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A Hook, An Eye

Erin Strubbe is an editor, blogger, and speculative fiction writer based in Southern California. She holds a BA in English from Mills College and writes about gender, sexuality, family, and environmentalism through the lens of the fantastic. When she's away from the keyboard, she spends her time gardening, playing board games, and caring for her various pet reptiles. You can find her online at erinstrubbe.com or on Twitter at @planeterinebula.
The hook slipped neatly through the meat of my daughter's cheek, parting skin and sinew like a fin through still water.
She grinned around it, teeth pink, tongue pushing against the gleaming metal. The barb jutted from her upper jaw like an extra canine.
"How does it look?" she asked.
Her mouth moved clumsily around the unfamiliar shape. It was like braces all over again, her voice phlegmy and thick.
"Beautiful," I lied, and dabbed away a black rivulet of blood.
It would look beautiful in time anyway. Now it was all bright red and swollen, gory looking. Bloody, as the rites of girlhood always tended to be. The hook was streaked with crimson, opal glistening like the white head of a pimple from its eye.
In truth, she looked like Frankenstein's bride--but sixteen-year-olds were usually better off without truths like that.
My mother would wax poetic about her hook when I was a girl.
An auspicious blade through the fat of youth, she'd say. A dowsing rod leading a girl to the well of womanhood. The source of that ichorous river from which life itself is sprung.
But she had been married and strung within a year of her hook; things were different back then.
The one clacking against my daughter's teeth now was a gift, a customary maternal offering for a girl's sixteenth. It was an elegant, conservative curve the shop girl had called "swimming nymph." I picked it out months ago, stealing anxious glances at the girl behind the counter as I browsed Kahles and Limericks and Kirbys. She'd looked no more than a year or two out from her own hook, a violent, three-pronged treble that grasped like a talon. Out of its eye peered a flash of moonstone, gauzy and diaphanous as lingerie.
Desperate, I'd thought. Sleazy.
I was seeing more like it these days though. There was a girl at my daughter's school with a bait hook jutting shamelessly from her cheek. I spotted it across the parking lot once, saw-toothed, many-barbed, voracious. The severed knots of half a dozen lines poked obscenely from the crevice between eye and stone. My mother, with her plain, practical Aberdeen, would have fainted to see it.
The shop girl had glanced at the beautiful, swooping thing I'd pointed to and pronounced its name with disdain, the barbs of her hook convulsing pornographically as she spoke.
I bought it on the spot.
Every generation is entitled to its little rebellions, of course. My mother had probably been just as horrified the first time she saw a woman with two knots of twine through her hook's eye, a mirrored mockery of the one around her finger.
She would point these mismatched women out to me every time we passed them, in the mall, in the park, in the street. I suspected that my stocky Siwash, with its dull jasper all covered in dark snail trails of brecciation, was her way of protecting me from such indecencies. At least she hadn't insisted on a brown riverstone to match her own.
"It's perfect," my mother had said as I tasted the tang of iron and steel on my tongue. "Unassuming. It won't do to look like you're trying too hard."
My mother taught me to apply makeup without goring myself on the hook's bobbing point, to dress around its barb without making a mess. I didn't always succeed at first. It was an imperfect art, my mother said, but a necessary one.
"It won't do to look like you're not trying at all either."
She needn't have worried on that account. I thrashed on my hook then, as eager to lure as I was to be lured.
In class, I would run my fingers over the curved point of the hook, imagining how it looked to the boys on the other side of the classroom--gangly teens who tripped over the line spooling off their tongues. Who itched at the stubble of wire pushing out behind their lips. I would brush my knuckles coquettishly over the jasper, wondering if they thought the hook old-fashioned, the stone plain. If they found the point alluring, the promise of its eye seductive. If one of them might someday be the man to thread me.
I let my daughter choose her stone.
I'd been hearing stories lately of girls wresting control over their hooks from their mother's hands. Picking the shape, the size, even enlisting other girls in the spilling of their ichorous rivers, leaving floundering mothers in the lurch. I quickly flipped the channel when these reports blared from the smiling lips of glossy, jig-hooked women on TV, hoping my daughter had not heard.
Little rebellions were inevitable--I had been young once, too. But no one was arguing a father's right to teach a son to spool freshly grown line, to coil and cast it, to thread the trembling eye behind his bride's veil. A girl's hook was her mother's territory.
All the same, my daughter emerged from class a week before her birthday, side by side with the bait-hooked girl. I watched them from the car, that jaw whiskered with lines of past loves, passionately declared and as quickly forgotten. My daughter was laughing as they parted, waving like she didn't notice the vicious points, the careless knots.
As my daughter slid into the seat beside me, I heard myself ask, "How would you like to pick out a stone?"
I hovered behind her as she stalked bedazzled glass cases, chewing the curve of my hook. I would have picked something modest and unobtrusive myself. Obsidian or maybe agate, something that didn't distract from the dark curl of her hair, the sea green of her eyes. But I kept my mouth shut.
Little rebellions, I reminded myself.
Better to give a little than wait for her to take a lot. The stone was hers to wear, after all, until her husband plucked it out to string her for the first time. Or so I could only hope.
I just about choked when she presented the opal to me--pale and shot through with clear skies and sunset. From a distance, it looked almost as translucent as the moonstone, sheer and immodestly lucent. I opened my mouth to tell her as much, to steer her toward the shelves of dark jade, opaque hematite. She held the stone against her dimple, waiting for my approval.
"Beautiful," I said instead, and slid bills across the countertop.
I ended up marrying one of those gangly boys after all, happily strung halfway through college. For a while, anyway. Just long enough for him to leave his mark.
I told my mother about the pregnancy and the divorce in one go, hook chattering against the receiver. I wasn't thinking then of double-knotted women in the street. Just the woman who'd held me as my hook bled, brushed hair behind my ear and taught me twice to dress myself.
Her memories, apparently, were elsewhere.
She refused my calls after that. Returned my letters, ignored my pleas, saying she'd warm her cold shoulder when I called off the divorce. I sat home alone as my belly grew, wondering whether even then the swimming thing inside me was spooling thread or sculpting a dimple where a hook would one day rest. She didn't call even when my daughter, dimpled and perfect, emerged screaming into the world. I wished for my mother often, in those long newborn nights. My daughter wide awake and weeping. Me aching, hysterical.
But in quiet moments, when she nursed and I dozed, her pudgy fingers wrapped around the crook where steel sunk into my waxy flesh, I would watch her and think, "As long as I have her, I don't need anyone."
Now, at sixteen, still dimpled and perfect, she ran her fingers over her own hook in front of the bathroom mirror. It was bright and prominent as a nerve ending, and already the point was rubbing a raw spot into her lower lip. It would bleed at first, and then it would callus, as mine had, as my mother's had. She touched the gleaming metal--not as she'd held mine as a child, all thoughtless intimacy, but as I'd touched my own at her age, daunted, awed.
She winced as fresh blood pooled, then smiled at her reflection. I remembered how much my own hook had hurt, how I too had grinned and borne it.
I stood behind her, the severed knot of my hook bobbing at her shoulder as she prodded and marveled.
What could I tell her now? To be patient? That womanhood would come in time? To abstain from bait-hooked girls and boys with fledgling line? That I would always love her?
"So grown," I said instead. "My little girl."
I brushed a dark wave behind her ear, and swallowed saltwater mouthfuls of the things it would do her no good to hear.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 28th, 2020




- Erin Strubbe
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