Then, on a night that’s moon had snapped back the curtain of day, there was only the inhale. I held her hand, but I didn’t want to. It was both low tide and desert, but I needed to be the son I’d meant to be. Entire lives were lived inside the pause between inhale and exhale—my sister had birthed a child with such a life, so I knew to wait, to vacuum as much of the world as I could into this pocket of still. Hours before the sky was stuffed with clouds and we wondered if we should wait, but now, the stars stitched the dark to the sky.
I moved my mother’s hand so it rest on her chest and my sister did the same with the one she held. My sister and I hadn’t been this close in twenty years, and she was still a mouthful of braces and cloud of Aqua Net to me. It was one of those moments you know you’ll never forget, and I wanted it to wreck me—bend me back, or fling me, face first. I wanted to be gutted by that scattering of stars, skinned by the moon’s scythe. My mother was now just a body, but I never felt more like a child.
Outside, frost glittered on the tips of the knee-high grass. There were dark patches where the cows had suffocated the grass with their massive bodies. There was still the scarecrow we’d built decades earlier, the frayed sleeves of my father’s old flannel shirt fussed about its broomstick arms.
In the summer my sister and I were more tornado than teenager, we found a dead dog just past the scarecrow. The lips had retreated the mouth into a permanent snarl. The thin red cord of what’s inside all that was left of the tail. Candy pink entrails curled and coiled into an impossible equation on the grass. We said nothing about the dog to our mother, even when a family from the next block came by with a Missing poster.
Each morning we pulled on sweatshirts and boots and visited the dog. We stuffed our noses into our collars as the tissue unraveled and organs liquefied, swatted at the flies that flitted and fussed. We waited for our mother to call us into the house for chores or an appointment with whatever doctor was trying to fix her, but the air was more full of scent than sound. We poked at the bloated carcass, groaned at the leakage and white blip of bodies beginning life. We skewered slugs with twigs and flung them onto the road. My sister ripped a snail from its house and slipped the shell in her pocket.
We didn’t say much during that week. By the end of the summer my sister had been raped and I’d decided she asked for it. My father moved so far away we’d have to travel two time zones to show him who were becoming. My mother offered a new list of diagnoses like tiny gifts of Why. With the dog, it didn’t take long for the earth to take back what it gave, but it would give us decades to suffer what my mother would finally die of.
My sister pressed her ear to my mother’s lips. The lamp flared in her eyes like buoys too distant to offer any hope. My mother’s eyes were already closed, but my sister touched them as if she was still watching. There was too much to scream about so we stuffed our throats full of swallow.
Kami Westhoff’s chapbook, Sleepwalker, was the recipient of Minerva's Rising's Dare to Be Contest and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including Meridian, Carve, Third Coast, The Pinch, Passages North, Redivider, New South Review, and West Branch. She teaches Creative Writing at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA.