by Shannon Peavey
It's somebody's birthday. Streamers tangled in the chain-link fence--a spotted pit bull with a party hat strapped to his flap-grinned face. So I know it's somebody's birthday, and soon I'll remember whose. Soon I'll remember arriving here or who is going to take me home.
I close my eyes and there are countless unknowable faces behind my eyelids and they want to touch me, want to know, like there's something they could steal from just underneath my skin--
"Mari," says my sister, and she brushes the back of my hand. I blink back to the party.
"Do you want to go?" she asks, which I guess answers at least one of my questions.
I just press my knuckles to my eyelids until I see spots and I shake out my hair. There are leaves in it, I know without looking--little white poplar leaves, glossy green on one side and pale on the other.
"Whose birthday is it?" I say eventually.
She tells me that it's Kurt's birthday and then looks away. "He's seven," she says.
I think, oh, and I remember the last time I talked to my youngest cousin which was not here, at his parent's house with its broken concrete yard, but there, in that place. I had asked him, when did you die? and he said I don't know. I don't know. I start to tell Christina this and then I think she must already know. I must have already told her.
Kurt is running around the yard, chasing the party-hatted pit bull. He almost runs into my legs when I step into his path and he's so alive, then, so bright. Just the air heaving through his lungs is a novelty.
"Happy birthday, squirt."
"Thanks," he says, and runs on past.
I get a soda from the cooler and stand there drinking it while one of our uncles talks at Christina. Saying how well she looks, how healthy.
"The doctors must be so surprised," he says.
Christina shrugs. "Apparently all those years of fancy school don't count for much."
"Not a career option for you?"
"No," she says. "I've seen enough of hospitals."
I remember the hospital, even the way I am now. The scuffed tiles and dark green privacy curtains; the hurry-up-and-wait for news, for a dose, for a nurse. The smell of iodoform low in my nose and also the way this woman looked once, standing in the breezeway between the parking lot and the reception desk--hunched over with her knuckles pressed white against the bridge of her nose, breathing hard but making no sound, no sound at all.
We had seen enough.