December 15, 2013 by The Citron Review
by Thea Autry
She smells differently since the funeral, since the nephews and nieces she hadn’t seen in 17 years failed to recognize her. The sweet perfume of lilies and molasses which once beckoned me to that youthful bosom has been replaced, suddenly, by something withered, but curious. Now, at her nearness, my nostrils are inflamed and suspicious, as if some stranger had returned from Shreveport wearing my grandmother’s drastically heavier skin.
She was stunning once, at my age, she says, with eyes like mine, and mouth and hips and hands. (She speaks of youth like water, and her own old heart the only unquenchable thing, always, deeply, achingly, thirsting for the fullness of her mouth and hips and hands.) So delicate and unearthly was her beauty that dignified (and married) naval officers would trade convention for fistfuls of wildflowers to woo her. But she would come to remember that virginal Venus as if she were someone else.
“Everybody’s dying,” she says, and not figuratively, as a requiem for the brother she just buried or the brother she buried two years earlier or the sister-in-law who died somewhere in the middle. There is, in these words, a solemn acquiescence, and when she says them, the words are milky and tired, for she speaks more quietly now, since the funeral. I cut the onion without calculating my movements, but rather measuring the distance between us since her return, a grim void now filled with sulfur fumes and faint layers of celery and cinnamon from somewhere over my shoulder.
Not yet awake from that heavy sleep, I tell myself. She napped too long. Indeed, she’s been sleeping more. But not soundly. She has dreams, she tells me. She dreams of the dead. She sees her mother. Her mother comes in through the bedroom window, stares silently behind wispy curtains of chiffon and moonlit tendrils of silver. She just stands there over her bed. Why is her mother coming to her now? she wonders. She tells me my future, something she learned from Saturn or Pluto or Uranus, or perhaps I am not listening closely because my eyes have begun to burn. The planets have moved, I think, or crossed, or crashed. And I will become more spiritual in this cycle, she says. But I think she is trying to prepare me. I will try to find her one day, will search the great halls of my memory for fleshy, fragranced breasts, but will find only hollow bones and the smell of sulfur.
Thea Autry works as a proofreader and attends University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX where her work has been awarded the Danny Lee Lawrence Award for Fiction. She plans to graduate in 2014 with a B.A. in English.