I am simply saying that…”

It didn’t matter what it was Edith’s father was trying to say, her mother would snort, and snuffle, gasping here and there to effect the appropriate outrage at being spoken to in this heathen’s tone of voice. Her mother was one of those exhausted women who never seem to actually do anything but talk.

Edith would have sat in the cluster of thorns, listening to the roar of her parents all night if she hadn’t been allergic to euphorbia milii. She might have been able to stay awake long enough to understand why after arguments like these her parents were so nice to each other in the morning. But she could feel her face begin to go all itchy, and her eyes were feeling thick. Still, she leaned her head against the wall, as far from the plant as possible, and listened to her mother’s voice creaking in the parlor below.

She imagined herself much older, beautiful and wealthy, married to a mysterious prince from some place grand. His name would be Michael, or David maybe. He would have a romantic name. Prince Michael David. Whatever his name turned out to be, he would allow her to talk with her mouth full of anything she liked, and would not mind her things everywhere. He would like it, and smile seductively at her as he waded through the rooms full of her casually discarded garments which she would only wear once. They would be that kind of wealthy, and go for Sunday drives, and have interesting conversations with Baronesses and other Prince’s who would come to visit them at the Summer castle where they lived the whole year ’round.

“Oh Honestly Albert!” Edith returned to her hiding place as she heard her mother’s voice from the bottom of the stairs. She wiggled her way out from behind the enormous shrub, and pressed her back against the wooden door of her father’s bedroom. One hand softly gripped the lip of the molding, and the other drooped limp at her side. Edith had been unable to move her right arm since the accident, but her legs were deformed at birth. She was able to walk, but it was a terrible sight to see. Her father would adjust her leg braces for her and smile into her unpleasant little face every morning, but he always did them up too tightly. Her mother was no longer allowed to fasten her braces. Not since the accident.

Edith’s mother had been talking loud enough for the entire county about the evils of dirty touching the last time she attempted to pull the leather straps around her daughter’s withered legs. It was a beautiful spring day, and everyone was out strolling the avenue.

The task was to pull eight stiff leather straps from one side, and slip their ends between the two jagged brass clips on the other plate and fasten them together. It was not complicated, but it was difficult for Edith’s mother. Her eyes were practically rolled up in her head as her perfectly round nostrils gasped for air. Mouth breathing, she had always said, was for the unhealthy, and the weak. Spittle flew from her puckered and colorless lips in all directions as she spoke.

Edith tried to stand perfectly still. Partly because she didn’t want to be criticized, and also because she did not like to be caught with her mouth open when the spit was flying. Her mother had difficulty fastening the straps, they were stiff, and the clasps needed a good amount of tension. Her mother pulled, and pulled, and was about to give up and turn her frustration upon Edith, when the second strap tore free with a sudden jerk. Edith topped over, severing the ligaments of her forearm, and her mother went flying out of the open window.

“My God! Edith! Help!” She cried from somewhere outside the window.

Edith looked around and tried to pull herself up. She grabbed the edge of the trunk below the window where her mother had been sitting moments before, and raised her torso up to the edge with one arm.

She saw couples walking arm in arm on the lovely spring day had come running and Edith could see what looked like thirty people gathered below the window. With a little effort, she managed to hoist her chest up onto the window sill to look down at the grass, expecting see her mother below. There was no broken corpse, no attentive witnesses. All she saw was the blue grass, and the blurred, curious faces peering up through bonnets and derbies at something just below Edith. She looked straight down, and there was her mother, red faced, and furious, lodged firmly into the trellis.

“Edith Louise Mulvihil! Go and call your father!” She mock whispered, cupping her hands around her mouth, as if no one would notice she was half dangling through the white-washed slats of the frame which completed their house’s facade. Edith nodded, and pushed herself up from the window. Braced against the wall, she turned and shouted toward the door of her room for her father.

No one responded to Edith’s calling, rather, her father appeared outside of the house, and scrambled quickly to assist with her mother’s decent. Kicking and screaming, her dress up over her head, with three men holding her steady, Edith’s mother was finally laid to rest upon the lawn below her window. Edith watched her mother, peering hatefully into her eyes, flat on her back, as the men assessed the damage.

Edith’s mother was fine. Only her pride had been affected, but the lattice work was going to take some doing to restore. The men lingered until the sun began to set speculating about who might be the best man for the job in a case like this.

Constance Mulvihil had never forgiven her daughter for this moment. She forever associated her social failure with this fall, and referred to it from then on as the accident

At the top of the stairs Edith stumped her way into her bedroom as quietly as she could and closed the door. She rested a moment, and then dragged herself over to the chest, pushed open the window and sat down.

She listened to the footsteps outside the door. Another door slammed somewhere downstairs. She looked out into the night sky, and discovered that there was a little something more to work on in the soft, moist skin between her front teeth and her lower lip.


  1. Elaine:

    Wow. Great short story. I feel slightly nauseous.

  2. Laura W:

    Oh Man does this one bring up issues for me (tears running down my face)!

    This describes my mother in a frightening way. And I am the small child hiding on the stair case, not wanting to disrupt her world. My mother often blamed me for her life not being the way she wanted it to be, the way it should be, the way she deserved. I’d like to say that her approval of me didn’t matter and that I didn’t need it but that’s not true. I know she loved me as much as she could but she always treated me as a disappointment, even on her deathbed. From day one I was raised to believe that I was lacking and had some huge flaw of character. I could never be smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, caring enough for her. The scars make me want to run away and hide from interpersonal relationships. The expectations of others weigh on me heavily, like braces on the legs.

  3. It is so important that we choose the path of joy and happiness.

    I would so graciously accept a truckload of unvorgivable regret for mistakes I have made, than enclose my heart into a box which only damaged the people I love the most.

    Honesty, and healing are so frightening aren’t they?

    The cinematic images of this story, to me, are almost audacious, slaptick. The overly braced girl’s mother goes flying out the window into the trellis below. Yet, it’s interesting how the humor of comes as a relief from the the darkness, and the inner turmoil which is said in so matter-of-fact a way.

    But I have no real perspecitve on my own writing, and even less control over it.

    I write on…