Wrapping my arms around my legs, I rock slightly as I watch her stare unseeing at the ceiling. The gash is deep, exposing bone and breaching the dam of her eyebrow.
Blood pours out quickly enough to pool before it succumbs to gravity, finding different points of egress on its journey to the floor. I am fascinated by the stream that flows past her brow, turning her open eye into an island in a red sea.
“Mommy.” I whisper but she doesn’t answer.
The door stands wide and sunlight spills into her open eyes. I consider closing them but even at six, I know what that signifies and reject the impulse with a shudder.
Tears streak my face as though determined to match the volume of her blood.
The certainty of the thought frightens me to the point of nausea and my teeth chatter.
“No one was there.” My older sister runs up the stairs panting. “Go!” She takes two more quick breaths before hauling me to my feet by my arm. “Go to Ms. Regina’s! I’m too tired. Go!”
I waste a precious moment hesitating and she gives my shoulders a violent shake screaming, “Now!”
I stumble down the steps and run straight to the road. Ignoring the drive way that bridges the drainage ditch, I leap over the murky water with a mighty heave.
I know she’s dead but still I run as though her life depended on it, trying to be the Susan from the Christmas movie.
I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.
I reach the familiar trailer, and my lungs are on fire.
Between the panting and the tears, I am impossible to understand.
“Home!” I finally shout between breaths. “Mommy!”
She nods and in her eyes I see a dimmed reflection of my fear.
I sit in her car, still struggling to breathe when I see the lights.
The flashing red and blue give me hope. Would they bother if she were dead?
Now I see the gurney and again I am old enough to know they don’t put an oxygen mask on a corpse.
I jump out of the car before it has come to a proper stop, running toward the box of a vehicle but the door is already shut.
Gravel pelts me as the tires spin before gaining purchase and she’s gone.
The nearest neighbor is explaining to Ms. Regina.
“She had a seizure and looks like she banged her head on the door jam. Seemed to be a pretty nasty gash, too. Stacy tried to get me but I wasn’t dressed and Susan had already gone to get you by the time I got here…”
I tune him out and watch my sister cry. The urge to go to her is strong but I stand as though locked in place. Her sobs turn to choking coughs and she vomits violently.
The adults finally turn from their conversation and comfort her with shameful blushes.
Mommy doesn’t come home. They tell us Daddy is with her at the hospital and she’s okay. I nod but I don’t really believe them.
I begin imagining my life without her, obsessing over details. Daddy works two jobs, a living specter among us. I don’t see him so much as occasional evidence of his existence. Who will look after us?
I awake the next morning in tears, shivering from the ghoulish vision of her blood soaked eye staring at me in my dream as her disembodied voice asks why I wasn’t faster.
My sobbing wakes my sister and sends my Daddy running to my side.
I am inconsolable until he brings me to their bed and shows me her bruised, bandaged, yet smiling face. She invites me under the warmth of the covers and I snuggle incessantly, an atom’s separation filling me with dread. I cling to her and fall asleep watching her chest rise and fall.
Life goes on and the next morning it’s as though nothing happened. Daddy is gone before I wake and Mommy herds us to school.
I fidget through the day, pecking at lunch, my stomach churning until I see her again. I hug her with all my strength as she chats brightly with my kindergarten teacher.
“What happened to your Mom’s face?” My teacher is smiling. “Did you do that to her?”
The tears are immediate as I howl from the floor. Her expression transforms from bright smiles to shocked horror as I scream, “I would never hurt my Mommy! I love her!”
I am enveloped in gentle arms and lifted up as they rush to reassure me.
It was a tease, a joke they insist, but I have looked into her sightless eyes and seen the misery of life without her.
She still coos softly, her chin resting on my head as she carries me out of the building. I revel in the love I almost lost and swear that I will always be mindful of this woman and how blessed I am to love her.