Mother and Her Remains
by Robin Bissett
Mama sped along the highway, unbothered by bits of gravel that flew up from the front tires and struck the windshield of the sedan. When Mama weaved across lanes, Mason squeezed my hand real tight and shuffled his warm body against mine.
“Liam,” he whispered, “I’m sleepy.”
He sat atop his seat belt buckle to be closer to me and rested his sweaty yellow head on my shoulder. We had been on the road for a few hours. The morning light would catch up to us soon.
Mama spoke aloud, more to herself than to us. Her body was there, but her mind was half gone.
She said, “I had a dream I slit open my palm and dripped blood onto the kitchen tile. It seeped into the green-gray grout, and no matter how hard I scrubbed, the stain refused to fade.”
I tried to catch her eye in the rearview mirror, but her attention was elsewhere, not at all on the road. The idea for our trip had struck her in the middle of the night. She had hurried to Mason and I’s room and told us to pack only what we needed for a few days.
She was always trying to outrun him, but no matter how far we went, the fact remained our father left us first. This wore at Mama, transforming her into an anxious shadow of her former self. It was always worse for her this time of year. The sun set too early in the winter, leaving her with little to do but remember.
“Isn’t it funny,” she said. “How peculiar dreams can be.”
She hummed, her lips ironed white, the rhythm of her sounds perfectly in sync with the clicking car blinker. Looking left, looking right.
A few years before my father left, I was naive enough to imagine that the shower knobs in our home that were marked with L and R stood for Mama and I’s names, Liam and Ruth. Mama had been the one to correct me. She taught me the different directions, what cardinal points were, and how to use them to find my way home if I was ever lost. I wished I had thought to ask her what I should do in case she was the lost one.
I counted the cars we drove past by tapping my thumb and index fingers together. I told myself if I landed on an even number, all would be alright.
If I landed on an odd number, I’d grip my skinny thigh, hoping the worst had passed. Mason watched me but never said anything. He was too young to know how to help.
Far from home, we passed a dead doe, whose scraps of formerly worn flesh lay like scattered engine parts. She looked inaccessibly serene with her hooves crossed.
I wondered why deer startled at the sound of a twig snapping but locked their legs in place when faced with headlights.