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words by Andrew Toskin, writing as Niccolo Florence
photography by hikaru starr
Here's the original comic script:
Panel 1: We\u2019re standing under the boughs of a giant Christmas tree, the green
needles seeming to glow from the thousands of lights. Underneath stands a
life-size porcelain nativity scene.
\tTitle and Byline
\t\tMother Badger: Growing Up In a Sett
\t\twords by Niccolo Florence
\t\tphotography by hikaru starr
Panel 2: We see a playground slide\u2026 except it seems to be the only playground
equipment around. There are some trees and some patchy grass, but nothing else.
The slide\u2019s paint is losing its color, and the slide itself was designed with
too many unfriendly straight lines.
\tcaption: It was a time of innocence.
\tcaption: \u2026Saying that probably brings to mind images of romping in the
\tgrass, collecting bugs, rolling down hills, blowing dandelion seeds, which is
Panel 3: Pink and white tulips.
\tcaption: Not that those things didn\u2019t happen \u2014 they did \u2014 but my memory of
\tthose days isn\u2019t exactly boiling over with scenes of chasing dragonflies.
Panel 4: A Japanese paper lantern, split horizontally through the middle. It
dangles on the hinge of its last paper ribs. White light pours out onto the
\tcaption: It was a time of innocence, as in I thought it was perfectly normal
\tfor my mother to reach for a knife when she was angry.
\tcaption: She was less the protective mother hen and more the crazy mother
\tbadger: We were strange cubs in her sett, and she would crack open our skulls
\tand eat our brains whenever she noticed us skulking about.
\tcaption: She literally bit me once.
Panel 5: A lurid close shot of fish at the market. Their identical faces are
all silver-blue, but their bodies are glistening pink.
\tcaption: She threw my brother into a bath tub of scalding water when he
\tinterrupted her soap opera. I once asked her what was for dinner, and she
\tlocked me out of the house for 2 days.
Panel 6: Glass Christmas ornaments, mostly in reds and golds, lie all over the
\tcaption: I actually laughed and felt sorry for him when one of my friends
\tmentioned how his parents actually made dinner and listened to him
\tcaption: \u2026at least, during commercial breaks. Didn\u2019t they have the decency
\tto teach him to fend for himself?
\tcaption: It didn\u2019t occur to me until after I had to explain for the 3rd time
\thow I fell down an elevator shaft that maybe my friends weren\u2019t the ones
\tmissing out on something. Maybe it was me.
\tcaption: Maybe the tooth fairy usually gave kids money for their teeth instead
\tof a punch in the mouth. Maybe Santa Claus was real after all, but Mother
\tscared him away with her shotgun that one noisy Christmas Eve.
Panel 7: Another Christmas tree, this one with a strong blue and purple color
\tcaption: \u2026Or maybe he was a random drunk. I don\u2019t know.
\tcaption: I did wake up late that night, though, first to a loud clumsy
\tthumping through the ceiling, then someone singing and chuckling loudly to
\thimself. \u201c\u2026is coming to town. Ho! Ho ho!\u201d
\tcaption: I staggered sleepily down the hall to find out what was going on.
\tEven the tree lights were off, so it was dark; I could barely make out the
\tshape of a man moving about my living room, a shadow puppet sliding on top of
\tshadow puppets \u2014 but I could smell eggnog, with just a hint of manure, like
\the\u2019d been out drinking with reindeer all night.
Panel 8: Out on the porch, behind another Christmas tree, hang some kind of
handkerchief decorations. In the blur of the photo\u2019s bokeh, it almost looks
like a row of ghosts hanging from the eaves.
\tcaption: I never saw Mother rush past me, she just appeared. Burrowed up out
\tof the ground, mad as a wolverine. Thunder cracked, the whole house jumped in
\tfright, a spark lit up the room like a single colored frame in a longer
\tanimation reel of grays.
\tcaption: The buckshot only smashed the window, I think, but the strange man
\ttook the opportunity to dive through this new exit.
\tcaption: Like the shotgun, Mother spoke only once: \u201cDon\u2019t.\u201d And she shuffled
\ton back to her room.
Panel 9: The white outside wall of a shed. Rough rusty red holes have been
gouged into the wall, with rust streaking down the sides like blood.
Panel 10: Sproutlings emerge from the cracks in a tree stump. They are already
growing little pink buds.
\tcaption: Looking back, it makes me wonder how my sister Natalie could be so
\twell traveled, while I\u2019ve spent most of my life so far afraid of adventures\u2026
Panel 11: More trees decorated with Christmas lights. These aren\u2019t pine or fir,
though. It\u2019s a little hard to tell from the photo: The right third of the image
is filled with the texture of tree bark and winding green electrical wires, and
the rest of the photo is lost to bright orange lights in bokeh.
\tcaption: Mother was a minefield. If I wanted anything from her, I had to
\tapproach slowly, wave my metal detector in front of me, and gingerly test each
\tcaption: *Sometimes the mines moved.*
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