December 22, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Timothy Boudreau
In the morning Rebecca writes in the sky with her daughter’s colored pencils. Draws a top-hatted macaque pedaling a bike across a cloud. Scrawls phrases, messages in cursive loops. “Most birds flying by you’ll never see again.” “If you know how much I miss you why won’t you come home?” With Talia’s favorite childhood colors, turquoise, burnt sienna, mahogany. In the yard behind the swing set, wearing a parka over Talia’s prom dress, sea-green, cap-sleeves, which fits Rebecca perfectly.
At the barbecue the summer before Rebecca forgot Talia’s husband was diabetic.
“Thanks for bringing the pie Mom, but really.”
“I thought we might like something sweet.”
“Chase can’t have sugar, remember?”
“Not even just a taste?”
“It’s fine Mom.”
“We’ll talk later. Just go back out to the party.”
But Rebecca didn’t feel comfortable, she didn’t know anyone but Talia, and everyone looked at her like she wore a funny hat they were trying not to stare at. The next morning when she came downstairs to make herself coffee and eggs she threw the pie in the trash. She cleaned before Talia and Chase woke, bits of scrambled eggs clinging to her fingers as she flicked off wet coffee grounds. Talia came downstairs and tried to be cheerful. “Hey Mom, hope you’re not too hungover!” But she seemed thinner, paler without the blush given her cheeks by glasses of wine. Chase had to help her steady herself when she got up from the table, and when Rebecca hugged Talia goodbye all she felt were bones.
Rebecca glides in the snowy swing, pigtails of Talia’s winter hat trailing behind her. Looks back at the footprints across the backyard snow, through the rock garden. Soars higher, sees the papery tatters of an abandoned hornets’ nest hanging under the slide. Sings “Sleigh Ride”, Talia’s favorite carol. “Just hear those sleigh bells ringling, jingling for me and you.” First out loud, singing it to the blue jays in the branches, then softer, under her breath, as if it’s a secret.
They spent most of that autumn at the Med Center in Boston. Chase was the only one the doctors would speak to, so as soon as he came back into the waiting room Rebecca jumped up.
“How is she Chase?”
“No changes. More tests tonight.”
Chase’s sister was sitting with them. “You still want to walk later Chase?”
“When can we go in and see her?” Rebecca asked, twisting Talia’s old silver bracelet around her wrist.
Chase’s face tightened. “Rebecca.”
“I just—” she touched his shoulder, “Chase, Talia’s my daughter, I love her too…”
“Do you realize,” Chase said, his voice hard, “what I’ve been through. Do you fucking know—I’ve seen my wife unable to control her bodily functions, I’ve seen my wife’s body seizing, this tiny, tiny thing… My God Rebecca, she was peeing herself! This absolute center of my life that I love with all my heart…” he couldn’t get any other words out, he was already up, sobbing, his broad shoulders shaking, and even as he disappeared across the waiting room, past the receptionist and out into the hall, Rebecca repeated the words to herself, hurled them silently after him, out into the universe, “She’s my daughter, she’s my daughter, she’s my daughter.”
Rebecca slices a slim wedge of pie and serves it to herself on a chipped saucer. Watches the snowfall thicken outside. Adjusts Talia’s NSync watch on her wrist, the hands stopped at half-past one. Flips another page in the coloring book, each completed picture signed and dated. “Talia R., December 9, 1998.” Chews and swallows the first bite, rich pumpkin, cloves, nutmeg. Decides that sugar is like a lot of things, she’ll get used to not tasting it, she’ll train her palette, soon she won’t even notice its absence.
Timothy Boudreau lives and works in northern New Hampshire. His recent work appears in Trampset, Reckon Review, and Monkeybicycle, and has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and a Pushcart Prize. His collection Saturday Night and other Short Stories is available through Hobblebush Books. Find him on Twitter at @tcboudreau or at timothyboudreau.com