The Mothers of Invention

by Sandra Ramos O'Briant

Notes from the second annual convention
reported by Gaia

The hundred hellos and hugs, kisses smacking at empty air next to powdered cheeks, sneezes and giggles, shuffling and exultant whispering filled the convention center with a muffled din like children playing in a discarded refrigerator.

After adjusting the microphone at the podium, the Mistress of Ceremonies spoke. “Our earth is changing and we must change with it. We are The Mothers of Invention!” She paused to allow the surge of feverish applause to wash over her. “In the civilized world the birth rate is dropping even as the children we produce are increasingly affected by various disorders.” She pulled her shoulders back and assumed a defiant stance. “How many mothers here today have children with Attention Deficit Disorder? Let's see a show of hands. How many with children who have uncontrollable facial and body tics? Autism? Anorexia? Bulimia? Obesity?”

Wave after wave of female hands rose to the air. Some mothers waved both hands. The M.C. paused and her eyes swept the audience before she continued. “Do your children spend hours in front of the computer? Hours in front of the television?” Her questioning was relentless and edged with maternal vengeance. “Who relish violence and never ride their bikes? Who resist peer pressure by killing their classmates?”

The mothers remembered and were quickly at their limit. They nodded their heads, gritted their teeth and clamped their rectums tightly shut in angry agreement.

Satisfied with the tumult, the speaker looked to her right. “It is my great honor to present today a mother who has fought against impossible odds and triumphed. As you know, her son, Dr. V. Newt Matra, perfected laboratory-grown skin for burn victims. Through foresight, careful manipulation of her child's emotions, artful management of his destructive impulses and little property damage or loss of life, she has raised a child who is giving something back to the world. I present to you, the Mothers of Invention Award for Outstanding Mother of the Year, Kali Matra.”

A petite matron in a crisp linen suit rose to accept her award. She hugged the M.C., who whispered encouragement in her ear. Ms. Matra dabbed her eyes and turned to face the women from the podium. As always, the honoree began at the beginning. The women expected this. The following is her story, in her words:

“I’ve cheated on my husband. Yes, and lied to the authorities, and risked the lives of my family.” Sighs and hissing whispers echoed from the audience. “Yes, yes, it’s true. But if I hadn’t, my son would be dead. And you might be, too. His invention has saved countless lives. My son, Newt. Yes, he has. But first he had burning to do.

“I conceived him on an ordinary Saturday morning. The mail arrived at the usual time. ‘National Geographic!’ I yelled up to my husband. When we married, Ken and I each had a collection of the magazine stretching back to our childhoods. There was something magical about the photographs, and it was easy to get lost in both the micro and the macro of those other worlds.

“I spread the enclosed map of the earth's rainforests on the dining room table. It was a composite of the earth taken by satellite from the cool stillness of space, but the earth was ablaze. No longer a hopeful watery blue and green ball, it held streaks of blazing orange with swirls of smoke sending off warning signals to any interested parties. I started sweating then.

“My husband approached me from behind. He brushed his palms across my breasts, barely touching. My nipples reached out for his fingertips, ready. ‘Hmmm, Kali, what's gotten you so hot and sweaty?’

"‘The destruction of the rainforests and the widening hole in our atmosphere,’ I said.

“I found it difficult to breath, but spread my legs anyway. With palms flat on the table and my knees slightly bent, I continued to catch glimpses through half-closed eyes of the arc of fire encircling our world. I could smell the musky sizzle of primeval forests and feel the hot breath of destruction on my skin. The flame, the burning torch between my legs, burning hole in the ozone, burning, burning.

"‘Burn, baby, burn,’ my husband said.

“My heartburn began shortly thereafter. And not long after that the doctor confirmed my pregnancy. I was huge with my son and he wouldn't be still, always pressing, always hungry. But when I fed him, it was never enough, never the right food. So he'd punish me by setting fires in my gut. He'd make the heat rise up my esophagus, searing delicate tissue. I never farted in my last trimester, only belched the fiery rebellion of my precious pyromaniac. I complained to my husband of my physical discomfort.

"‘Native-American women have babies by themselves in the woods,’ he said.

“Newt was born and wore sunglasses as he lay on a tanning bed at the hospital. His first word was hot. I learned to hide the matches, and we bricked in the fireplace. He ignited dry tinder by aiming the sun's rays through the thick bottom of a highball glass, and small fires appeared around the backyard.

“To teach him the effects of fiery destruction, we followed fire trucks all over the city. On the scene, Newt's eyes glowed satanically like a bad Polaroid. The local firemen laughed when I asked them to teach my 3-year-old fire safety. I had no other choice but to seduce the fire captain. Newt's backyard fires were soon halted by strategically dug trenches and artful backfires.

"‘A well-planned burn can lead to new growth,’ the captain promised.

“The neighbors complained of the smoke. We moved. Newt joined the boy scouts. A raging forest fire appeared near his troop's campsite.

"‘Send him to military school,’ my husband said.

“One day at the library, Newt saw a horribly scarred man. I told him the story of the boy whose father set him afire while he slept. The child lived encased in skin that would not grow with him.

"‘His father did it,’ Newt said, repeating it to himself.

“Later that day, I smelled burning fur and heard high-pitched squeaks. He was experimenting with his hamster.

"‘Commit him,’ my husband said.

“We visited a local burn unit. I slept with the head resident. Soon our basement was outfitted with a full-scale lab and mini burn unit. Experiments continued on rodents and advanced to cats and dogs.

"‘Fetal cells are engines of life. They inspire,’ Newt said. ‘A well-planned burn can lead to new growth.’

“I watched a documentary on glacial melt. The hole in the ozone liquefied the polar caps. Huge chunks of ancient ice sloughed off the maternal core.

"‘I'd like a chaste daughter who would adore me,’ my husband said. He stroked my frigid thighs.

The resulting oceanic slush raised goose bumps on my flesh. Meltdown.

“My daughter was born too soon and at home. Her fingers and lips turned cold and blue. Huge head with watery defrosting matter inside. What could I do? There was still magic in her brainless embryonic cells. I let my son have her.

“I let Newt have his father, too. My husband and I had tried hot, we had tried cold — there was no in-between, you see? Asleep when the fire was set, his pain was brief, and we rescued him quickly. Newt held his father's hand in the recovery room.

"‘My son. Burning . . . son,’ my husband said.

“His daughter's cellular glue and his son's burning love saved him. It brought us together as a family.”

The screen behind Ms. Matra lit up with a larger-than-life family portrait of Newt embracing both his parents, who stand on either side of him. His father smiles at the camera, but Newt and his mother are smiling at each other. Kali swept her hand toward the screen, and continued, her voice resolute:

“This, too, can be yours. Take account of your child’s inclinations. Don’t turn away from the bad, turn the bad your way. Do whatever it takes: lie, steal, or cheat for your child. Your children. They are our future, and we can do it. We are their mothers, we are the Mothers of Invention!”

The audience stood as one, their hope for their children renewed. They surrounded Kali, the victorious mother. Each woman clapped louder than the next, doting on the impossible, planning to divert the inevitable with her mothering energy.


Sandra Ramos O'Briant's work has appeared in LiteraryMama, Whistling Shade, Flashquake, Café Irreal, La Herencia, latinola.com, In Posse (12/10) and The Copperfield Review. In addition, her short stories have been anthologized in Best Lesbian Love Stories of 2004, What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (University of Texas Press, Spring 2007), Latinos in Lotus Land: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature, (Bilingual Press, 2008), and Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery (Arte Publico  (2009), and The Mom Egg (Half Shell Press, 2010). Her story, "Lounge Lizards," appeared in Issue #11 of The Cafe Irreal.