Tell the Mothers We’re Ready by DS Levy
Her room’s sunny and warm, pleasant.
Outside: -10 degrees.
Ma’s wearing a blouse I bought her for Mother’s Day. Blue and lavender, with tiny violets, her favorite. A brownish stain on the neckline, which I ignore. Also, a thick, woolen sweater and a heavy blanket over her lap.
You look nice today, ma.
I tidy up, always do. I fluff her pillows, tuck in the sheets.
Not too tight. Cramps my toes.
They’re mean to me.
Who is, ma?
Them. The ones who come and go.
Always mixing up my pills. Every night instead of the red ones, they give me the blue ones.
You’re supposed to take the blue ones at night.
They never listen.
I bend over to pick up a used tissue. Standing up, I look outside her window at the plastic bird feeder. It’s always full. I’ve asked her before who fills it. Once, she told me the Confederate boy. Another time, Your mother. When I said, You, ma? she waved her hand, shook her curly gray head, disgusted.
How was breakfast?
She slouches, sighs.
Coffee’s brown water. Eggs are runny.
Her arms are thinner than ever. Some of the delicate limbs on her beloved birch tree are thicker. She doesn’t bother watching the birds, but that birch outside her window is her friend.
I watch the birds for a few seconds. Big, fat black birds. They scavenge seed on the snowy ground, while sparrows and finches bump each other off the feeder’s narrow edge. The black birds are so big and fat, it’s as if they’ve exploded into dark balls. I read somewhere they fluff their feathers to trap heat and slow their metabolism to conserve energy.
I push her wheelchair over to the window.
I didn’t sleep. I’m tired.
Every morning, in my car, I stare at the road between here and there. I stay in my lane. Double yellow lines: do not pass. Do not collect money, do not go. Follow the road.
I sit on the edge of her bed, wrinkling the coverlet I’ve just straightened, take her hand in mine, look at her brown spots. If we could connect them, I wonder, might we find our way? We used to joke how one looked like the state of Ohio, another like Texas. Her eyes are milky blue.
Your mother stopped by last night.
I told her she needs new shoes. They squeak.
I feel my hips and thighs spilling over the edge. She doesn’t eat, but I do. She always joked that when she was pregnant with me she ate for three: her, me and her mother, who kept telling her she needed to eat. I must be like those black birds, I think, fluffing myself to slow my metabolism, conserve energy. Because this is nothing. I know that once she flies off and leaves me, I’ll want to take off after her. I’ll hit that damn window over and over trying to follow.
You know the women in the social hall, ma?
No, not really.
There’s Bertha, and Jeanne, and Camilla, but I only know their names. They don’t even know themselves. Only Jeanne’s children come to visit. Last week, I gave Bertha and Camilla the rest of Ma’s candy. They gobbled it like the squirrels outside this window.
I was a mother once myself, you know.
You still are.
Look at that bird out there.
It must be a mother.
Why’s that, ma?
I don’t know. Don’t remember. Tell the mothers we’re ready.
And where might she go? She closes her eyes, lets her head drop to her chest. Napping, she looks like a gnarled tree branch. I sit and wait, watch the birds hunker down beside each other in the snow, fat black balls facing the sun. Where do they go when night falls? How do they make it? Maybe the one she calls my mother would know.
DS Levy has had work published in Little Fiction, MoonPark Review, Parhelion Literary Magazine, Cotton Xenomorph, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, Brevity, and others. Her collection of flash fiction, A Binary Heart, was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press. On Twitter @DSLevy1