by Aoife Mannix
She said her father drowned
when she was twenty,
a fishing accident.
Three days before his corpse washed up,
three days in which her mother said
amnesia, head injury,
other brittle straws that failed to float.
The doctor advised against them
identifying the body,
so they sent her uncle instead.
Years later he confessed to her
how after that he started to drink heavily.
He couldn’t get the image out of his head,
his brother bloated and white,
somehow not a man he’d ever known,
apart from the wedding ring
and the watch he’d given him one Christmas
back when they were both too young to think about time,
the casual cruelty of drowning seconds,
how little any of us can afford to stay under water,
our lungs filling with salt.
And he kept asking himself
if when he died
people would say,
with the same soft tone of regret,
that he’d also been a very good swimmer.
is what I call the color of death
she held the blanket
in paper thin fingers
that sure is a beautiful color
her hands shook
she kept picking at pieces
of imaginary lint on the bed
she asked if she’d put the cigarette out properly
she hadn’t been able to smoke in four days
to eat in three weeks
her body impossibly thin
stretched in pain
skin nearly invisible
the nurse furious
the doctor wouldn’t increase the pain killer
rosary beads wrapped tightly
the room getting smaller
flowers holding their breath
I’ll just sleep a little.
I’m asleep when the phone rings,
though it’s four in the afternoon
so I can’t tell her that.
I don’t recognize the voice,
make her repeat her name stupidly.
‘Kitty, we were in school together.’
I have a flash of staring at her hands
in biology class. I was oddly fascinated
by the way her skin stretched
like paper over the bone.
She’d missed the debs
because she was in the hospital
having nearly succeeded
in starving herself to death.
Now ten years later
she’s ringing me up out of the blue
to invite me to our school reunion.
And I don’t say I doubt I’ll make it,
that in fact the only reason I’m in the country
is because my mother is dying.
Nor do I say what I suddenly feel like saying,
which is that even though
we were never really friends
or knew each other well,
I’m still glad to hear,
after all this time,
that she’s alive,
and I hope these days she’s eating more.
I just thank her politely and hang up.
© 2006 Aoife Mannix
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