by Michael C. Keith
And then we ease her out of the worn-out body with a
kiss, and she’s gone like a whisper, the easiest breath.
–– Mark Doty
The two-room, third floor flat is ice cold. Its radiators no longer make their loud clanking noise signaling that heat is on the way. Seventy-eight year old Mabel has wrapped herself in several layers of clothes in order to keep from freezing, but she still feels cold. There are mornings she actually considers remaining in bed rather than deal with the desolation of another day. The only thing that gets her up is her full bladder. Once she’s relieved herself, she checks the street below. Visibility is poor because of the ice that has formed on the inside of the window panes. She feels a dull tug in her abdomen and shuffles to the kitchen. The refrigerator contains a week old chicken carcass and an empty milk carton. I can’t put off going to the store any longer, she tells herself. She’s told herself that for the last three days, and now she readies herself for the two-block walk by putting on her shoes. She already has her coat on since she sleeps in it. The hallway is actually warmer than her flat, and it’s as quiet as a tomb. There’s usually some kind of sound coming from beyond the closed doors––a baby’s cry, an adult’s shout––but not this morning. Mabel recalls that it’s Sunday. The store won’t be open yet, she thinks, and returns to her apartment. On her way to the chair next to the stove, she feels a sharp pain in her right knee. It’s been getting more difficult to put weight on it since she slipped on the black ice on the steps leading into her building a week ago. Before she sits, she strikes a wooden match stick and moves it over the stove’s gas burners to take some of the chill away. She warms a kettle for a cup of instant coffee and peers out of a window again, scraping the frost away with her thumbnail. A tiny figure in a red coat is jumping rope on an otherwise empty sidewalk. Little Margie all by yourself again. Your mom has company, I bet. Told you to go outside and play while she entertains. Well, Mabel’s going to come down to keep you company, darling. She’s excited by the prospect of meeting up with the neglected child, her only friend. At the top of the stairs, she realizes she’s left the stove on and quickly changes direction to return to her flat. Her foot catches on the cracked linoleum, causing her to fall backwards down the long flight of stairs. When Mabel hits the bottom landing, she feels warmer than she has since the start of winter. And she remembers a summer’s day as a child and her mother’s voice calling her name.
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes fiction. www.michaelckeith.com
Category: Fiction, Short Story