Places I Find My Mother by Cari Oleskewicz

Second prize winning story in the Best Opening Page competition

At the age of 14, I had begun applying Vicks Vapor Rub to my nose before falling asleep. This was a secret; I’d stolen the jar from my friend Beth’s bathroom. Its purpose was to protect me from the mess that would develop outside my bedroom while I slept.

Each morning, I woke to a sharp and pungent sting in my nostrils. By the time my alarm rang, the soothing scent of that well-intentioned eucalyptus balm would be long gone and instead I’d inhale a persistent smell of pee. It didn’t waft. It didn’t float. This odor punched. It pressed against me. I got out of bed feeling saturated; all yellow and watery.

This sting in my nose only got worse when I opened my bedroom door. It rushed through me, covering my bedding and settling on my clothes. I hated that it had slipped urgently into the one space that was mine. My bedroom. My private sanctuary was soiled.

Feces, sometimes still warm, stank of the distressed insides of the poor animal who left the mess. It smelled like the worst public toilet you’ve ever encountered. Every day, outside my bedroom.

Upstairs, there was no relief. The kitchen smells in my home were not those of bacon or cinnamon toast. As my mother readied herself for work, the entire house reeked of cigarette smoke and vanilla lace body spray, her preferred way to disguise the way we lived.

About the author: Cari Oleskewicz is a writer and poet based in Tampa who lives a rather nomadic but not completely unsettled life. Her work has been published in a number of online and print journals, including Literary Orphans, The Fourth River, PITH, Josephine Quarterly, Lightning Key Review, Mojave River Review, and Red Coyote Journal. Her poem “I Am the First To Hold a Virus” was recently included in the San Fedele Press publication of ART IN THE TIME OF COVID. Currently, she is completing a memoir and raising a 15-year-old daughter.