Someone gifted the girl knives for her thirteenth birthday. Before then, she bandied about with forks, butter knives, even steak knives, but once she became a teenager, the knives were sharper—Ginsus and Wüsthofs. When she first lobbed them my way, they made cuts almost too thin to bleed. Undressing for the night, I found a line of blood trickling down my calf, a scab that looked like dirt along the back of my arm, a nick on the knob of my ankle. Then, I remembered: the moment she’d scoffed at my plans for a mother-daughter outing, her refusal to eat the dinner I’d cooked (the salsa too spicy, the chicken too dry), her sneer when I wore crocs in public.
“I’ll talk to her.” My husband ran his hand across the scab on my arm—at least two inches long.
“Don’t.” I slapped a band-aid on my calf, daubed peroxide on my ankle. “She’s growing up, asserting her independence.”
“At what cost?”
I shrugged. He hadn’t dealt with mangled nipples when she was a baby, cleaned spilled glitter out of the car, left work for every spiked fever.
He sighed, waved his toothbrush in my face. “She can only take as much as you let her.”
“This is nothing.” I waved at my wounds. “I’ve done worse shaving.”
When I insisted on staying at the roller rink while she and her friends skated, she argued, then cried, and finally screamed. She stamped her foot, said, “You’re only staying because you don’t have a life of your own.” She wasn’t wrong. I’d put my life on hold to cart her from school to dance class to piano lessons to birthday parties to anywhere she dreamed. I’d never considered what I’d do when she found me obsolete. The gash to my forehead was deep enough that blood dripped in my eye. It took ten minutes of pressure before the bleeding stopped. I didn’t understand her fierceness until I saw the group of boys she and her friends were meeting—tweens whose mothers had let them off at the curb and driven away. The scar on my brow gave me a look of constant surprise, which fit my response to the teen who’d replaced my sweet girl.
After I forbade her from wearing a halter top to school, she called me an anti-feminist boomer and a tool of the patriarchy. I reminded her that I’d worn a pussy hat to women’s rights protests. She stepped close and laughed in my face, one sharp, “Ha!” that left beads of spittle on my cheek. After she stormed off, I noticed blood staining the toe of my canvas sneakers. Her knife had lobbed off the tips of my big toes. I wrapped them in gauze and hobbled around the house for three days.
“This has to stop,” my husband said.
Except once they healed, the missing bits of toe left my feet smaller. I could suddenly wear the shoes I’d packed away when pregnancy added a half-size to my feet. I replaced my Crocs with the beat-up yellow chucks I never thought I’d wear again. On my morning walk, a neighbor said, “Great shoes.” I suggested coffee later that week.
After an argument over meeting a boy at the movies, the girl’s wrath shaved away a love handle. The boy was a redhead with a concave chest, but my daughter said he was dreamy. I leaned into an argument over my meeting his parents, and her anger lobbed off the other love handle. Soon, I’d be able to wear some of those if-I’m-ever-thin-enough shirts stowed in the back of the closet. I wondered why I hadn’t had a teenager earlier.
When I installed a tracking program on her phone, she cut away the lobe of my left ear. Rather than risk my husband’s consternation, I asked my hairdresser to give me a style that would hide the damage. My husband called the new cut cute, though my daughter said I was trying too hard. That time, I dodged the knife, barely felt the blade as it slid past my nose.
My arm wobble diminished when I took her phone away after it alerted me to explicit texts between her and the boy. I put on one of those packed-away shirts, and it looked pretty good without the extra flesh parenthood had gifted. She squinted at me when I walked downstairs but said nothing. I called it a win, walked away unscathed.
I wore the shirt to coffee with the neighbor, and we bonded over wounds we’d endured since our kids had morphed into teens. “This one took three stitches,” she said, running her finger across the puckered wound below her left eye. “But look here,” she said and raised the hem of her shirt to show a stomach with no mom-pooch. “We fought for a week over the length of her homecoming dress, and I walked away thinner than ever.”
I pondered creating such an epic fight. Then, I remembered when I used to pick her up from school early, and the two of us would sneak chai lattes into a matinee. I wondered if she’d still be impressed with my ability to keep two drinks upright in my purse as we walked across the lobby.
Blood soaked through the back pockets of my jeans after the teen begged me for her own TikTok account and I said not until sixteen.
My eyes still stung from the tears I’d shed after her parting words: “I hate you. I wish you weren’t my mom.” Even as a toddler, she’d never wanted another mom. Then, I’d told her no, and she’d still come to me for comfort from my own sharpness. But that girl was long gone. Left was a teen with a belt full of knives.
“I’m putting an end to this,” my husband said as he doctored the place where she’d shorn off a slab of my butt.
I held onto the countertop in the bathroom, sucked in my breath when he doused the wound with peroxide. “Not yet.”
He daubed at the blood, staunched the last trickle with gauze and medical tape. “This has gone far enough.”
Except it hadn’t—I couldn’t quite fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. A few more slices, another sliver off my ass, a bite from my thigh, and I’d be who I was before I’d ever dreamed the girl into existence.
“I have it under control.” I leaned toward the mirror, fingered the scar above my eye, wondered if the girl ever noticed how much she looked like me. I pushed my hair behind my ears, ran fingers across thin wrinkles radiating from my eyes.
My husband gasped. “What the hell?” He was looking at my missing earlobe.
I put the hair back, but it was too late.
He lifted my hair, touched my ear stub. “She’s mangling you.” He breathed the words.
“Shearing,” I corrected. “Taking off the extra bits. Shaving away some parent parts.”
“But how much of you will be left when she’s done?”
Our eyes met in the mirror. I wasn’t sure whether to say “Too much” or “Not enough.” Both were true.
Laura Leigh Morris (she/her/hers) is the author of The Stone Catchers: A Novel (UP Kentucky, August 2024) and Jaws of Life: Stories (West Virginia UP, 2018). “Sharp” is part of a series of stories she thinks of as uncanny domestics. Others have been published at Redivider, JMWW, Laurel Review, and other journals. She teaches writing at Furman University in Greenville, SC. Follow her on X at @lauraleighwrite.