My mother spent the night at the mercy of the air. It was sweet air that
was killing her, up in her shoulders, then out through her mouth. It escaped
through her nose, for her own good. The doctors had promised quick recovery
and little stomach pain.
She could forget about the stomach for now. It was her shoulders that she
brought to her ears, trying to find a way in which to sooth without
stroking, to hold her own self. It came in thick waves, this pain, as she
traded the idea of her stitched up stomach and bloody groin, for the ease of
the collar bone and the strength to sit a way in her bed that inched of
relief. When she had it, she sat that way, still. She did not even cry then,
afraid the noise would remind the air where to go.
When the pain came back, she called for my father. She held my fatheršs
hand and squeezed. In their bed where we sat, my father said, "Here?" and
touched her shoulders, propped the pillows, and looked up at me. She looked
like she was shrugging when the pain came again. Again, when it disappeared,
she pulled down her underwear to show me the way they had stitched up her
My mother had not bled in that way for a long time. At first, when she
started to miss the blood, each week bled into the next, as if there were no
more seasons. She said it felt like that, that is felt sad, and there was
all this space just to walk without stopping.
She missed it, she said. She was dry down there. My motheršs stomach still
sloped a hill going backwards as it always had, but she was a broken
fountain after that, with all the same plumbing.
I was the wet one in the family. My underwear could not be mistaken in the
basement for my motheršs on the rack. When everything was drying, my panties
kept their stains. My motheršs delicates in her delicate washing bag came
back to her folded, unlike mine. I was a daydreamer who would smell my
stuff, my head between my legs, before sending it away.
After that, I had to wash her bloody undies. She was hunched over then in a
sick, sick way and there was no way of getting out of it. She was bleeding
again, uncyclical and nasty, milking the problem for all it was worth. When
the three of us, my father, her and I, lay in the bed, we could smell the
sweet air escape from her large frame.
It would be a long time until anyone would really want to touch her. My
father was stuck with a lump of a woman, crying and telling her own body to
stop, then to go, to make more of what it once had and to release, release
again. I had big wishes for her but also things I wanted, now that she was
down and there was really just one of us in the house who was the real,
There were places where all of us could have been, really. We were in the
bed because we thought it was what was best for her shoulders, but we could
have been elsewhere and wrong. I, for one, could have been sleeping. Or at
least fucking. The prospect of this for my father was far gone. There was no
way her insides were going to take it now that they were held in place so
lightly by stitches too small to count. My father would be getting none for
awhile. She was hunched over and her shoulders were stuck in a way that
would not let him inside her, not with all her large complaints.
The bed was big enough to hold the three of us. The headboard gave in a way
that she didnšt like.
"Prop pillows," she told us, and behind her we propped.
In her large white nightgown with the blood on the back, now blood on the
sheets, there was nowhere the blood would not go.
My father and I looked at each other. We knew she would cry if we left.
There was nothing we could do but press her shoulders down and make her hold
her breath. Let the sweet, sweet air bubble up inside her. Leave her to her
whole bed, alone with herself, smothered with herself. We were helping her,
one foot on the ocean of carpet already. It was a distance far away.
Wrapped up the way she was, and tied and then stitched, she knew it would
only hurt more if she cried. Once my father and I were two feet on the
carpet, we could no longer hear her.
Rachel Sherman is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia University. She has been published in Nerve, Conjunctions, 5_Trope, and StoryQuarterly. She lives in New York City.