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by Baylee Teaster

Through the dusty window in my parent’s bedroom, I watched the neighbor’s cattle graze. A brown spotted calf raced along the barbed-wire fence, bucking its legs and swinging its young tail. It trampled the field, golden from the afternoon sun, forcing the blades to fold under its weight. After a moment, it slowed and searched for its mother, dispirited. I squinted and scanned just like I did when you showed me your chest x-ray and your spotted lungs. I observed, emotionally invested and useless, from behind the window.

I sat next to you on the grey chair that dwelt in the corner of your room for as long as I remember, which only ever held linen instead of life. Your arms, which lay by your side, were freckled from years of gardening without sunscreen. You spent hours with your hands buried in the flower bed, sitting between the pulsing fountain and the black pinwheel, which spun and spun from the puffing wind. Down deep in the dirt, you’d pull up the morning glories whose dour vines constricted your precious flowers, unaware of their impending mortality.

A lump sat like a tumor in my throat. I wiped my runny nose, the same as yours, on your blue nightgown; I knew you wouldn’t mind. Your comforting scent of menthol nearly choked me. I wished it had. I rubbed your hair back. It was barely an inch long. The short bristles were soft in a way that made up for the length.

Silence seeped from you; only the thumping of my heart and the lone calf’s cries for its mother could be heard. The sun lent its sympathy by intruding through the window. It warmed the hardwood floor and caused the floating dust to glitter through the mum, lifeless room. No matter, we were both still cold.

When they came, dad was in the bathroom, emptying your bottle of oxycodone down the drain with the hospice nurse. I couldn’t watch them take you, either. So instead, I watched the neighbor’s cattle graze in the dry, infinite grass. I rested my head against the old wooden frame around the bedroom window, settling my temple into its molding. It smelled the same as it had for eighteen years, sunbaked varnish and cigarette smoke.

I lost the calf. I scanned the field while emergency services packed you up. My eyes went from one end to the other, like the zipper of the bag they put you in. Just a little longer, I begged; I’m not ready.

Somehow, I knew you were going to die that day. I prepared for the loss of my mother. But I didn’t know I would lose the calf, so it was the calf that made me cry. Not my father’s howls or the dog lying on your weary slippers. It wasn’t the new absence of your breath or your unopened Christmas presents amassed under the tree. It was that brown spotted calf.

Baylee Teaster is an emerging writer from East Tennessee, currently getting her MFA at American University. Baylee draws inspiration from Appalachia, her family ancestry and the stories her father told her as a child, as well as her own personal experiences with life and loss.