September 6, 2013 by The Citron Review
by Kelly Miller
Look at this, he says, pointing one leg of the small table toward me. This isn’t your gum, is it? He asks.
Her lover tugging the small table from beside the recliner where she struggled to sleep before hospice brought the electric bed.
One square of the sugar free gum she loved. Pressed against the leg and saved for later as only she would do.
First I remember the warm smell of breath. The rosy inside of mouth. Tongue. Warm water from a cloth squeezed across lower lips when the tub became unmanageable.
Sadness sweet and deep and crushingly pink. And like the spontaneous urge I had to dip my finger into her ashes for one last taste, I need to grab that table from her lover. Scrape free the gum, press it against my tongue. Chew, swallow. Leave.
Flee the sickly intoxication of her scent. Everywhere. Even after the deep cleaning of floors and walls and carpets. After the piling of all her soaps, lotions, shampoos and clothes into snap tight plastic boxes.
In those last days of talk before sleep she said, After I go… if it’s not too hard… I’ll send you a sign from the other side.
With a squeeze of cooling fingers and a sigh she added, And if you don’t hear from me… I guess I’m just gone.
I hang around now obsessing and imagining that the next cloud formation or flit of a butterfly’s wing will surely speak to me. I seek meaning in flickers of light or strings of numbers across clocks and license plates. Like Houdini’s wife I wait for that secret something only I will understand.
I pluck a Baggie from the kitchen drawer and pick at the gum with my fingernail.
You’re keeping it? He asks. His words somewhere between a hiccough and a laugh. I know the odd shit I say and do lately makes him crazy. But he’s a nice guy. And he realizes though they were lovers for a while, she and I were friends forever.
This gum…It was in her mouth, I try to explain.
Saliva. DNA, he says, tipping the table to make it easier for me to remove the gum. Maybe we could clone her…cultivate the traits we loved…weed out all those annoying tendencies, he suggests.
I pinch the gum hard. Don’t eat it. Drop it in the Baggie.
As I flee to the bathroom I hear him crack the lid from a new bottle of Pinesol.
On the toilet, elbows propped on knees, cheeks and ears cupped, I feel heavy and light at the same time. The way I feel when I half-fall onto the seat after too many beers. And I’d like to sit here forever. On the verge of peeing. Ripe with the possibility of release.
Kelly Miller writes and enjoys life in the most eclectic little town in Iowa. She works part time with autistic children. Kids who always teach her more than she teaches them. Her Flash pieces have appeared in Flashquake, Nano Fiction, Word Riot and The Boiler. She is currently working on a book.