My mother has a string of imitation pearls: they are not real. They have not been gathered from the bottom of the ocean by the boys who dive at a depth of 8 to 20 fathoms and can hold their breath for up to an hour.

In terms of her characteristics and structure, my mother has thin milky skin, the pads of her feet have a scratched and delicate luster, her emotions are irregularly shaped in very fine layers, the interplay of the veins on her legs form beautiful colors, she both absorbs and reflects light.

As I am drawing at the kitchen table, my mother is standing at the sink peeling black pearls for dinner which are very expensive because they are so rare thinking: how did I end up in this life as a pearl peeler?

Did you know you can bully an oyster into forming a pearl? She says as she puts me to bed. Just lock it in a cage submerge the cage underwater imprison the oyster in the cage for several years in cold total darkness until it forms a pearl of desirable thickness.

There is a value system to mothers, determined by a special unit of weight called the mother grain. In general, the value of the mother increases with the square of the weight. My mother is marred, prismatic, Baroque; when you were forming inside me, she says, it was like the most irritating foreign matter. An endoscope is an x-ray machine that shows the center of a mother, so you can distinguish the genuine mother from the non-genuine. 

She believes it is better not to own the real thing there is less need to worry about the pearl thieves who tear the pearls right off the woman’s neck in the process slitting the woman’s throat.

Care of pearls: by now it should be apparent that my aim with these blended reflections is to create the many layers of meaning that we think of when we use the word “mother.”

In my drawing the boys are diving for imitation pearls to sustain the large imitation pearl industry the boys are from Ceylon Japan India Burma the boys and the pearls are both representations a representation has but a fraction of the value of the real the boys are not from anywhere we have almost destroyed the market for mothers so the boys have no mothers anymore they must wear the pearls themselves the pearls are not real the boys are not real but these boys can hold their breath forever.

Alistair McCartney is the author of two cross-genre novels The Disintegrations (2017) and The End of The World Book (2008), both published with University of Wisconsin Press. The Disintegrations is the winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. TEOTWB was a finalist for the PEN USA Fiction Award and the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White debut fiction award. Other work has appeared in journals such as 3:AM, Fence, Animal Shelter, 1913, Gertrude and Bloom. Originally from Australia, he live in Los Angeles, where he teaches fiction in Antioch University's MFA program and directs their undergraduate creative writing concentration.



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Hotel is a magazine for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. The magazine is bi-annual, the online archive is updated periodically.

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