BREAKING by Emily Rinkema

BREAKING by Emily Rinkema

On the designated day for punishing mothers, those of us who got our applications in early enough show up, mothers in tow. Most look like they came willingly, walking ahead of their children, mostly daughters, but not mine. I had to sedate her to get her in the car.

I paid for the deluxe package, which includes interrogation. The application allowed three questions. Two were easy: What really happened to the kitten I brought home in third grade? And, Why did you only let me shave my legs to my knees until I was sixteen? The third was harder to decide on, but I went with, How can Kant’s categorical imperative ever truly be a reliable guide to moral obligations if humans lack rational agency?

I prop Mom up next to me to wait our turn for interrogation. She puts her head on my shoulder, but only because her neck won’t hold it up. I may have over sedated her. I take a granola bar out of my bag and Mom lifts her head enough to give me the look that says I can’t believe you’re eating again.

The door opens after only a few minutes and a mother and daughter come out of the room. They have both been crying. The mother is missing a few teeth and a finger, has bruises on her neck, is soaking wet. For a moment, I wonder if I am overreacting, if maybe it’s not too late to cancel and take Mom home, but then I see her sit up straight, roll her shoulders. I can tell she is judging the other mother for being weak, for breaking. She gives me that smile that says she can’t believe I chose to wear these shoes in public and cracks her knuckles.


Emily Rinkema lives and writes in northern Vermont. Her stories have appeared in The Sun Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Phoebe Journal, and the Best American Nonrequired Reading and Oxford Flash anthologies. You can read her work on her website (https://emilyrinkema.wixsite.com/my-site) or follow her on X or IG (@emilyrinkema). She has a dog named Chet.

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