“Mind you don’t trip on Mina,” she said but I would never not see Mina the cat, if she was a cat as big as me she would hold me on her furry lap and hug me and I would hug her back not like all those people I can’t touch who won’t touch me. Ever won’t touch, or hug. No, I would not mind Mina. Mina is in my mind whenever I see her or sometimes just feel her on her way to me, and we have the same stomach, always wanting more but our paws swatted down until we try to be in the mind of those others: please give us more, more, more. “Now, Lucy, don’t get agitated,” she will say or he will say or someone and I wrap my skin up tight like a bandage around me and my head is big and round and hot and burns inside like my hand on the stove. “I told you not! I told you not!” everyone all my life has been saying: not, not, not. Not, not, not. Not, not, not, not, not. No. But I love the work that makes us sit together like stringing and snapping beans they just keep coming into the bowl as soon as they leave until they are all gone. “Don’t eat too many of those, Lucy,” she says and I want to tell her that I am not eating them they are just suddenly in my mouth. But like always my words won’t come out except the first ones that huff with spit all around them: “I . . . I . . . I . . .” is all even though the others are lined up behind my mouth pushing and shoving to get to the front to say what I forgot. Sometimes one perfect one comes out yesterday or forever ago the zinnias in the garden so stiff and stemmed like okra hard to cut but then in the evening in the dark vase like the picture so happy, so “pretty,” I say and “yes they are” she says but I don’t know if she is my mother or my brother’s wife but she smiles and I would hug but not, not, not, you hug too hard. Now that she is sick there is always water rushing through my chest like a spring flood and when I see my brother’s face or hers or my mirror face my head is full of thunder so much can’t they hear? I want to roar at night tears knife my face I step back inside my body to get away from my eyes but they won’t stop I put the pillow over my head. Not, not, not, not, not. I try to help I burn things on the stove and cut my fingers. “It’s all right,” she says and her cool hand rises and falls on the quilt. “Just sit still here with me,” she says, “and everything will be fine. I just need to rest.” Maybe she is my sister, all her words are soft and she sleeps and I watch and that is what I do best to watch and make it safe to sleep so there won’t be any more not knowing what to do but I can’t watch all the time. Mina comes with me come here Mina and we sit on the side porch where shade is at noon and afternoon and there are old books there I saw her reading one time what are those she told me “food for thought” and when I see them I feel the sharp bellyache of the raw beans that got in my mouth so I had to eat them but it’s worse than that now there’s something like death in those books I am glad I can’t read I don’t know what they might do. Others have died and smelled like lilies or like ice milk and people bring flowers that already smell like the dead and close them up forever but these books smell like ashes. She will not die I will not let her and not to let her while she sleeps I sit here penning blue ink in every O in all these books so the words behind them can’t get out and they will make a fence around us so we stay inside until we can sit together with big bowls on our laps full of things to do and listen for him coming back from the fields or the mill. “Oh, oh, oh,” I heard her say once and bent to see the cutworms in the ear of corn and it is bad and they are endless but as long as I am doing death is not happening. As I fill them in they are black and I am blue and sometimes I wash up onto the lip of them like hot water in a pan I carry from the sink to the stove or carried or will carry the water swinging from one side to the other it just has to stop. But it is cool now and almost so dark I cannot see. I can feel Mina’s sleep in her head and now it’s in mine I can’t stop it drifting in from the sick room the fever of sleep she will not I will not let her. And dark washes up to the lip of the world and pours over everything I have done all the mouths I have closed and their ears through which they would suck our breath out if we spoke to them but we won’t say anything now we’ll just wait and see.
This story was published in The Altar Collective Volume V: Lullaby, Aug. 2014: 12-14.