I stay in my apartment on Pine Street with black-out drapes on my windows and triple locks on the door. I go out when it’s absolutely necessary, for groceries mostly, and when I come back, I say a prayer and I tiptoe in. I don’t want to find Mother at the stove, her shimmery shoulder blades moving under her thin nightgown. The whole apartment takes on an amorphous gloom in the evenings, which makes Mother’s shape vague and unnatural, but she was like that too, even when she was alive.
I don’t sleep in my bed. This is Mother’s room now. I work the pillows into human shape and cover them with my grandmother’s quilt. Twelve faded yellow chickens are pecking in twelve squares, the dye from their once-red combs streaked across the fabric like blood, batting spilling from stitches. I hide behind the sofa wrapped in the plain woolen blanket I bought at the Army surplus store and snatch whatever sleep I can.
Mother made me promise that when the end was near, I would give her pills, the ones she’d squirreled away over her last two years of illness. Her bony fingers squeezed mine with surprising strength until I promised. When the time came, I found the pills in her underwear drawer, wrapped in an old gray bra. I helped her sit up, one arm wrapped around her skeletal body, my hand filled with pills. She picked them up one by one and put them in her mouth. I held a glass of apple juice to her scabby lips while she slurped and swallowed, much of the liquid dribbling down her chin, staining her nightgown. I put the glass down and wiped her face with the edge of the sheet, and she settled back against her pillow, the faded blue of her eyes barely visible.
I should have known she would haunt me here in my upstairs apartment, five miles from her plot in the cemetery. I didn’t know the men she once invited into her bed would seek her out, all dead themselves.
Now, in the mornings, when I pull myself from my secret place, I find the pillows and the chicken quilt strewn across the bedroom floor, the bed empty, the air tinged with rot. I close the door and wrap myself in the army blanket. Wonder how many of Mother’s pills are left.