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written by: Kindra M. Austin
In a powder blue bathroom,
and slick with condensation,
Mother stood outside the spray
Her bare ass trembled.
I was afraid
to see her
and prayed she wouldn’t
I imagined her mouth
a damp cavern thick with ghosts
she’d failed to swallow as a child.
Did they dance upon her tongue,
Mother cried, “I feel like I’m dying.”
I bit my fingers, waiting.
She hadn’t been born with a long life line.
I’d studied her empty palms—
ran my fingers
along those thin paths,
Dad wrapped a towel around her shoulders.
I wished the towel into a cape.
Mother went on holiday.
We visited her,
in a sterile suite with cold floors,
and an even colder window that wouldn’t
She wore brown, non-skid socks,
and her own pink housecoat.
I noticed the regrowth of leg hairs.
We smiled over breakfast, but her eyes
when she said she’d come home soon.
Still, I remained optimistic for Sister’s sake.
I don’t remember when Mother came home.
she was just there.
But not all of her.
The ghosts in her mouth did all the speaking.
I imagined they’d tied her up,
and cast her further into darkness.
Mother had always been afraid of being buried—
said she didn’t like the cold blackness,
as if she’d been buried before.
I suppose she had.
At a kitchen table, she wept into her hands,
ignoring a perfect cup of coffee,
Dad had tried to kill her again.
“You’re crazy,” he said.
“You and your dad are both trying to kill me.”
Sister and I sat in the car,
off the garage door,
and the fall moon
shone in through the rear window.
My heart beat its cage.
“When’s she coming back?”
“Pretty soon,” I answered.
Mother and Dad in Grandma’s kitchen,
beef stew supper
with heavy mental words,
and killer fists.
Mother staggered soberly
across the well shorn lawn,
one hand massaging
the back of her slick head.
She fell inside the car and said,
“I’m all wet.”
Sister and I cried
all the long way home.
Dad wondered, “Where were you?”
We’d been out,
looking for him.
“I want to go to sleep,” Mother begged.
“What happened to you?”
She didn’t know.
Dad walked Mother
up and down the dim lit hallway
until she remembered.
Something hard had
come down upon her head,
and then she was swimming—
or sinking to the bottom of the in-ground pool.
She heard a woman’s voice. My grandma’s.
Mother was dragged
out the water and told to go home.
“Your dad tried to kill me,” she said.
“Kindra, do you remember?”
I’d told her yes
when I was thirteen,
but I still don’t know.
my mother is dead,
and she’d died always
Are my memories mine,
or only sinister suggestions
made by a woman
who suffered from ghosts in her mouth?
I wish I could feel things with certainty.
I can barely breathe when I think
I’ve made up my mind.