by K.B. Carle

I wish Katherine would hurry up and die.

But no, instead she pretends to listen to her son start sentences with no endings. His hands, chewed cuticles wrapped in Band-Aids, play with the loose folds of skin blanketing her left hand. She tastes the whiskey and peppermint on his breath when she pulls a bit of air between her parted lips. Same way she liked to smoke cigarettes between the moment her daddy died and the man that would become her husband admitted that he hated their first kiss. 

The air gets lost working its way to her lungs. 

She likes to think of her body as a broken network of a machine long discarded in someone’s unfinished basement that floods when it rains. Severed wires left in tangles and knots not even the doctors can fix. Not even her son, who’s managed to find some tears to shed because, maybe, he misses the tightness of her skin or has come to the realization that Katherine will die sometime today. She doesn’t know and neither do I, but she’s not holding me in her gaze, searching for last-minute answers. 

Just like I’m not here out of a sense of moral obligation. 

I’m watching her looking at me because I enjoy listening to her breathing slow. How the ease of something so natural becomes complicated and impossible. The way her fingers twitch in her son’s grasp, not out of a need for closeness, but a want to escape me. Like she could just get up and walk out of her hospital room, abandoning her heart monitor and supply of oxygen if only her son would let her go. 

Like I wouldn’t stick my bare-bone leg out from my black cloak and trip her as she walked out. Laugh as she falls, dying somewhere between her head slipping through the doorway and face-planting on the cold tile of the hospital floor. 

Her lips roll in on themselves, whole face a cave-in, and somewhere beneath the rubble of her skin lies her skull. Sometimes, the dying will use their last breath to tell me no, to beg me to stay away which, honestly, hurts my feelings. 

But not Katherine. 

She uses what’s left somewhere in her lungs to tell her son to shut up. 

“Oh, mom.” He whines the same way when he was five and I came for his rabbit tucked behind the radiator of their apartment. 

They go into this quiet that haunts their family for generations, when something needs to be said but no one wants to be branded with the memory of being the one to say it. Same quiet that happened the day Katherine’s husband placed one hand on the part of her leg not covered in his favorite butterfly-print dress, the one she wore for luck, and announced his cancer diagnosis. 

The quiet her mother and aunt share, lingering outside of her bedroom door, hands gripping the doorknob or each other’s, wondering who should tell her that her father died in the night of an aneurysm that burst like a single firework just for me. 

How she keeps all her love and hate for her child imprinted on her bones, prays that the weight of carrying this quiet will dry and disintegrate when they toss her body in a hole. 

Her words, not mine. 

“Mom,” her son clutches her hand in his, kissing the nails she’ll never know he filed and painted in “Rich Girls & Po-Boys.” 

Because just saying “blue” would be too complicated. 

Katherine closes her eyes to keep from seeing me move to her bedside. 

To keep from witnessing her son slip from child to man and back again. 

“I want you to know—” 

Her hand slips from his, presses against his cheek. 

“Oh mom, I—” 

I pinch what little air she tries to swallow, pull the strand between her lips, and unravel the tangles inside her.

K.B. Carle admits that she does laugh when someone trips and falls but would try to resist if the Grim Reaper were to trip someone trying to escape death. For more information visit her at her website or follow her on Twitter @kbcarle.
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