Our mother wasn’t gentle. Party girl, Father called her. She forgave his rages. “You deserve it,” she’d tell us, when he grabbed his belt. But all that’s old now. Now she can barely speak.
My two brothers absconded years ago. “How is she?” they croak on the phone in alcohol-infused slurs, one on each coast, I in the heartland. I want them to suffer. So I invent a mother they never knew. “Yesterday she called me ‘dear’ and ‘sweetheart’,” I say. I threaten them with good news: “She’s improving. We’re singing old songs. Having fun.”
In truth, I lead. She follows.
“Rudolph the red-nosed rein!” I sing boisterously. She cries, “Dear!”
“Let me call you . . .” I holler. She yells, “Sweetheart!”
“Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of . . .” Silence. I squeeze her fingers. The swollen knuckles, the wedding ring.
“Come on,” I mutter, squeezing harder, furious. “Before Nurse gets here.”
“Fun!” she screams.
Nancy Ludmerer‘s flash fiction appears in Green Mountains Review, North American Review, KYSO Flash, Vestal Review, Gargoyle, and elsewhere, and her microfiction “First Night” (River Styx) is reprinted in Best Small Fictions 2016. She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and cat Sandy, a rescue from Superstorm Sandy.