On Tuesday, Mark’s mother died. I found her on the couch crumpled in a blanket like a threadbare cushion. Framed by ash colored braids, her face looked like a wilted petal. I didn’t have to check her wrist to know she’d passed; she never missed reruns of Gilligan’s Island. The night before, she’d told us a young boy cradled her head. We’d gone to our room, leaving her smoking a thin joint. Mark blamed the pot. I blamed dementia.

Why did I have to find her? In our bedroom, Mark slept with a pillow over his head, fist twirled in the sheet up to his chin. He ignored the mattress’s squeaking tremors as I curled up next to him. My hand on his chilly bicep, I said, “Markey.”

He didn’t move. I tried again, shaking him. “Your mother died,” I said.

“She’s sleeping,” he said, his voice hollow and faraway from under the pillow.

“Baby, she’s gone,” I said, holding back finally.

“What time is it?”

“It’s Gilligan time,” I said, “but she’s not watching.”

“Can you make pancakes?”

Somersaulting off the bed and landing on my feet, I returned to the living room. Meredith hadn’t moved. In the doorway, I stood between mother and son. Any woman threatened to sever Meredith’s place in Mark’s heart. I’d been her biggest threat. Married less than a year, and she had to move in with us.

She would decay fast, and a two-room house doesn’t take long to fill with the stench of three-day-old poultry parts left in the trash. Flowering weeds had taken over our backyard. I twisted them loose from their roots by the fistful and brought them into the kitchen. At the table I cut the buds from the stems and grouped them in bowls by color: white, yellow, lavender.

In Meredith’s bedroom for the past year, I sat on the coffee table. Keeping a pattern of four yellow, two white, and one lavender, I outlined her body. With the leftover buds, I decorated her braids, and gave her a crown. The cloud-diffused sun came through the window and cast her in a muted yellow glow. In life, she’d never had such a light. Since I met Mark, her aura always appeared to be fading, draining my light with it.

Mark stirred in the bedroom. Shirtless, he appeared in the doorway. The flowers should have made it easier for him to understand. He just stared at her. Did she appear as an apparition? Would he blame me for her passing? Or did he think it was a prank, some kind of girlie version of writing on someone with a permanent marker as they slept, the way I’d seen him do to his friends?

I stood form the table. His eyes sparked with boyish fear as he began to accept the truth. He leaned towards her as though he’d skinned his knee and needed his mother to make it better. The air between us grew thick.

A sigh dislodged from his chest, and the atmosphere lightened. Mark wrapped his arms around me and cried into my neck. My chin on his shoulder, I held him tight and rubbed his back, a smirk on my lips. The room brightened, the light igniting from between us.

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Dusty Cooper

About Dusty Cooper

Dusty is writing a collection of stories based on his experiences in the Gulf of Thailand and a novel expanding on his story “Conditioning a Wolf.” His work has appeared in Weave Magazine, Crack the Spine, Berkeley Fiction Review, Bartleby Snopes, Paper Nautilus, and Litro, among others. Dusty is an instructor at Southeastern Louisiana University. www.dustycooper.com