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  • 44. The Death of Mother
    45. The Death of —
    46. The Death of James

    By Amelia Gray

    As we close in on the end of the year, a triptych of shorts from the flagrantly talented Amelia Gray, author of AM/PM and Museum of the Weird. The first may momentarily disorient, until you unlock its secret, when it will proceed to disorient you in a different way. The second is like a short kaleidoscope, prone to different meanings
    each time you return to it.
    And the third is just flat moving.

    Mom, don’t worry, Story #44 has nothing to do with you.


    Mother became the object of our curses. The first caused a rash to climb up her arm like a creeping vine. She saw it when she was cleaning a breakfast dish and set down the soap to idly scratch.

    “What in the fine hell,” she said. Ours was a poor curse and performed in a hurry. If she had consulted the proper sources, she could have stopped it all before it happened. Blessedly, she is the type of woman to ignore a runny rash, to slap on a bandage should it commence to crack and gush. This woman was the type to ignore a heart murmur on the occasion of her child’s sixth birthday. She would want to die on an Easter weekend so as to save the church lilies.

    The second curse happened soon after, when each fingernail on both hands began to darken. She scrubbed them with the acetone polish remover we had gotten into the previous summer with the fireplace matches. It made her nails smell like a burned grocery bag. Layers of nail commenced to flaking off into shaved-looking piles under her hands.

    “It must be that dish soap,” she said. We nodded. At night we curled quiet under goosedown and carved incantations into our palms.

    She yelled from her bedroom in the morning and we rushed in to find her hair gone from the top of her head, that lovely yellow hair she would comb nightly, clumped on the pillow like a sleeping creature.

    That was enough. She said, “W.S., get the car keys and drive Mother to the urgent care.” We sure did, all of us looking like a funny family sharing the Caprice Classic’s front bench, us fiddling with the radio station while she sobbed, nails black as a boar and clutching a bag of her own hair on her lap as evidence for the ladies in the clinic.

    We still had to wait an hour and a half. The waiting room inhabitants breathed in unison and the room expanded and contracted like a lung. One man had cut his finger open and another looked ill from drink while a woman next to him ate a hamburger sandwich from the top down, first removing the upper half of the bun and licking a gob of mayonnaise from the toasted bread. The tin shutters on the windows bowed inward as the room inhaled. We told Mother that it was selections from the human experience. She didn’t laugh and we set immediately to a spell. Our argument remains that she chose her destiny throughout. The curse arrived in form of a line of ants, marching in a line from the swinging glass door and heading for her ankle like they smelled her honeyed skin. She was busy plumbing the depths of that bagged hair like she’d find a jewel therein. Each ant was visible in its line but grew smaller when approaching her, grain-sized and faster as they shrank, so small and quick that she wouldn’t feel them when they sped over sneaker and bunched sock, onto her bare skin, finding individual hairs and pushing past to pore-level, sinking into her body.

    She felt them soon enough. We imagined it was like sensing her blood was moving independent of the whims of her body, which must have felt ticklish from the inside. She reached over and clutched Salem so hard that we squealed. The ladies at the clinic were used to us coming in and making a racket but they weren’t used to Mother doing a dance in her chair like that. One of them came around the counter and held Mother with both hands. The women looked into one another’s eyes and Mother started crying out of pure shame.

    The woman got her arms under Mother and hefted her up, saying, “You twinsies follow us.” It was rude of her to remove our intricacy, and in response we caused a small blaze among the paperwork on her desk.

    We were placed in a checkup room and the woman ran back to the mess on her desk. Without delay a doctor arrived and ignored Mother immediately in favor of examining the stretched web of baby skin that peeked out from under our sweaters and joined us together. “I’ve heard of you,” he said, putting one hand on each shoulder. This pleased us immensely and we saw to it that his dinner would be delicious. Salem nuzzled the doctor’s hand with his cheek.

    Mother was writhing on the examination table. We started to feel a little bad about her ticklish blood but there was nothing to do but wait until the ants shrank smaller than sight. The creatures would still be there, their legs a swaying villi mass in her small intestine. The doctor was asking us about how we went to the bathroom and Winston explained the shared seats and tailored suits while Mother thrashed.

    “Remove these demons,” poor Mother cried, her voice that terrible hoarse.

    The doctor glanced at her file and put it down. “I’m not sure how to begin,” he said, producing an otoscope to examine our ears. “Your record notes a rash and hair loss, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that these events were created in any way by a demon or demons.”

    “These boys—” she said, before Salem touched her ankle with a gentle hand and removed her ability to speak. She pointed, and we focused our thoughts until the blackness on her nail spread to her finger and flaked it onto the floor. The blackness spread from her finger to her arm and she watched it spread, weeping in pantomime.

    The doctor was testing our reflexes with a rubber mallet and marveling at the transference of reflex. “I wonder sometimes what it would be like to have a sons,” the kind doctor said. We laughed and laughed!


    The logic of a house fire is a love kind of logic. A stickpin means a world if it’s stuck in the skin of the one you love. That burning flutter of ash was once a folder of sentimental poems written with bird intentions, rising, while a condensated drop of wallpaper glue rolls down the poreless wall.

    Flames don’t lick as much as they love. They take what they want and revise it to suit them. A dresser drawer protects its smoldering ball of cotton like a wick in wax. A floor lamp finds new utility as a consumptive illuminator. The refrigerator melts into a monolith, backlit by snapping electrical showers of light before the power cuts in deference for power.

    The house itself shifts in the way it is perceived. Panels curl back to reveal stronger stuff. The mirror shows a new face.

    At these times, you learn it’s harder to leave your burning home if you spent too much time cleaning its floors. Watching those baseboards blacken should be enough to make any good woman lay back in bed and let it happen.



    There was nothing wrong with Jim. Suze looked down at him there, sleeping on the old couch his mother had given them as a wedding present, a blanket swaddled around his big body. He was a good husband who listened to her stories from the grocery store, where she worked behind the customer service desk and had to deal with the guys from the bus stop bringing in lottery tickets they unwedged from sopping garbage. Jim’s thumb rested in his open mouth, a bad habit he had long tried to break with hot pepper sauces and hypnosis cassettes.

    A good man, he would say the sweet things when he held her face in his hands. She liked best to hear about his mother’s flower garden. His hands covered her ears and the words were muffled when he told her about the garden, so carefully maintained by the woman with pine bark and fish compost and gardening gloves and a panel for her knees printed with flowers. She hadn’t saved the gardenias the neighbor kids had trampled but there were things wrong with everyone, Suze thought. There were certainly things wrong with her, the blood pooling into her slipper suggested. The layer of tendinous muscle in her belly curled back to reveal a scroll detailing exactly what had gone awry in her own personal history. It fell from her and unfurled, inked script declaring ills: overhanding a pair of bronzed baby shoes at the neighbor’s dog; the crush of white flower in her fist; her boss at the grocery pulling the jar of salmon caviar from her purse. The both of them deserved more, she and Jim.

    Suze bent over her sleeping man. In the quiet moment, she felt the intentions of her heart suspended in ego like the kitchen sink’s sponge in dishwater. She gathered her nightgown around her body and tucked her knee under his. The hand holding the penknife stained the couch’s frame as she hefted herself beside him, holding him half to keep herself aloft then settling in, feeling for the edge of the couch under her body. A solid sleeper, he moaned, turning. She recognized that moment as a moment when things would happen because in that special moment the only thought in her head was about how the disposal was at that moment stopped up and stinking in the other room seven days running, a fact she had noticed earlier that evening while making her man’s next-day sandwich and wondering about the ways in which Miracle Whip could really be called a miracle. She had rolled up her sleeve and plunged her hand into the disposal, feeling the blades dull enough to mangle a lemon half without destroying it. The blades held it to rot drowned against her scrabbling hand.

    Holding her husband’s warm neck, she watched him smile like the sweet baby he couldn’t give her. She cradled his fine strong neck, exposing the naked expanse of his throat to the air and her lips and her lowest ills.


    Amelia blogs here.

    She super-collides here:

    She talks about writing here:

    And she and Blake Butler gladiate here.

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    • Kyle Minor

      I love to read stories by Amelia Gray.

    • http://www.whatdoesnotkillme.com Richard Thomas

      Me too, Kyle. Always powerful, Amelia. Loved these. Thanks for continuing to inspire me.

    • http://twitter.com/mostmodernist mostmodernist

      Each of Amelia's sentences are like fortunes out of fortune cookies. What they will read?

      This website's font is like printed leaves half-eaten at the edges by caterpillars. Aherm.

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