The first thing I see is the bag full of piss hanging from the side of my sister’s bed. I can’t see Lindy’s face, the tubes stuck into it, or the cuts and bruises. I can’t see the casts that are wrapped around both of her legs, or the one on her arm.
I don’t see Lindy at all. Just a bag of piss, sad and foul, but a tangible sign that for the moment, my sister is still alive.
“Kimmy, go stand over there next to your sister.”
I manage to take my eyes away from the surgical sack of urine to look at my mother. She’s at the foot of the bed, holding her camera. She’s tilting her head in that way she does when she’s feeling annoyed and impatient.
“I told you to go over there next to your sister.”
“What for?” I ask.
“Just do it.” She gestures with the camera. “I want to get a shot while the daylight is still coming in through this window.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me, Mom.”
“Dammit, Kimmy. Just do as I tell you.” She’s doing that thing where she talks without moving her jaw, cursing at me through closed and exposed teeth.
“My name,” I say, “is Kimberly.”
“Oh, jeez… whatever. Kimmy. Kimberly. Who gives a shit.” She rolls her eyes. “Go stand next to your sister, Kimberly.” When she says “Kimberly”, she uses a high-pitched, mocking voice.
I go over to the bed and look down at Lindy’s face, which isn’t my sister’s face at all. What I’m looking down at is a scabby, purple, fleshy moon. I stare at her for a few seconds, fantasizing that she might feel my presence and pop her eyes open… then we would hug and laugh and I would tell her what a great joke that was… even better than the time she put baby powder in my hair dryer.
For a few seconds, I really believe that none of this is really as bad as it seems, that Lindy will wake up, get better and after my graduation in a few months, I’ll leave our mom’s house to live with Lindy and Wanda, just like we’d planned.
“Okay, now lean down.”
“Mom, seriously. You want me to lean down and pose with her? She’s like, in a coma or something.”
“I’m well aware of her state, Kimmy. I’m taking these pictures for your father and his bitch mother.”
Our mom, she’s never understood revenge. She’s never had a firm grasp on good taste. She’ll probably never accept that her ex-husband, the father of her children, just doesn’t give a shit about any of us.
I hear the camera clicking, but I can’t look at it. All I can do is look at the blanket covering Lindy because if I don’t look at her face, then I don’t think of how she’s probably going to die. I concentrate on avoiding any contact with the piss bag because it’s really close to my leg.
“Okay, I think I’ve got enough,” my mom says.
“Where’s Wanda’s room?”
“Well, how should I know? Up the hall, I guess.” My mother, she waves her hand and turns her back to me. “She’s got her own family to come and take care of her. Besides, she was sitting in the passenger seat. Her injuries aren’t so bad.”
“But, don’t you think we should at least check in on her?” I ask. “You don’t need to worry about your sister’s friend,” she says. “Worry about your sister.”
The thing is, Wanda isn’t my sister’s friend. Not in the “hey, let’s go do something later” sense, or the “hey, how’re you doing” kind of way.
The word Lindy prefers is “dyke.”
The way Lindy refers to Wanda is “my girl.”
Our brother Toby used to say that our mom’s greatest character defect was that she didn’t know how to live with herself. He said that explained everything: her meanness, her bigotry and her junk collecting.
Toby shot himself in the heart two years ago, so maybe he didn’t know much about how to live with himself, either.
Our mom said, “at least he didn’t blow his fucking head off.” Toby had an open casket. She has photos.
When a doctor comes in to talk to my mom about all of the broken, torn and ruptured parts of Lindy’s body, I offer to get her something from the cafeteria, only I don’t go to the cafeteria.
Instead, I walk up the hall, looking into the open doors and little windows on the doors until I see Wanda, propped up against her pillows. It looks like she’s watching TV, but when I enter the room, I see that her TV isn’t even on.
“Hey kid,” she says when I come in. She holds her hand out and I take it in mine. I sit down on the chair next to her bed.
“I just saw Lindy,” I say.
“I haven’t been able to see her.” Her lip quivers a bit and she takes a deep breath. “I know it’s bad, Kimberly… I know it. But, I can’t see her. I’m so afraid that I’m going to lose my girl without seeing her again.” Tears began streaming down her cheeks.
She asks me how Lindy is doing, how she looked. I lie to her because I could never tell her about my sister’s bruised and broken body being subjected to an appalling photo shoot.
“Where’s your mom?” she asks.
“In Lindy’s room, talking to the doctor.”
“Oh, fucking hell. She’s going to make this all about her, isn’t she?”
“Hey, you know Mom.”
“It’s only a few more months anyway, right?” she squeezes my hand.
“Hey… no matter what happens, you can still come live with me. I want you to.”
“But… Lindy,” I say.
“Yeah, yeah… I know. You’re my girl’s baby sister. We’re family.”
At the moment I stand up to give Wanda a hug, I hear my mother’s voice behind me.
“Oh. There you are. I fucking knew it, you goddamn liar.” She stomps over to me and grabs my arm. “Let’s go. We’re going home. The smell of this pine cleaner is making me sick.”
I yank my arm away. “I’ll be right out.”
“No, you’ll come now. As long as you live under my roof, you’ll do what I say.” She turns and looks at Wanda, her eyes narrowing. “And you… you keep your hands off my daughter.”
Lindy used to say that our mom greatest weakness is that she needs to fight, so that it’s better not to fight with her.
Wanda, she just shakes her head. She looks away from my mom, gives me a little smile and says, “I’ll see you soon, Kimberly.”
Out in the parking lot, I notice that my mom is still holding her camera as we get into the car. Her hands tremble just a little as she lights a cigarette and for a few seconds, I believe that maybe she isn’t as bad as we think.
For a few seconds, I believe that our mother’s greatest weakness is that she never learned to cope with being human.
I feel a tingle in my nose and in my eyes, so I will myself not to cry, but just end up blinking and twitching my nose. I can’t look at her anymore so I watch a crow pecking at a brown paper bag a few spaces away. Next to me, I hear the camera click.
Rasmenia Massoud is the author of the short story collection “Human Detritus.” Her work has appeared in various publications on the web as well as several stained cocktail napkins and discarded notebooks. She is from Colorado but now lives in France where she spends her time confusing the natives of her adopted country by speaking French poorly. Visit her at: http://www.rasmenia.com/
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