Jody M Keene
OUR HANDS TOO SMALL
We come home for Thanksgiving to watch our mom die. We get there to find the blinds drawn and the fridge empty except for cans of Ensure and Kraft singles. “We’re going to order Thanksgiving dinner,” we tell her, “so don’t worry about getting up,” as if she could get up. As if she could make mashed potatoes and two types of dressing and cranberry sauce and turkey gravy and deviled eggs. “We’ll take care of it,” we tell her. “Let us do it all for once.”
We put the turkey in the oven like the directions say and pop open a bottle of Gewürztraminer. Nothing goes better with grief, we agree. The kitchen fills with smoke around the time we shake the last drops out of the bottle—only we could fuck up an already cooked turkey, we say, as if it’s funny. At least there are still mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. We open another bottle of wine and throw the turkey in the trash. The smoke, we say to each other as we drag sleeves across our eyes.
A few years ago, we’d be spreading the tablecloth over the table about now; we’d be hand-washing Grandma’s silver flatware and bitching about how the regular silverware was just fine before laying the table. We’d be sneaking slugs of wine in the garage and fighting over whose turn it was to wash, whose turn to load.
We eat Thanksgiving dinner on our mother’s bed, the champagne-colored pintuck coverlet unchanged for at least a decade. Her eyes flutter open now and then but mostly she sleeps, her eyes sunken in their pits and her skin stretched tight over her skull. Her lips twitch in her sleep. “Do you want something?” we ask. “Can we get you anything?” She grins like a feral animal, her lips pulled tight over her teeth, and goes back to sleep. In the kitchen, we put the pumpkin pie back in the fridge untouched and pop open two bottles of Ensure, mix them with vanilla vodka. We tap our bottles together and say, “To Mom” before our first drink. It’s disgusting, but we take another sip, and another.
The hospice aide comes to give our mom her bath. She brushes our mom’s teeth. Our mom’s body looks like the bones left from a plate of chicken wings, knobby joints with bits of skin attached, the meat all gone. The aide lifts our mom’s arm and slathers on the deodorant, first one armpit and then the other. “I wouldn’t be caught dead without my deodorant,” the aide says.
We look at each other, wide-eyed. She wouldn’t be caught dead, we mouth to each other. We look at our mom, a flimsy top sheet her shroud, and back at each other. Her eyes open and fix on us. She begins to laugh, silently, her lips tight over her teeth and her shoulders shaking. We whisper-shriek “caught dead!” over the aide’s mortified face, laughter bubbling up our throats, our hands too small to contain it in our mouths before it leaks out everywhere.
Jody M Keene is a writer with a healthy stack of rejections living in Arkansas with her family. She previously worked as managing editor for scissors & spackle literary magazine, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Flash Fiction Magazine, JMWW, Emerge Literary Journal, and Peatsmoke Journal. She is a Best Microfiction nominee and can be found on Twitter @JodyMKeene or on her website, jodymkeene.webador.com.
Cover Design by Karen Rile