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New story, "Take a Leg"; excerpt

Friday 8/9/19

Bone weary is one word for it, yeah, yes if I’m trying to be formal, but that’s not my phrase anyway, it was my mom’s, and we called her the Starfish.


She’s where my “shutting it down” gene comes from, I think, but at least I try and start over, I always try and start over, and she just popped limbs. They had to keep taking them. That’s the verb doctors use for that. I went to school. I read. I read. Past tense. Isn’t it funny how it’s the same word for present and past on the page? It’s up to you to decide which it is. To know what it is, I guess. It’s not a decoder ring. It’s one or the other.


My sister Erika came up with the Starfish name when our mother asked us to help her die. “Just don’t switch the oxygen tank” she said, “pretend we are out.” Oh, is that it? That will do it, will it? And then we’ll just be fine? Should we watch as it happens or leave you in the room and close the door and try not to hear you coughing, gagging, because you are probably going to cough and gag a shit ton. Could probably hear it outside. Starfish wasn’t even an accurate name. We just thought they lost limbs. We didn’t know that starfish limbs grow back. Now that would have been fucking something to come into the room one day and see that mom had regenerated. And don’t think that she wouldn’t have told you all about it.


“You don’t need to be doing this, Mrs. Elden,” my contact says under the bleachers at Pammie’s softball games. This is who gives me life advice, heroin dealer at youth sporting events.


Black kid. Black guy. Early twenties. I don’t even do most of what I get from him. Only sometimes. I flush a bunch. Person of color. I call them POCs in my mind, like Pocks from Chicken Pox. I’m not racist. I just get so sick of the PC shit. See? PC, which isn’t far off from Pocks.


My best friend in high school was black. Debbie Mendricks. Which is pretty much a white girl name, as Darien, Connecticut as you get. We worked at an ice cream stand called The Drizzle on Top. She got fired because she wouldn’t bang the owner, some hairball with a wife who always called us his chocolate and vanilla double pack.


He wanted nothing to do with me, and when the Starfish died I burned the shack down, because there weren’t cameras on everything then. They thought Debbie did it. I was going to say the truth, but then she said that it was her, and she left, her whole family left the town. I don’t mean Pocks in a bad way. I mean it with sad irony. I’m going to stop saying it. I’m going to stop seeing this kid under the bleachers. I think his name is Harold.


The girls are gone now, but that means that they will be back sooner. It’s the worst when I know that they are going to go, but they are still with me. I want that part to be over with. I want them to be where they go, and me getting right again and the house right. I was an idiot at sixteen compared to Dailee. People say they look at their kids and they see themselves. I never have with Dailee. I look at her and I see who I would like to be for her. I don’t feel like I have a present version of myself. I have a past. But I like to think that the real human version of me is in the future. When DCF leaves with them, I do what I have to do, for what is supposed to be the last time, I recharge my phone, those are the first two things. I know they’re safe now. I had Dailee take pictures of where they stay before we started doing the Facetime. I tell her to pull her sister’s bed close to hers. You can’t trust people, not anywhere.

I don’t trust me. I trust them. When I’m on the floor Dailee will brush my hair. She used to just sit with me. “Why do you do this to yourself, mom? Don’t you know how much we love you?” I just ask if Pammie saw, but I know Dailee made sure she didn’t, she’d be at a friend’s, but I don’t know what she tells the friend’s parents, and they might be the ones who call so that the kids go again, or maybe Dailee calls, but I don’t think she looks at it as a chance to start over, like I do, but I know I am lying to myself, but who does that really hurt? My kids don’t get the lies. Unless they bounce off of me first. And I don’t think they do. They might. They probably do. I guess I know they do, only acting like I’m not sure used to feel a little better.


My mom had half a leg, and one arm at the end. It was like all of the energy from the parts of her that she lost went into her right hand, she’d point like crazy with it. “Can’t you come in and sit with me?” she’d say, but she made it sound like a statement, shaking her hand as she talked, fat finger sticking out.


“Sure mom,” I’d say, hoping she wouldn’t ask me to help her die, because I did love her. “You’re going to have kids” she’d sometimes tell me, “and nothing will matter more. Treat them that way.”


Nothing does matter more. She wasn’t right about a lot, but she was right about that. Nothing matters more, but that doesn’t mean there are not other things that end up looking like they matter more, that mean less but that take more of you, more of your strength, your energy, like that is what matters most to you, and almost everyone you ever knew will think that. And good fuck will strangers think it. Strangers can’t wait to think it.