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Still LIfe

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  • Still LIfe

    I keep a pair of glasses in a secret pocket deep inside me.
    With them I can look through my six-year old eyes again
    at that day so long ago and see her lying on the floor.
    I float above her, my arms treading the air
    while I wait for what is coming.
    My head is cocked a little, my eyes are straining
    to tell me more than I already know about that day.

    I don't remember the day of the week it happened,
    the month or even the season. The hour and date are gone,
    but with my glasses I can see the day I thought my mother died.

    I had walked home from school with a gaggle of kids.
    My friends peeled off one by one along the way,
    each to their various destination.
    Then it was down to me.
    I turn the knob and open my door,
    rattling my empty lunch box onto the counter,
    preoccupied by random boyish thoughts.

    Surely my younger sisters must have been there too
    but they never appear. There are only mom and me.
    Mom is lying oddly still on the kitchen floor.
    She looks like an abandoned doll or a dropped sock
    from a load of dried laundry still waiting
    to be folded during Perry Mason.
    She is always waiting there for me to find,
    all alone in the middle of the floor.

    I have never seen a grownup
    lying on the floor anywhere.
    Her motionless arms are splayed out
    and she is half turned on one side. One shoe
    is nearly off and her eyes are gently closed.
    The house is hushed and the air feels tight and dry.
    There is nothing in the world but the two of us.

    The scene looks as if it is printed on a celluloid sheet,
    the kind animators drew cartoons on.
    One single frame of her, in faded 1960's pale colors –
    motionless and silent; the subtitled ending, Finé
    may be floating overhead, but not in focus.

    "Momma?"
    Nothing.
    Again, “Momma?"
    Nothing.
    Grasping her elbow, I carefully tug at her arm.
    Nothing still.

    As I hold my breath, I feel the fear begin to crawl
    like ice up my legs to my chest. It is cold and heavy
    and it holds on to me so tightly I can hardly breathe.
    It scratches its way up to my throat.
    Thousands of tiny crystals of fear are becoming an iceberg.
    The iceberg tries to stop any sound from getting out of me;
    there is only enough air for a few squirming words to escape.

    A muted voice bleeds out, "Are you okay, Momma?"
    The small words fade away;
    the second hand is stuck somewhere and will not tic.
    Frantic thoughts begin to erupt in my head.

    Then, just like that, the projector whirrs to life,
    she lifts her head and life resumes as normally scheduled.
    She may have even said, "I hope I didn't scare you.”

    But my version of the scene ends when she stands up,
    no big finale, slap of the clapboards, bright lights or credits.
    It was over and she managed to stay alive after that.
    There was no explanation and it never happened again.

    So many years later I still put the glasses on and watch
    reruns of that afternoon, wondering what I may have missed.
    Holding it up to the light, I turn the memory over and over
    in my hand, squinting for resolution.
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