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Bony stone rises up on either side of the path, looks down its nose at me. I walk to a bench and sit down, feeling raindrops stain my pants, even as I try to wipe them away. I look at her, seeing her so beautiful, perfect, round eyes and sloping shoulders. The marble still shows through her face, though. Right now I just can’t deal with myself so in my mind I crease my corners and cut off my loose threads and throw myself into a trash can.
My mom used to make me mouse pancakes on Monday mornings when I was little, you know, the ones with three ovular blobs that run together to make pigs or turtles instead. She always put too much water in the batter because she never measured anything. They sizzled in our scratched pan that had three small rings around the dot in the center.
She would wear her purple robe with pink flowers and we would get so caught up in pancakes and being best friends that sometimes I wouldn’t go to school. But that was okay then because everybody knew that Monday was the worst day of the week when your whole body still slept. Mom did, anyhow. She knew everything. She could say the alphabet backwards and name every single bone you had in your hand.
She wore pearls hooked into her ears that swayed when she talked. They were the pale pink of my sheets – traded them for a ring, she said. Once, when she had gone to sleep, I came into her room and took them off her dresser. I pressed the metal to my ears. They wouldn’t hook, so I stabbed and poked until she woke up to a single dot of blood on each of my earlobes.
One of my teachers who had a mole on her chin would make my mom cry when she called. When her knuckles would turn white against the twisted phone wire I would try to wrap my mind around the curlicues.
She took me to the zoo when the weather was blue and spotless. The bears and the tigers all stood by the doors of their cages. Their heads bowed, they watched Mom and me, the queen and the princess. We had come to rescue them from their cages, where they lay in mud and discarded leaves, day after day.
I stood in front of the monkey’s cage because my mom had said she was his uncle. I would have taken him home, and held his hand as he crossed the street. He’d have loved the bathtub, and would have sat for hours in the hairy water until his fingers and toes turned to prunes.
His rusty face looked at me, with his long, dark eyelashes. I put my hands between the bars to touch him and Mom laughed and he snarled. Our people had revolted against us, but I was still a princess and she was still a queen.
“Baby, I can’t. Not today. My brain is fried.” She closed her eyes, tugged on her hair.
We fried eggs and bacon. Not brains, and most certainly not dentist appointments.
The dentist would miss me today. He would sit in his bubblegum chair and think about my teeth, flossed and not there. I whined and she sighed, turned over. Her hair splayed across her pillow in yellow hills. I twirled a strand around my finger, rubbed it against my cheek. Swatting my hand away, she told me to please oh God just go away. I crawled into my bed and tried to sleep like her.
I had this dream where I was trapped in a revolving door. The door was entirely ours, sitting in the living room. I could see her on the other side of the pale glass, balanced on piles of clouds. Her face was blurred.
And then she was in there, pushing with me. The door started to creak, turning slowly. We pushed with all our strength, arms throbbing against tight shirts, shoving our legs against the ground. The door spun. The ground flew beneath us and we ran through the air with a revolving door – around and around and around for the rest of the evening.
The door slammed. My feet felt cold against the tile floor as I threw off the covers and walked towards the kitchen. I could see it, her arm stretched out against the frame clumsily, curses under her breath at the steps she had to walk and the aching feet she had to take them with. Black curtains covered the sky for her, to be yanked off in the morning just in time to keep the world spinning. She tossed her shoes against the couch.
“Long night,” she said, smiling with one side of her mouth, “Get me some water, honey, why don’t you?”
The glass trembled in her hand as she took it. I looked at her over the bags on my eyes. Just looked. A rooster crowed somewhere outside, once, twice, three times.
“What? . . . Don’t – oh stop, just stop. Don’t you do this to me,” she said. “What do you want?” – hissing now – “Don’t . . . Please. I just can’t handle . . .”
I smelled her hair, sour, dried up. Then I pushed through the black curtains that covered the sky and didn’t come back until morning, when we were making watered-down pancakes shaped like animals.
I talk to her now, tell her all these things.
“Mom,” I say.
“I miss you.”
She probably got older, did the same things, loved me. Maybe she moved to a nursing home when she outgrew herself. Someone probably played bingo with her and dressed her in robes with pink flowers. Gave her pills to take three times a day to stop thinking and aching, almost as if they were the same thing. They must have been so shiny – tan capsules encased in hard plastic that slid down her throat like words.
I just can’t handle life anymore. So this time I really do – I ball it up, crumpling the edges, throwing it away, and I lay down beside her to sleep.