o n e
Mama had been sick for days now.
The doctor said she had the flu, but I had never seen anything like it. Her skin had become yellow and sunken, her lips shrank away from her teeth. And the horrible coughing - violent, dry gasps - kept me up almost every night.
They had given her an orange container filled with white pills, told Papa she should take one every day before breakfast. It wasn’t enough for Mama.
“She’s getting worse,” I told Papa at breakfast. He lent over the table to ruffle my hair, the short curls falling back into my eyes.
“She’s getting better now, Annie. Besides, I’ll need everyone for the harvest next week.” He poured me some syrup, went back to eating his pancakes. I wanted to believe him, but how could I? All she did was lie in bed like a two-week old corpse.
Mama started coughing again, loudly. We could hear it from downstairs.
“I’ll go check on her,” sighed Papa, his chair scratching against the wood floor as he got up from the table. Sometimes he cried at night when he thought Sam and I were sleeping, and it was worse than Mama’s coughing.
I glanced at Sam now, his little legs swinging under the chair while he stuffed himself full of breakfast. At least my legs were long enough to touch the floor when I sat down.
“Wanna play outside?” I asked Sam, and he nodded like an overexcited puppy. He was four years younger than me, perpetually childlike in my eyes. I carried the plates to the sink and left them in the cold water like Mama always told me.
“She didn’t take her pills.”
“Why not?” I asked, turning to Sam.
“Dunno,” he said, and I could see him feeding the mutt under the table. I snatched the plastic pill container from the windowsill and held it to my chest, the way Pastor Ellis holds the bible at church. If these pills were helping Mama, I guess they were holy.
I crept along the hallway to my parents’ bedroom, listening for my Papa’s soft voice. Mama’s would be too quiet to hear.
“You’re imagining things, Clare… they’re eating breakfast… yes, I talked to him yesterday… you’ll get better, I promise…”
“Mama?” I asked, finally pushing open the door. It felt wrong to stand outside and listen to them talk like that.
“Annie, love, come here,” she beckoned with a frail hand. Her voice was a field of dry rattling wheat stalks in the summer. I approached her nervously, the pill container still clutched to my chest. The faded woman lying in the bed looked nothing like my mother.
“Sam said you didn’t take your pills,” I whispered, like a loud noise would send her into shock. Papa took it from my hands.
“Go play outside, okay Annie?” He smiled, but it made him look sadder than before.They were whispering again as I left, words like: I’ll get it checked, and I’d start seeing things if I had to stay in here all day too.