She stopped wearing her wig, and it reminded you of the times you would pass her bedroom door, cracked enough to see her sleeping, gray strands unpinned, laying long and limp on the pillow. At that age you felt the fear that there was some stranger, a weathered crone asleep in her bed, skin fissured like a slab of old stone. Each time you would run away, and each time she would step through that same door, black curls you thought were her own, tight as inky springs, beehived above her, and you would sneak a peek, and the stranger would be gone.
Mom helped out most with the little things: getting her tissues and water and pills, propping her up. Wiping her down, reading her the paper. She was there out of duty, not love. She did not love her, had said so many times. I have nothing but hatred for that woman. You helped carry her to the car when she was moved to hospice. She wore the wig then, and lipstick and powder. The smell of her dying beneath it, as if it knew it had finished what it had come to do and now was leaking out, looking for something else to blacken. You kissed her cheek, already cold and tacky like wet dough, because she asked, and you didn’t know how to refuse. The cheek tasted of rotting, of poison flowers. You went to the toilet to spit. Watched her eyes close and mouth open, but didn’t stick around to watch the rest.
You were in a room in Ohio, hundreds of miles away with nothing but some bags of clothes, stretched flat and burning holes in a moldy mattress, when Mom called to give you the news, real matter-of-fact. Like reporting about the weather or the price of milk. Still, there was no right way to ask her—to send the leftover meds in the mail. But you did. Figure no sense them going to waste. And she did. You didn’t spend long considering what this said about you, as a person. As people. And why would you? Death is hard enough.
William R. Soldan
William R. Soldan grew up in and around the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, where he lives with his wife and two children. A high school dropout and a college graduate, he holds a BA in English Literature from Youngstown State University and an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program. His work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, (b)OINK, Anomaly Literary Journal, The Best American Mystery Stories 2017, Ohio’s Best Emerging Poets, and many others. If you’d like to connect, you can find him on social media.