I sit at the table eating my cereal and drinking the orange juice you poured. Your heavy steps break through the music pumping through my earbuds. I look up from my Lexicon puzzle, annoyed at the distraction, and there you are. Hunched over, you use both hands to help lift your right leg, move it forward, and then your left.
I watch for a moment as your leg shakes and buckles at the knee. You catch yourself against the kitchen counter and your leg jerks as if possessed. It has a mind of its own and you are often helpless to its whims.
You slump further against the counter and I stand, pushing my chair away from the table in one fluid movement, my hands reaching toward you. What is so easy for me, is sometimes impossible for you.
“Mom, do you need help?”
You look up, hesitation clear in your gaze, but finally you nod. I rush to your side, bending to slip in under your arm. As your weight settles on my shoulders, I curve my arm around your waist and lighten your load. We travel the last few steps to the table and you sink onto the chair with a sigh. Your hand falls to mine, giving it a gentle, grateful squeeze.
I swallow hard and ask, “Do you need your chair?”
Silence, as we both hold our breath. The house, too, quiets its old bones. Waiting.
You nod and your breath rushes out in a harsh exhale. In my mind, I see an inflated red balloon, the untied end held tight between two fingers. It is buoyant at its fullest. Then, as it is released and air hisses out, it scurries erratically around the room before it falls to the floor – limp. You are that deflated balloon, your sense of worth diminished, your strength gone.
I turn from you and pretend I don’t see the gleam of moisture in your eyes. I pretend I don’t see the defeat in the slump of your shoulders, and I hurry to get the wheelchair from where you left it beside your bed.
I am young, only thirteen, but now I notice things I never would have. I notice the strength in my thighs, the muscles bunching in my buttocks, supporting me as I crouch to release the brakes on the wheelchair. My arms reach forward. My hands are sure. I grasp the handles at the back of the chair and maneuver toward the door.
The motor cortex in my brain sends electrical signals through my spinal cord and peripheral nerves to my muscles, causing them to contract. My muscles flex, extend, rotate – on command. I never thought about whether or not my body would do what I wanted it to, until now.
Somewhere along the way, your muscle fibers forgot that they should listen to the crackle along your nerve synapses. But how can they listen when the conduit itself is broken? Sometimes, there’s nothing there for them to hear.
I wheel the chair out into the kitchen. You are slumped over the table, your head resting against your arms. You make no sound, but the salt and pepper shakers rattle against one another in homage to the pain evidenced by the earthquake in your shoulders.
I have no breath; your pain is a sucker punch robbing my lungs. My mother, a woman of great beauty and strength, is broken before my eyes.
My heart contracts, iron bands of anguish squeezing it tight. I vow to repair the damage, pouring love into your cracks like gold. My own personal Kintsugi project, and, maybe, redemption for us both.
Suann Amero (she/her) is a Canadian writer who loves both romance and horror, tea and coffee, cats and dogs. She writes from Nova Scotia, where she lives with her partner and their two cats, Quincey and Onyx. Suann’s short fiction has been previously published by Fiction on the Web, Dark Recesses Press, Black Hare Press, and Antimony and Elder Lace Press, to name a few. Suann can be reached on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuannIAm or Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/suann_i_am/