Baby Hands

Baby Hands

They don’t let the dead talk. We’re too tired. They tell us to rest. To take in small breaths. They say, “Just breathe in thimblefuls of air. It’s all you need.” We don’t need the air, of course. Don’t need any of it, but they try to make things easier, not so hard.

I’m not sure if it took days or hours or minutes. I could smell them, each one of my children. Each separate but all together, too. Laundry powder and perfume and crushed mint, and under all that, skin powder and salty body odor.

They smelled like my life which sounds like a small thing. A sentimental thing. But you haven’t smelled your life yet, so you don’t know. You’ll see.

The closer I went to death, the further I went from life. Which is to say, I slipped back and back and back, losing my foothold in an easy way. I thought to myself, I had the actual thought, “This is fun.”

As I slipped away from life, it gathered in folds around me, like a queen’s pleated collar. So it happened that while I let go of life, I felt very alive. The now was fuzzy, like I was opening my eyes underwater and seeing the world in bobbing colors. Lenses clicked into place, and the past spun into focus sharp and bright, like breaking through the water’s skin up into a sunny day. You can’t believe how green the trees are, how blue the sky. You feel yourself prettier than you were under water, softer and brighter, and sun wipes its palms over your face and shoulders, drying your skin. You marvel for a few seconds. The white of the lifeguard stand poolside, snapping its fingers in clean lines. Ruffled swimsuits holding onto the bottoms of little girls, split peaches, their hair pulled into pigtails, dark and wet at the ends, tapered like paintbrushes. Colors so bright they wipe your eyeballs clean. That’s how dying is, how gathering up the past into a moment is.

Ice cream cones from the creamery, dripping down my arm and pooling in my elbow. The spot would still be tacky when I went to bed at night, and I’d suck it clean. The days were so hot then. Our bodies poured sweat, each of us a faucet set to on. Each of us lit up. Every day was church. Dandelions in shocking yellow. Running up grassy hills, lungs ready to burst like pomegranate seeds. The world was colored like handfuls of jewels. Grass bending into waxy hills under our feet.

When I was dying, I came to life in a burst, my life gathered into a moment.

I got to take my family with me as I slipped and it was a happiness, a real happiness, to take them with me to the creamery and to my boyhood bedroom, marbles rolling in the drawer of my nightstand.

They knew my mother knitting her wrinkled fingers into the afghans she never stopped making. They knew her with a metal teapot in her cobbled hand.

They didn’t know her with rollers all over her head, stirring oatmeal at the stove in the morning, an apron tied over her robe.

My mother’s face was soft, furred like a newborn animal with its eyes still shut. It always wore the rumpled, gentle look that we all wake up with. So soft it was a furry thing to see, and that’s not me speaking about her through the lens of death and memory. What I’m talking about here is her softness through life. All through her life and mine, too.

I got to take my kids with me, walking around in the shoeboxes of my life. I hadn’t ever gotten to put it all together, see, the way I did when I was dying. All at once, my children’s grownup smells and their laughter that, when they all laughed together, sounded like the pack of them turning in somersaults around the Christmas tree when they were kids. A cup of hot coffee perched on my knee. A hangover banging in my head. Hands pulling at the belt of my robe, at their mother’s fingers. Pushing strollers carrying plastic doll babies. Running fire engines across the hardwood floors.

Bands of light laid out on the wooden floors of my childhood home, golden as backlit honey jars on a sunny windowsill. Radiators rattling and pipes banging behind the walls. Teakettles. Snow falling outside the window over the sink.

God made snow so we’d believe in pretty things. As I died, I don’t know that I believed in God, but I’m sure I believed in pretty things. I don’t think the two things are so different.

The hard knot of my mother’s apron. Oatmeal sweet with swollen raisins and spoonfuls of brown sugar. Everything was blooming in quiet, tender blooms. I was in bloom. As I died, I went into full bloom, light passing over me and then lifting me away.

They cried. Their voices cracked. Their backs split apart bone plates when they bent into their laps, splitting at the seams. Like toy airplanes breaking up in the air, pieces falling away. I was okay, I wanted to tell them. And I was. I wished I could tell them. Keep their plastic airplanes afloat.

Death makes us gentle. I felt gentle like I was just out, walking around town. Loose as a puppet.

The kids, they were gentling, too. Growing more like their mother, long gone. She had a dark hollow at her throat where she could have set a nickel and held it in place. Her face was built from the finest net of bones. Too pretty to touch. I worried I’d knock the whole thing down, ruin it, if I wasn’t careful. She held my open hands on her face, holding them there when she was playful. When she wanted me to know she loved me. I loved her.

The children are pulling her up out of themselves, like it is they who are costumes, skins, and she the kernel, the seed inside.

They are finding a lighter way to speak to one another. It is a relief to them, to be kind and gentle with one another, but also, they are shy, like they are strangers meeting for the first time. They ask one another questions, small ones, about chicken stock or flu shots, and then they pause, eyes wide. Their eyes spin, earnest and wet with longing, and they offer the eyeballs to one another like cups of coffee or packages of donuts, wrapped up like hotdogs in buns.

Death softens our voices. It draws words from our mouths like narrow canoes swaying on easy water, soft under the warm sun. The kids lay out their words in the lengths of the boats, each boat held by one of them. Time is so finite, but expendable, too. It goes on forever, and forever is like the smell of your life. The kids are each walking with canoes on their hands, carrying one another’s words and their sighs and the silent whimpers they drop when they lose words. The kids steer past one another, guiding their own quiet, listening to the same thing. Water smacking the sides of the boats with the tiniest hands imaginable. Baby hands.

I had the prettiest cat when I was a boy. Gray stripes.

TBC…

Strengths and foibles. Aches and shames. Maybe build a story like Olive, where father is Olive and children are making small messes, emblematic of bigger ones. Complex relationships between kids.

On the day I died, on a day which was really still very early morning, just as the birds wake up but before they start singing (sing themselves awake?), the world nearly turned on its side. Wind kept people awake all night, whistling and blowing, and the sky was a metal gray in the morning, but the sun was out, pinning the clouds and painting them shades of white. Roads were strewn with debris. Power outages everywhere. It would be easy to say that my death was big and profound, and the world was coughing its indignance at my passing. But that would be a lie. I was not big or profound. My life was small and busy with things like naps and grilled cheese and cups of tea and my garden, rose petals under my trembling hands. I shook the world in very, very small ways. So there was no indignation, no grand gestures when I left. The wind was just there all night, in the same way that in the morning I was just not there any longer.

babies…didn’t love them at first. fed them because they needed to eat. because big people feed small people. walked them so they’d stop crying. then walked them past the crying, through to the other side, and then i just felt like i liked them tucked up against me like a flower bud thinking about unfolding but not ready yet, waiting for the sun to warm just a little more. knowing their mother lie in bed across the hall, a furry animal curled into her nest, the blankets pulpy. her face pulpy. her hairline damp. her smell turning to the sour side. the moon. the stars. the fan turning. the hairs on her legs growing. her hairless thighs. her haunches rising into a slope under the white sheet.

They had a hard time in the days after I died. The world was too sharp. The colors too bright. They couldn’t make sense of the world. It alternately careened around them, and they couldn’t bring themselves to care much, and dragged and dragged. In the space of a minute, they walked the distance between a giddiness light with love and gratitude and assurance that I had left only after a life well lived to paralyzing sadness, tears gripping them and panic running up the steps in their throats like the house was on fire and they had to get out. I can’t tell you that I sat beside them while they slept or visited them in their dreams. Those things are lies. The world was different for them, without me there. I knew how this was because I knew the world after my mother died, after their mother died. Time doesn’t ease pain or make things better. That, too, is a lie. What is it that happens. The world rearranges itself. The blocks fall down and then they reassemble in a bit of a different way. And things aren’t as pretty. But you get to be okay at telling yourself stories. You teach yourself the words and after some time, the stories become old stories and the words roll over your tongue like a balm. And you have the world in a different way and it’s not any better but it’s not so much worse that you can’t find a way to bear it. We bear things. We bear them because we don’t have a choice not to.

At first, when I first died, and they pictured me in heaven, with their mother or St. Peter, they were sometimes angry at me. Very angry, with tight, hot fists beating their chests from the inside and sharp words and slamming doors. They’d find a plastic cup of fruit in the fridge or a thing of tapioca and they would stand there, hand light on the door’s handle, cool as a cucumber on the outside, while they raged inside. Raged. That I could leave them. That I could just go. Before I finished the tapioca. That someone could go before the pudding went bad. Before they were done kissing my freckled forehead. They wanted to know where my hair would go. What would happen to it. Where would my hair go. Why would I ever leave them when I still had hair to smooth.

The colors were too bright. The world was in technicolor and their eyes were dusty with ash, marked with red and yellow cobwebs. No one is ever ready to let anyone go. It is not enough to say that a life full of love is a life well lived. It’s true, but it is not enough. They made me beautiful in my life, they made my life beautiful. And so I will stay in their lives, keeping their own beauty company, like a tree blows in the wind because the wind is there. I don’t have any songs to sing them when they can’t sleep at night, and I can’t visit them in their dreams and hold their hands, hands I knew before they knew themselves to be hands, when they are scared, but these aren’t things I did in life. It’s not how we were. So if we did not do these things in life but they knew, nonetheless, that I loved them, then they will know that I love them now, in death. Love is the most complicated thing in the world. It is the easiest, the simplest thing. It is a yawn or a sneeze, something the body does, kind of because it has to but mostly because it just does. It’s what a body does. 

How did they know I loved them then, in life? How could they be sure? They knew I loved them because I loved them. So how they will know now, how they will know I love them now? How can they be sure? They will know I love them because I love them.

Baby Hands

Baby Hands

They don’t let the dead talk. We’re too tired. They tell us to rest. To take small breaths. They say, “Just thimblefuls of air. It’s all you need.” They try to make things easy, not so hard.

The things I thought of before I died, with my family around me. I’m not sure if it was days or hours or minutes. I could smell them. Each of them separate but all together, too. Laundry and perfume and mint, and under that, body odor and the dry scent of of skin.

They smelled like my life which sounds like a small thing. A sentimental thing. But you haven’t smelled your life yet, so you don’t know. You’ll see.

The closer I went to death, the further I went from life. Which is to say, I slipped back and back and back, and as I slipped away, life gathered in folds around me. So it happened that while I was letting go of life, I felt very alive. The now was fuzzy, like opening my eyes underwater and seeing the world in bobbing colors, and the past spun into focus sharp and bright, like breaking through the water’s skin up into sunny day. You can’t believe how green the trees are, how blue the skies. You feel yourself prettier than you did under water, softer and brighter, and you have the chance to marvel for a few seconds. The white of the lifeguard stand poolside, snapping its fingers in clean lines. The ruffled swimsuits of the little girls, the colors so bright they wipe your eyeballs clean. That’s how dying is, how gathering up the past into a moment is.

Ice cream cones from the creamery, dripping down my arm and pooling in my elbow. It would still be tacky when you went to bed that night, and you’d suck the spot clean. The days were so hot. It doesn’t get like that anymore. Our bodies poured sweat, each of us a faucet set to on. Each of us lit up, brighter then the sun’s light even. It was like every day was church. Black and white twists. Grass bent under my feet. Pulling a metal button through the hook on my overalls.

When I was dying, I came to life in a burst, all my life gathered into a moment. It was magic.

I got to take my family with me as I slipped and it was a happiness, a real happiness, to take them with me to the creamery and to my boyhood bedroom, marbles rolling in the drawer of my nightstand.

They knew my mother knitting her wrinkled fingers into the afghans she never stopped making. They knew her with a dinner plate of food cut into cubes no bigger than peas.

They didn’t know her, not really. They didn’t know my mother with rollers all over her head, stirring oatmeal at the stove in the morning, an apron tied over her robe.

My mother’s face was always soft, furred like a newborn bunny or a peach on the windowsill. It always wore that rumpled, gentle look that we all wake up with. Most of us lose it in the first minutes we’re awake. She kept it all day. So soft it was furry to look at, and that’s not me speaking about her through the lens of death and memory. What I’m talking about here is her softness through life. All through her life and mine, too.

I got to take my kids with me, walking around in the shoeboxes of my life. I hadn’t ever gotten to put it all together, see, the way I did when I was dying. All at once, my children’s grownup smells and their laughter that, when they all laughed together, sounded like the pack of them turning in somersaults around the Christmas tree when they were kids. A cup of hot coffee perched on my knee. A hangover banging in my head. Hands pulling at my robe, at their mother’s fingers. Pushing strollers carrying plastic dollbabies and hook and ladders.

Bands of light laid out on the wooden floors of my childhood home, golden as backlit honey jars. Radiators rattling and pipes banging behind the walls. Teakettles. Snow falling outside the window over the sink.

God made snow so we’d believe in pretty things. As I died, I don’t know that I believed in God, but I know I believed in pretty things. And then I wonder how different the two are. Probably they’re not.

The hard knot of my mother’s apron. Oatmeal sweet with raisins and spoonfuls of brown sugar. Everything was blooming, quiet, tender blooms, in the air around me. I was blooming. As I died, I went into full bloom, light passing over me and then lifting me away.

They cried, their voices cracking. Like toy airplanes breaking up in the air, pieces falling away. I was okay, I wanted to tell them. And I was. I wished I could tell them. Keep their plastic airplanes afloat.

Death makes us gentle. I felt gentle like I was just out, walking around town. Balls of air, spun from white threads, spun at my elbows and knees and ankles. Loose as a puppet.

The kids, they were gentling, too. Growing furrier, like their mother, long gone. She had a dark hollow at her throat where she could have set a nickel and held it in place. Her face built from the finest net of bones. Too pretty to touch. I worried I’d knock the whole thing down, ruin it, if I wasn’t careful. She held my hands on her face, holding them there when she was playful. When she wanted me to know she loved me. I loved her.

The children are growing into her. They’re pulling her up out of themselves, like it is they who are the costumes, the skins, and she the kernel, the seed inside.

They are finding a lighter way to speak to one another. It is a relief to them, to be kind and gentle with one another, but also, they are shy, like they are strangers meeting for the first time. They ask one another questions, small ones, about chicken stock or flu shots, and then they pause, eyes wide. Their eyes spin and they offer them to one another like they are cups of coffee or packages of donuts, wrapped up like hotdogs in buns.

Death softens our voices. It draws our words out like narrow canoes swaying on easy water, soft under the warm sun, and the kids lay out their words into the lengths of the boats, each boat held by one of them. Time is so finite, but expendable. It goes on forever, and forever is like the smell of your life. The kids are each walking with canoes on their hands, carrying one another’s words and their sighs and the silent whimpers they drop when they lose words. The kids steer past one another, guiding their words and their quiet, listening to the same thing. Water smacking the sides of the boats with the tiniest hands imaginable. Baby hands.

I had the prettiest cat when I was a boy. Gray stripes.

TBC…

Strengths and foibles. Aches and shames. Maybe build a story like Olive, where father is Olive and children are making small messes, emblematic of bigger ones. Complex relationships between kids.

On the day I died, on a day which was really still very early morning, just as the birds wake up but before they start singing (sing themselves awake?), the world nearly turned on its side. Wind kept people awake all night, whistling and blowing, and the sky was a metal gray in the morning, but the sun was out, painting the clouds shades of white. Roads were strewn with debris. Power outtages everywhere. It would be easy to say that my death was big and profound, and the world was coughing out its indignance at my passing. But that would be a lie. I was not big or profound. My life was small and busy with things like naps and grilled cheese and cups of tea and my garden, rose petals aquiver under my trembling hands. I shook the world in very, very small ways. So there was no indignation, no grand gestures when I left. The wind was just there, as simply as I was just not there any longer.

 

The Night I Died

Baby Hands

They don’t let the dead talk. We’re too tired. But the things I thought of before I died, with my family around me. I don’t know if it was days or hours or minutes. I could smell them. Each of them separate but all together, too. I could smell vanilla and mint and skin and body odor and salt and spices. They smelled like my life which sounds like a small thing. A sentimental thing. But you haven’t smelled your life yet, so you don’t know. You’ll see. I didn’t know my life smelled so good. I wasn’t sad to leave it behind. I was too busy smelling it.

The closer I went to death, the further I went from life. Which is to say, I slipped back and back and back. I thought about ice cream cones from the creamery. We used to get when we were kids. Black and white twists. Grass bent under my feet. Pulling a button through the hook on my overalls.

When I was dying, I came to life in a burst, all my life gathered into a moment. It was magic. I got to take my family with me as I slipped and it was a happiness, a real happiness, to take them with me to the creamery and my boyhood bedroom, marbles rolling in the drawer of my nightstand. They didn’t know my mother with rollers all over her head, stirring oatmeal at the stove in the morning, an apron tied over her robe. My mother had the softest face I’ve ever known. It was always soft, always had that rumpled, gentle look that we all wake up with, but most of us lose by the time we’ve used the bathroom. It was so soft it was furry to look at, and that’s not me speaking about her through the lens of death and memory. What I’m talking about here is her softness through life, through her life and mine, too.

I have never seen a thing so pretty as bands of light on the wooden floor of my childhood home. Radiator rattling and pipes banging behind the walls. Water rolling with bubbles in a pot on the stove. Snow falling outside the window over the sink. God made snow so we’d believe in pretty things. As I die, I don’t know that I believe in God, but I know I believe in pretty things. And then I wonder how different the two are. Probably they’re not.

I got to take my kids with me, walking around in the shoeboxes of my life. I hadn’t ever gotten to put it all together, see, the way I did when I was dying. All at once, my children’s grownup smells and their laughter that, when they all laughed together, sounded like the pack of them turning in omersaults around the Christmas tree when they were kids. A cup of hot coffee on my knee. A hangover banging in my head.

The hard knot of my mother’s apron. Gummy oatmeal. Everything was blooming, quiet, tender blooms, in the air around me. I was blooming. As I died, I went into full bloom, light passing over me and then lifting me away.

They kept crying, their voices breaking. Like toy airplanes breaking up in the air, pieces falling away. I was okay, I wanted to tell them. And I was. I wished I could tell them. Keep their plastic airplanes afloat.

Death makes us gentle. I feel gentle like I spent the afternoon at the VFW bar, like nothing can get me down. In life, everything got me down. The kids bringing home bad report cards. A lost receipt. A nasty customer. Now I just take my time, walking around town, balls of air, spun from white threads, spinning at my elbows and knees and ankles. Loose as a puppet, wide smile to boot. And the kids, they are gentling, too. Growing furrier, like their mother. Long gone. A hollow at her throat where she could have set a nickel and held it. Her face built from the finest net of bones. Too pretty to touch, like I could knock the whole thing down, ruin everything, if I wasn’t careful. She held her hands to my face, when she was playful. When she wanted me to know she loved me. The children are growing into her. They’re pulling her up out of themselves, like it is they who are the costumes and she the kernel, the seed inside.

They are finding a way to speak to one another that is lighter with kindness. They say, “Is Mike going to talk to the kids or wait for you?” They pause, eyes wide and spinning. It is a relief to them, to spin their eyes, the eyes they’ve held stock still for days. Or hours. Or minutes. They spin them to one another and offer them like they are cups of coffee or packages of donuts, wrapped up like hotdogs in buns. “Maize is wonderful. Really. She is amazing. I’ve never know such a kindheart.” “Bobby, God. Of course there’s the baseball, but you know me. I don’t give a shit about that. It’s the way he looks after Jason. Always looking, scanning, finding him. Seeing what he needs. Bobby is a prince. He really is.” This is how they say I love you to one another, and it’s beautiful. The pictures get prettier and prettier, and the fur along the edges only just blends it together.

Death softens our voices. It draws our words out like long, narrow canoes swaying on gentle water, and the people the kids talk with, the people can lay out their words into the lengths of the boats, each boat held by one of them. They switch things. One minute, Sharon has the funeral home and Rose is calling the cousins. But then they switch and Rose will talk to the caterer if Molly can run to the house and let out Rosco. Rosco. I will miss Rosco as much as I will miss anyone. There’s time and more than enough room. Time is so finite but expendable, the way time gets when you have a good reason not to care if your boss is looking for you. The kids are each walking around with canoes on their hands, carrying one another’s words and their sighs and the silent whimpers when they lose words. They steer past one another, guiding their words and their quiet, listening to the same thing. Water smacking the sides of the boats with the tiniest hands imaginable. Baby hands.

I had the prettiest cat when I was a boy. Gray stripes.

Person with guitar? Reveal each child’s personality in one way or another. Develop each child, their strengths and foibles. Their aches and shames. Maybe build a story like Olive, where father is Olive and children are making small messes, emblematic of bigger ones. Complex relationships between kids.

To be continued…

Dinner Out

Juliette sat across from him, two uneven trails of dust and flakes from the bread bowl, one to him and the other to her. He talked about things, and the air pulled the words from his mouth and they floated. Medium well. The dock. Thanksgiving. He looked at her with such earnestness. It was a look thick and warm with sincerity and she felt like she was eating it. His look took up room in her mouth. Outside, she nodded but inside her brain raged, “Get out of my mouth! Take yourself and your ideas and your thoughts and your tenderness and get them out of my mouth!” She pictured herself raising an open palm and smacking him so hard that he fell from the chair, so fast that she couldn’t see pain pull apart his face, changing his landscape. Falling to the floor, cracking multiple bones in his face while she overturned her chair and fled the restaurant and the street and the town.

His eyes were wide and thick with meaning. The tablecloth was colored deeply, like spilled wine. His chewing sounds, the wet clopping of his tongue, his teeth knocking into his water glass. The dark curls on her head were shot through with static, currents of electricity pushing deeply into her skull. He covered her hand with his. It was too warm. Too tight and heavy and it didn’t feel fair, that he wanted so much from her. And still, she knew he wanted only a small smile, or a quick squeeze to his hand. It wasn’t much and it shamed her that she couldn’t give it to him, but still she was shot through with rage, his hand a heavy, furry paw on hers. She slid her hand out and squeezed her curls, the hair laden with electricity and pulsing into her scalp and temples and the nape of her neck.

They walk down the city street. It is evening and the air is warm. A hazy light, a muddied yellow, falls from the tall streetlights. The sidewalk is uneven and broken in places, overlapped and cracked like bad teeth. This makes the night more festive. Strollers in pairs and small gaggles touch one another, when they laugh or to squeeze an arm or steady a wife or a friend whose high heel as caught itself in a sidewalk crack. Outdoor cafes are held down with wrought iron tables and lit with votives and torches, bearing down and preparing themselves as they head into a raucous state. The married and the middle aged settle checks and finger through bills, turning from the group to count out the tip in bills.

Juliette and Michael walk, the cooler evening air sifting through the gaping holes in her crocheted wrap. ‘It should be enough,’ she thinks. The street glimmers with lit cigarettes and candle flames and waving votives, streetlights lighting upon silver earrings and flashing, teeth winking in the light from rolling headlights. Laughter breaks the night into manageable pieces, pieces the carousers can hold onto, pieces they can fit in their hands.

(Child hurt? Witnesses? Later, in the dark bedroom…)

Miss Reading

Ms. Reading

Mr. Hilt called this morning to check on me.

I called him at home, early in the morning. I told him I was sick. I needed a sub. I was sorry for the inconvenience. I got off the phone and put two fingers down my throat over the kitchen sink. I don’t like to tell lies. Then I really did feel tired so I put myself back to bed.

I wanted to hear his morning voice. I needed to know if it was furry with sleep or clear like morning icicles. His voice sounded just like it does at school. Maybe a little lower. I’m making that up. I don’t like to tell lies. Not big ones. But sometimes I do, and I usually make them so good that even I believe them.

My mother died before Christmas.

When I was a young girl, I developed early. Hair when I was eight and a bra at nine. She went from eyeing me with disdain to turning away from me with absolute revulsion. I got my period just before I turned ten, and by this time, her revulsion had turned to hate and it had arms and legs and yellow toenails. People don’t believe me when I say that, but I know what I know, and Mother hated me.

After I used the bathroom, just to pee even, she would go in after me and walk out waving her hand in front of her face, saying, “Jesus, Karen.” I just can’t believe she smelled anything. I just can’t. All the time she said, “Think you should get in that shower before bed, Karen,” and, “Make sure you brush those teeth.” I swear she thought I was retarded or close to it.

She bleached the crotch of my underwear whenever I had an accident with my period. Pink underwear, yellow ones. Printed with cherries or the days of the week. She poured bleach over just the crotch. I started throwing my underwear away in trash cans at school and once I didn’t have any left, I would go to Dry Goods to get more. She never asked where the new underwear came from when they went through the wash. It was fine with her as long as I kept the vile parts of me away from her.

She was sick for a few months before she died. It wasn’t a long illness by the time they found cancer riddled through her like birdshot. There was no grand moment near the end. She didn’t hold my face and I certainly didn’t hold hers. She didn’t ask for forgiveness or tell me she loved me, and since I didn’t love her, I didn’t tell her I loved her.

One night I took a tray with peas, applesauce sprinkled with cinnamon, and a cup of tea to her in the hospital bed set up in the dining room. I turned on the news for her and turned to leave and make my own dinner. She muted the TV and said, “One thing.” She stared at Jim Gardner’s moving lips on the TV. “When someone has to do things for me. That’s when.” And she turned up the volume.

So when it was close to the end, I spooned weak tea in her mouth and put on Jeopardy. I put pills in her mouth and slid my fingers in pushing them down her throat. Her mouth felt like a baby’s. Toothless, hard and wet gums, a dry tongue. I shuddered at the wetness. She didn’t reach for me and I didn’t touch her. I made myself stay in the same room in case she choked or vomited. She was gone by the time the hospice nurse arrived.

That night I had a dream that I was in the bathtub in a strange house. Strange hands fluttering all around me. I was so embarrassed when I looked down and saw that I was nude. Nausea started stacking blocks in my stomach and up my throat, but then a finger pushed a warm, soapy washcloth into my ear. It was the best thing I have ever felt in my life. Probably like what it feels like to be high on really good drugs. I slipped further down in the water and the soapy washcloth cleaned my face, going around my chin and passing over my forehead over and over.

Bus Accident

Sometimes she carried her sadness like a full water glass, neat and contained, see through but not troubling. Sometimes it was like a heavy plate of sliced watermelon, pulpy and bleeding, pink and garish. And it all was manageable, until she hit an age when it wasn’t. She woke up one morning at thirty in a bedroom painted blue, the shade dusty and soft as talcum powder but the color made her like sandpaper. This wasn’t a stepping stone. Nothing was following. She had signed on the dotted line without ever picking up a pen.

Shame bloomed in her arms and through the long parts of her, billowing like milk poured into a widemouthed cup of tea, petals of milk pealing. She couldn’t grow happiness. She said she wanted to but she was lying. She lied all the time. She didn’t know if she really wanted to be happy or if it was the thing to say. The hinge in her mind swung.

She went to the grocery store and picked out clumps of baby spinach leaves, using plastic tongs when people were around, her hand when they weren’t. She overbought produce. It was something she did. It satisfied her to open the fridge and see bags of lettuces and bowls of cut berries. Cut celery and carrots floating in chilly water. Cucumbers. Jewel colored peppers. Bananas on the counter. Apples. Tomatoes on the windowsill. She cut the fruits and vegetables down sometimes. Into stick and cubes. Sometimes she ate them. Sometimes she let them grow old and take on slime, losing their brightness, and then she tossed them and felt like a jerk.

She was on time for work each morning. Her office was only just across town, but she left a thirty minute window to be safe and also to make tea. Seven extra minutes was the most she’d ever needed, and that was the day when a school bus hit a deer, killing the deer and knocking the students around like pinballs on the loose. She drove past the scene and stopped her car at the corner. She saw the bus, kind of wonky on its side and ready to slip from the roadside. Blood rinsed the street dark and the deer was off to the side, its side split open like a piece of fruit, entrails shining, steaming on the cold morning. Children came from around the side of the bus, stumbling like little drinkers, rubbing their eyes into hot knots with tiny fists. Their shoulders, no bigger than plums, heaved, and snot and tears yellowed their faces and would be crusty in their curls and buzz cuts when they were popped into the bathtub with a grape popsicle that night. It was a special day, everyone safe and sound. Popsicles all around, even in the tub!

But in the morning, parents were still rolling contacts around on their eyeballs and flipping on dishwashers. Driving to work, anxious for coffee or to finish a report or to scope Jeannine’s apple ass. By the time parents were alerted and most were on the scene or sent an ambassador, which would take approximately fourteen minutes in a town this size, all children would be accounted for.

Adults from every office and store emerged before the parents, because this was their street. They flew around the children like birds of prey, fighting one another for the dead things left to stink on the roadside. They pulled any child, but the healthy, sweet ones with shiny hair first, into their arms, and rocked the babies and wiped little noses and sang songs in their throats. The adults felt so needed, such love swollen through them to wrap around babies, some who still slept with binkies, some who still wet their pants. Some who had wet their pants this morning. Every adult wore a crown that morning. She could see the jewels glistening in the chilled morning sun. Parents arrived and took their children, faces wan with worry, eyes warm once arms had been pulled on and knees thumped a little.

When she had seen the children disembarking the bus, she walked to the deer and lay her long coat over him, the best she could, so the children wouldn’t see the felled animal. She cried hard, hot tears of relief when she saw that he was dead. The moments after life has left a creature are that creature’s most beautiful moment, ar least for the onlooker. The deer was still warm and loose with leftover life and she could watch him and take in his eyelashes and the fine muscles on his face. His face was strong but the skin stretched so delicately that his skull could have been built with dandelion stems. She put her hand near the pool of blood, dipped a finger and touched it to her bottom lip.

Seven minutes late to work but no one was there. They were still at the accident scene. She peeled away a filter and put it in the plastic basket so coffee would be ready.