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MILK by Michael Mungiello

I’m on my way to mom’s apartment.

*

I’m at mom’s apartment.

Wow, nice. She’s really spruced up the place.

Mom?

I’m in here!

Down the hallway, wood floor, wood walls, wood doors, wood frames around photos (of me as a baby, me at my wedding, none in between); plants.

Mom?

Kitchen. Mom’s cluttered kitchen, Tchotchke salt shakers, detergent blue water sitting in the sink, a mini-TV in the corner and a little man saying in the Voice of Concern

A Storm Is Coming.

I look at the whole scene through the linty light coming through mom’s drawn translucent curtains.

Hey, Mom! Came to check up on you before the big storm. Do you need anything?

Oh, how neglected I am!

No one takes care of me!

For all you care, I could die!

Woah woah woah—what?

And she does the aftercry sigh and shiver and explains: last night she fell; couldn’t get up; called me but I didn’t answer (my phone was dead and I was out and she calls me once a day so sometimes, you know what, maybe I’m entitled to ignore a call, maybe it feels good); she called dad; he picked up; came over; helped her up; left; mom fell again; and couldn’t get up until early this morning, she had to move around on the floor and leverage several equidistant pieces of furniture.

Jesus, that sounds terrible, mom! Why didn’t you call dad again?

She doesn’t say, exactly, but talks about pride, pride, pride. Dignity; couldn’t I have called back? And dad, she didn’t want to steal him away again from whatever he’d been doing at that hour

Yikes, mom.

But it’s nice to be with her. Why? She asks about my job (I’m a pharmacist) and roasts me about the stupid things I say and she roasts me in a way that confirms that those things are stupid but that I’m not. Critiquing is how she connects. She has long grey thick hair like she could be a famous poet with a black-and-white headshot but she’s not a poet.

She points to my belly.

I’m pregnant, by the way, 4 months.

You look fat.

Yeah, mom, I just found out it’s twins.

(This is a lie. It’s not twins.)

I’m worried though. What will the baby’s life be like, Lorenzo is on another business trip, left with no notice. Things between us? Not good. And I know he’d always provide for the kid with money but as Lorenzo would say in business-talk:

I’m afraid I’ve written a check I can’t cash, emotionally.

The phone rings.

Mom answers.

Hello…Completely?…Okay.

Yes. Soon. Thank you.

I decide not to ask, it’d just give her an excuse to talk about how nobody cares about her, again. Mom’s quiet. She gets a tall glass and fills it with water and drinks it in a swig. Then she gets a gallon of milk from the fridge (I spot her like she’s lifting weights, which is ridiculous because someone should be spotting me! I’m lifting weights) and she has a tall glass of milk.

Ah, milk. I have milk memories, like how in college I used to put vodka in my half-full gallon of milk so I could drink during the day without roommates noticing. (Milk gets rid of the smell.)

Ah, memories.

Mom makes the ahhh sound and puts down her glass.

Wow, what thirst!

She turns to me, panting with slaked satisfaction.

That was Cheryl. Dad’s dead.

*

Dad and I once went to a baseball game. He bought me a pretzel and looked very tall, very strong. I told mom the truth, he and I had a good time. Later she hurt her back and I connected the dots and didn’t speak highly of dad ever again. Her back didn’t improve, and hasn’t.

*

Outside birds and worms, pedestrians and rats, everybody scurries to a place where they’ll be safe. Meanwhile I’m on my way to dad’s, alone. Big clouds darkly hover over me. I feel ashamed. Was it something I did that made dad die? Or is this some kind of joke?

*

I take a cab and despite myself relish the opportunity to spend money like that. If not now, when?

*

Hi Cheryl.

She opens the door and is sad. Paramedics already there have given up and logged time place cause.

Hi Karen. Is your mother…?

Mom isn’t feeling well, she needed to go lie down after the shock. (That’s what mom told me to tell Cheryl.)

To me it all feels autocompleted. Of course dad died. Of course I’m here. Of course I’m consoling Cheryl, perfectly adequate stepmother. Of course of course.

You sure you’re okay?

You’re not even crying!

Yes, Cheryl. Thank you, Cheryl.

You have to feel your feelings!

Yes, Cheryl. Thank you, Cheryl.

I sincerely try to earnestly sniffle.

Cheryl grew up on a farm in Vermont and is into energies.

The difference between mom’s place and dad’s place is that dad’s place has an upstairs and a basement: three levels total. Mom? Just one floor. I guess that’s just the difference between a house and an apartment.

Photos here too, above granite countertops and under mini-chandeliers. Dad and Cheryl on their honeymoon and on fun vacations to Greece (I like these). Me and mom and dad—my communion, graduation, wedding. I wear a version of the same dress in all three.

Dad won’t meet his grandkid.

That’s sad.

It makes me angry.

Their cat is on the ground. He shows me his belly.

Cheryl, what did they say? Oh I see. Heart attack.

The phone rings. Cheryl goes but the person hangs up as soon as Cheryl says hi.

So difficult to believe.

I know, Cheryl.

He was the best man I knew.

And it’s stupid but I agree. He was actually nice. When he asked if I liked a movie or a book or a song on the radio that played while we were in the car (he’d ask after every song when it was just the two of us in the car)—he cared about my answer.

He was curious about me, fascinated. When he was around.

He’d also do this thing where he didn’t visit for a long time, even though he was a subway away.

(Dad: Park Slope. Mom: Upper East Side.)

Oh.

He’s dead.

Actually dead.

The paramedics are leaving with the body. Cheryl follows and I’m going to get mom.

The storm speaks!

Rumble Rumble

I look out the wide windows in dad’s study. Little rain sounds on the windowpane, steady then faster like—sorry—heartbeats.

I’m feeling sensitive.

I want to be with mom.

I clutch a photo of us all and take it with me when I leave, I don’t really look at it.

I’m in a cab to mom’s and now I look at it. It’s us at the Grand Canyon, the trip we all took, even Cheryl.

Mom looks pissed.

Dad doesn’t seem to notice she’s pissed.

I realize, if I was mom, that would only make me more pissed.

(Cheryl, nervously cheery.)

Thunder Rumble

Lorenzo calls but I decline.

I get to mom’s.

Knock.

Knock.

Knock.

Knock.

Freak out, get the landlord to let me in.

Mom’s dead.

On the ground, on her back, hand on her belly.

She looks vulnerable but she’s not vulnerable she’s just dead.

The landlord says

Oh no.

Your mom’s dead.

*

The rain is coming down not in sheets nor in blankets but in beds, California Queen. Like the weather is furious at the windows.

I don’t call Cheryl because I know mom would kill me. The landlord calls an ambulance but the streets are already flooding.

The other tenants are calling him—leaks!—and he has to check on his own room.

They’ll be here soon.

Everything’ll be handled.

I have to leave.

It’s okay, thanks for unlocking the door.

Well mom, you and me.

I hear a beeping sound over the rain brigade. What the hell?

The smoke alarm in the living room is going. I glance up and get a whopping drop of water right in my eye. Then a bunch of other drops on the back of my head when I turn away to wipe my eye. Then a torrent, a pillar, a fire hydrant’s worth of water. It’s like a whale is upside down on the roof and its blowhole is lined up exactly with the alarm. The alarm is blown right off, I’m drenched, I put a bucket under the hole and it doesn’t do much.

Crrrrack

I look outside and a tree comes down at one end of mom’s street. The tree blocks the road.

Crrrrrack

Another tree! Blocks off the other end of mom’s road.

Then ambulance sounds. But they can’t get past the trees. I see them pull up to the first one and then back out and swing around the block and try the other end of the street. It’s pathetic, futile. They know mom’s dead. No rush, guys. No worries.

I’m suddenly starving. I go into the kitchen and make a cold cut sandwich with Italian bread, mortadella, and mozzarella. A wayward branch bandied about by the wind smashes through mom’s window. Some glass comes dangerously close to getting in her hair. For propriety’s sake I drag mom into the kitchen with me, which I know I’m not supposed to do with the baby, and draw the curtain that was functionally the kitchen door, so nothing will mess up mom’s face, no broken glass or whatever.

Her eyes are still kind of open.

I want to close her eyes but I don’t want to touch her so I put the family photo from dad’s house over her face. It helps. It feels respectful.

I think I hear her try to talk. Garble. She’s not dead.

Mom?

But she doesn’t answer.

*

The storm is hard to describe.

Like, “I look at the storm and see myself.”

Like, “I feel I’ll die due to storm-related head trauma.”

Like, “And what about the people who aren’t me? What’s the storm like for them, where are they? It’s useless to wonder this but do nothing. I think I’m bad.”

Like, “I actually make a dark and stormy. In my mind I raise a toast with mom’s ghost.”

Like, “The thunder is dad, the lightning mom, the raindrops Cheryl. The baby?”

Like, “Thinking of my baby as the storm rages, I feel badly about the environment: specifically, climate change.”

Like, “I don’t hear the knocks at the door over the storm sounds so the paramedics have to break mom’s wood door.”

Like, “The paramedics’ ponchos seem used up and the paramedics themselves are still soaked all the way through. I’m swept into my old bedroom like dust while they work on mom. No windows in my old room. Safe.”

Like, “The paramedics come in to tell me that mom’s not dead but that she has overdosed on her back pain meds. They are taking her to the hospital now. They will try to brave the storm conditions. They ask if I will be riding in the ambulance—they understand if I don’t want to risk it.”

Like, “I decline another call from Lorenzo. I text and tell him I’m okay, just bad reception because of the storm. He responds with a thumbs up emoji.”

Like, “The back doors of the ambulance close and the rain’s hit me so hard even the baby feels wet. The ambulance wades in our race against time.”

Like, “There should never be a season for things like this.”

Like, “The storm is just a device. Like mom or dad or Cheryl or Lorenzo or the baby.”

Like, “I look at the storm and ask, Why can’t you be other, better weather?”

The storm stops.

The storm starts.

The storm says, What storm?

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