THE HIDE OF IT
There was a bloody cowhide in my mailbox. It was overflowing into other tenants’ mailboxes, and it was leaking blood. Either it was quartered or it was flanked.
I looked around. There was no one on my street.
It wasn’t a slick cowhide, not a pricey carpet one might buy at The Pottery Barn. I couldn’t put it on my floor and call it home décor. This hide was freshly off a cow, and I wondered where the rest was putrefying. The street became a pasture, overgrown.
On the hide, he’d safety-pinned every letter, note, text message, thought I’d ever left him. He’d gone the distance — even transcripts of my voicemails were embroidered on the skin.
“I love you I love you I love you Love.”
Written down like that, I could hear my own coo and I cringed.
He’d underlined, highlighted, written, “get real.” He used red ink and ink became spilled blood. Also pinned to the hide: a lock of hair. A dirty thong I’d left beneath the pillow. A sock. A recipe, my mother’s — chicken pasta. “Remember I bought the white wine.” I remembered — my hands shook like Parkinson’s. I didn’t want to fuck the food up for his mouth.
The cowhide arrived without context. It was our dead record of time. There was no Hallmark card to read. No thanks for all the memories. It wasn’t even gift-wrapped. It was just there, dripping over Verizon bills and coupons for ground beef and Head & Shoulders. I lugged it back inside and pinned it to my bedroom wall. The wall went red.
“Why were you muttering poor cow, poor cow all night?” Maxwell asked when the sun rose and the wall turned white again.
THE PERV IN MOTHER
I have always loved men who love their mothers too much. The boys love their moms unreasonably. Their mothers make them soup, run their fingers through their hair. They watch spoons enter their sons’ mouths. It is sick.
Maxwell was no exception. Maxwell loved his mother the most. Boys — I couldn’t seem to get enough. I didn’t want to share them with old women, the ones who squeezed them from their wombs and held them when they were still open, bald and light sensitive.
I kissed the boys on their chins and other areas. I sabotaged their excessive love for their moms, teasing when the women called. This was all the time.
“There goes your mother. Your mother the prude. Your mother puts night cream on her tongue, it’s disgusting. I saw her. She’s making her mouth up for you. Your mother told me she sleeps in the bed you slept in when you were ten, now that you’re gone.”
“Your mother buys your clothes. I rip them off you. I will tell your mother I rip them off you. I will tell on you to your mother and your mother will say not my boy.”
“Then which boy?” I’ll ask her, and she’ll say, “Definitely not mine.”
Nightly their phones buzzed with mother love.
My own mother said, “They are nice to you because they love their moms — be grateful, god.”
“A son is only as good as the love he showers on the woman who made him.”
“A son is only as great as the mother who made him.”
“A daughter is a pain in the ass and often a liability.”
For a season, when I was very young, my mother was a man. I thought the man I loved was my mother, and so he became a mother to me. My real mom the woman had no clue I kept a stand-in.
He was my teacher. He was teaching me how to be explicit in my work, and in his bed, we were doing very explicit things.
Secretly, he and I slept in a sunroom in the back of his house, and I called him mother and he called me child. It was an incest game we played.
Last year, I hired Maxwell to be my film editor. Maxwell loves the movies. We watched Woody Allen in Manhattan be a mother to a girl. He was a father to his own wife, after all. Soon Maxwell and I were sharing a bed, and he edited my images while I went outside to shoot the wavering grass. Later, he would suck on my breasts and tell me that I was the living sculpture version of the Virgin Mary. In-between our sessions under my sheets he would field mother calls. “Hello?” his mother would say, and Maxwell’s voice would shift into a new register when he said hello back.
I used to sleep with my mother in his bed. His mattress was firm and the cherry bed-frame was stable. I knew from observation that our setup was what most mothers could only dream of. Mothers knew they wanted this intimacy, but would never admit it, the well of desire they felt for their growing sons. This would make them perverse mothers, and was there anything worse than a pervy mom?
When I left my mother, I found myself replacing him with younger boys. Boys like Maxwell, who I would never mistake for my mother, who would want me to be their mother instead.
I liked refusing this position.
“Heat your own bone-broth.”
They missed their moms in other states.
“Let’s take a trip to Nashville,” Maxwell said.
“Anywhere but there, Max.”
All of the boys were so loved they were actually full of themselves. They didn’t know how to cook food. They didn’t know how to hard boil an egg. I stood by the stove and watched Maxwell stare at the water.
They sat and waited to be served. Maxwell was the worst. He never learned to brush his own hair.
“Maxwell,” I said, running my blue comb through his long curls. “Your mother has ruined you for me.”
I took him in my mouth and made him call me Marguerite.
He spoke to his mother every night on the telephone as he tore the bones away from a carcass. I was teaching him how to make soup.
“I love you mom,” he said, cuddling the phone to his ear, as his bicep stamped I Love You Mom stirred the pot.
Maxwell’s mother is very old. She wears a heart monitor. She visits us on Valentine’s Day, the day for fucking lovers to exchange pleasant greeting cards, to spend some hard earned money eating out.
Maxwell’s mother brings a greeting card for Maxwell.
“You are my sunshine.”
“You are my sunshine, too, Mom.”
Maxwell sits in the living room with his mother, Marguerite, and her heart monitor, the gentle whirring sound filling the space between them. She croons: “Maxwell, Maxwell, Maxi.”
“Maxi-pad,” I yell. “Come help me sweep.”
“How dare you let her pet name you after a menstrual pad? When will you leave this giant nightmare?”
On Maxwell’s family vacation, I found myself on a hot Canadian island with only the boy, his mother, and the tropical birds. I walked out of the hotel room Marguerite paid for holding her son’s hand. She got very close to us. She was gripping her nail file. I saw her try to stick it in my side, and then resist.
His mother said, “Good morning Maxwell,” and when he kissed my cheek she said, “I want a kiss, too, Max.” Very matter of fact. And he kissed her where she wanted.
“Mother,” Maxwell said and held me beneath the white sheet. “Come play catch with me?” I walked to the backyard. He threw his football at my stomach. My ovaries turned blue.
“Now I will never be a mother, Max.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julia Brennan is a writer and performer from central New York. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University, where she won the Frances Mason Harris ’26 manuscript award. Her work has been published in Hotel Amerika and Big Big Wednesday, among other publications, and is forthcoming in Quarterly West. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she teaches courses at Providence College.
ABOUT THE MANUSCRIPT
Hunting Season is part auto-fiction, part lyric essay, part lament, part film journal, part performance, part exorcism. It is a scathing report on the ways we love each other and an intimate investigation into how our intellectual and creative identities are tied up in this loving / wounding. Hunting Season holds many worlds inside of it. It is a hybrid mutant architecture. Like memory, its parts are rearrangeable. I began with the title. I arrived at graduate school with a stunted approach to my writing practice, the result of a damaging relationship with my undergraduate creative writing mentor. I was searching for a frame capable of holding many disparate pieces together. I spent the first year of grad school writing dark, surreal works that felt intimately related to me, though there was little narrative cohesion between them. When I found the voice of Anna (A), a brutal, bold, funny filmmaker, something began to come into focus. I took the pieces and began to rework them, grafting scenes together by cutting everything up, rearranging pieces of paper on my floor, and using chance operations (tarot cards, dice) to order the raw appendages. Through writing this book, I eviscerated the previous casualties of abusive mentorship. With A as my guide, I approached questions about victimization using narrative forms that challenge straightforward victim/perpetrator narratives.