Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 2 | Summer 1983 (Seattle) /// Issue 4 of 24 /// Master# 4 of 24

running in the house now, for she is dying, and the smell, she says, inhibits her lungs. I don’t know how mama can smell, for she hardly can draw in a good straight breath now. Without hiccups. Yes hiccups, tearing a beat from her lungs. If she cannot breathe, how can she eat? She cannot, she has to keep the passages clear for air and she is starving to death. Mama used to have truly beautiful curves, soft as a puppy’s belly to lay upon. But now it ’s like laying your head on a washboard. She can’t eat and she won’t allow the doctor to nourish her through a tube. Putting a tube in her arm will cause her stomach to stop functioning properly when the hiccups stop, she says. (She used to say.) I have been dreaming — or thinking — this dream of sounds for two weeks straight. I don’t feel they’re fantasy only, because when I wake in the morning (that is, if I have been sleeping), the candle is soft near the wick and I’m real tired. Also the dream is so full of these loud small sounds, or whispers magnified, I don’t know if I could sleep through them. The visions began when mama chose to die. This was about two weeks ago. It all had to do with pa and his work, which he seems to be giving up. There was no call for it, his quitting and her choosing, but now the ball is rolling, and pa and I can only watch mama invite death under her quilts. She lays there in a white nightdress worn grey on the rump and elbows, a white candle burning at her head dawn to dusk, just like she saw in a movie about Cleopatra. The room is sealed in quiet but for the sound of hiccups every ten or so seconds. When the robbers struck, mama decided to die. For 30 years, long before I was born, ever since pa opened the fruitstand, people, but mostly kids, came and took stuff. But never the best. Usually they just slip something in a pocket to munch on. But once pa caught some night thieves and scared them bad, got the dogs worked up when in fact if the robbers knew they was only being chased by spaniel bitches they would’ve laughed. But pa scared them, carrying on like he had a gun. Then two weeks ago, robbers with modern methods went around the neighborhood. They broke into tool sheds and drove off with tractors. They sent two of them into the river with the word OBSOLETE painted on them. They vandalized places (except for the new Super-G frozen vegetable plant next door. Super-G owns the biggest, shiniest machines but it can’t be broken into). Whoever it was busted open the cooler, overturned pa’s neat stacks of berries and took the finest, neat overripe fruits, in broad daylight! Pa found out who it was and did nothing. Why, he won’t say. But he wonTpress charges and he even has a witness! At Belling’s the thieves took 18 flats of mushrooms at $16.75 a shot. If Jim Belling knew what pa knows there’d be blood. If mama could get up — if she could even holler — she’d go after them. But it ’s not going to happen. She can’t complain unless she writes it out on her little pink tablet, and halfway through her notes she loses heart and crinkles them. Her hiccups at night have a troubled tone now. They stole pa’s beautiful ripe offering and mama could’ve worked that out, but when she heard the whole story her heart broke and she deemed the hiccups would not stop. Why aren’t the cops chasing them punks? she wrote. They beat against the window and cloud the porchlight on wings of tattered silk. “ The cops don’t know,” pa said. You mean Jim Belling’s taking care of it personally. “ Jim don’t know who it was either.” If you don’t know who they are, and you aren’t telling the police, just how are you going to recover our livelihood? Summer’s ending. . . “ I know who it was.” Then you are settling the score personally. Mama almost smiled. “ No.” Mama stared, her cheeks reddening, the hiccups quickening. Well why don’t you just tack a board on the stand saying: TODAYS SPECIAL: All the fruit you can steal? “ Stop it Sue.” Pa looked away in silence, ashamed but not guilty, for he was no cohort with thieves. They say 12 is too young to understand, too young to know, but only I saw the scared look in mama’s eye when pa turned away. I t ’s the last fruit of summer, mama scribbled, her hand trailing off like a whisper. The honey smell filled her room like incense, as if she should pray for that strange carapace of a man before her. She cried and pa left. She couldn’t cry and hiccup at the same time. All sound, but for mama’s little burps and sobs, filed out on pa’s heels. Then new sounds, the shrill whine of Super-G’s engines, noise which had been there all the time but we hadn’t heard for ma’s and pa’s arguing (even though pa’s voice was the only one raised), came in. We heard then the dust and heat-dulled noise of the fantastic modern plant next door; and its metallic loudspeaker voice giving orders. Mama blanched. Whether it was the confrontation with pa or something she heard next door scared her I don’t know. Maybe it was both. She scarcely breathed. Mama had never shown outrage to pa, and now it appears odd that her last words spoken — or written — to him would be in anger. For she clearly was pursued by some bodily or psychic ghost inside of her, and, trapped at last, she was torn between fear and fury exactly like a cornered bear. For one spooky moment she seemed to regard everything: One eye to the past, one to the future. Then with a blink it was gone, and she took on the sapped look that pa did after the robbery. There was just enough ink in the felt left for her to scrawl, in DAYLIGHT Something cracked in mama then. She threw her little pink tablet across the room. She hasn’t written since. The Guinness Book of Records says the world record for hiccups is three years, forty-nine days and so many minutes and hours. I don’t know how they got rid of the hiccups finally, if they woke up without them or what, but mama’s not going to last it. Her breath is real shallow at six months and she can’t keep nothing down, not even water. Doctor Earl Head says it ’s the damndest thing. We tried everything: sugar, holding her breath, breathing in a paper bag, nasal mist, even putting a lemonhanky over her face for a week (she seemed disappointed when we took it off at last). She keeps the faded Lisa Kinoshita is a Seattle writer of fiction and non-fiction. Liza Jones is a Portland artist and founding member of Inkling Studio. curtains drawn in her room and stares at the candleAt night I stay with her and stare, trying to send her back to a night ten years ago. Poised in trance, her nightdress a rose film worn thin as wax paper, mama wavered like a cobra before a candle. Pa watched secretly and greedily. Kneeling at the slender flame, mama’s fingers sailed like little birds, calling, calling silently until the air shook with moths throwing their bodies against the glass. Pa turned away. No one saw me in the shadows. In mama’s room at night I try not to sleep. Her little gasps, like a stuck record, harmonize with the frogs. So really I cannot sleep. Or if I do, I do not rest. They say at 12 I can’t understand, so I try to understand. Even though ma and pa came to terms on most things, kept on an even eye-to- eye, they never really saw heart-to- heart. Mama always said that a soul was like a moth, it loved the light; but that even the things you love could destroy it. Like fire. Pa never could see that. Mama sleeps when I pull the curtain and crack open the window. The moths, attracted by light, pause on the glass or find their way in. I wonder how far they come from, and why. Their giant shadows scale the walls like gliders, at least to me. I hear their wings shuffle the air like a soft deck of cards. Muffled as the fruit bats that hit the shed now that the fruit is dripping with sweet ripeness. Mama smells it and knows that pa made a pact with thieves for whatever reasons, and she allows herself to close in, to diminish, to die. I listen to her breath catch every few seconds, and wonder when she’ll draw in and forget to exhale. She gasps so soft, yet it paints the room. The moths circle the times I capture them hands and feel their beating like panicked flame. Some- in my cupped frantic wings hearts. Down the hallway their mute desperation echoes. Mama’s skin is pallid as the candle wax their wings stick in. The wings embalm them in flame or wax, ruined for flight. The fruit rots, the insects burn, their sound swallowed at last. The moths that traveled so far crinkle into ash and the beating of wings is consumed with mama’s panting. And then, perhaps, I am asleep. ■ ■ Clinton St. Quarterly 23