Dave Cowley CC
Your mother’s ghost swoops down from the ceiling vent wearing only a Bob Mackie jacket and her diaper.
Your brother and you are up late in the living room of her triple-wide. He, splayed in her aromatic recliner. You, collapsed on the couch. You’ve both spent the last three days sorting through her things.
“Well, hi!” says your brother, the favorite. The ghost of your mother floats cross-legged before him, ghostly eyes shining. Your brother always had that effect on her. He leaps up, heads to the kitchen. Now she hovers before you. You can’t breathe. You are dressed in her caftan, her slippers.
“Thank you,” you say. “For … letting us stay here.”
“You were always scared of everything.” She smiles. “Of me, too?”
Is that a serious question? “Don’t forget dumb,” you manage.
Last spring, you and she were going through old photos and documents. She said you didn’t have to look at the plastic-bagged set of your old report cards. Your grades were terrible. She could just throw them away, she said. She understood if you didn’t want to see. You’d made a big show of looking through them and laughing.
“Who wants mango juice?” your brother hollers now, even though you are only a few feet away from the kitchen. Your mother’s ghost floats closer. Was she angry you took her Disney-themed clothing and Heav’n’y Creatures figurines to the thrift store? That you’d left a thank you note to the neighbor whom you’d overheard calling her an old bat who couldn’t keep the weeds out of his eye-view? He was an asshole, but it was he and none of you who brought the mail to her door, dragged her trash cans to the curb each week.
The old dread has entered your bones. Your mother always saw through your bluster, your worldly persona. You were raised on hair-raising tales. La Llorona. The Man at the Dance with Chicken Feet. The evil woman who started to choke upon entering Grandma Juana’s house after Juana placed two needles in the shape of a cross atop the door. You resolve to breathe your mother in, devour her with your lungs. But the air holds only your brother’s Eau Sauvage.
The last time you saw her was in the hospital. Bed-bound and unable to swallow. Incontinent. Her brown eyes, bird-bright. You sat in your yellow paper gown and purple rubber gloves before the wide window. You were wearing her shoes and worried she’d berate you for doing so without asking. Or inform you that you looked as wide as a barn in her white capris.
Instead of asking about your husband, she wondered how your ex was faring. He and she had always gotten along.
“I’ll let you go,” she cries before disappearing, and you understand her to mean abandoning you rather than dropping the idea of haunting you.
You spend the night in her king-size bed between those fleece sheets she favored. Sweat dampening your hair. You were wrong to believe she’d never understood you. You’re too dumb with grief to call out. Too scared to get up and crack a window.
Eyes screwed shut as hers had been in the end, you begin life as a motherless girl.
Patricia Quintana Bidar is a writer from the Port of Los Angeles area, with family roots in New Mexico, Southern Arizona, and Utah. She is an alum of the U.C. Davis Graduate Writing Program, and also holds a BA in Filmmaking. Her work has been included in numerous journals and anthologies including Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton, 2023) and Best Microfiction 2023 (Pelekinesis). Patricia’s stories have been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, also garnering multiple nominations for Best American Short Stories, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions. She lives with her family and unusual dog outside of Oakland, CA. Visit Patricia at https://patriciaqbidar.com
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