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MY DAYS by Emily James

We hold hands and listen to him read our vows, grey mustache puffing above his breath. I picture him sucking a cigarette outside, a Bible tucked to his body, white robe blowing in the wind. Behind us, my mother’s arms hang from the hospital gown, her limp limbs our altar. Her eyes closed, two still coins. Our daughter keeps grabbing the wires. We unclasp our hands again and again. Stop it, we angry whisper. Come back. The beeps are steady, at least. Her moans have subsided, at least. Yes, I will take him, at least in sickness, at most in health. Her body, my life’s centerpiece. Deflated arms dangling, that I watched from the kitchen table kneading dishes in the sink, biceps flexed with the pop of a Budweiser tab, elbows bent so fiercely while sliding open the TV table. And her fingernails that feathered my forehead those nights when the blinds shut out the moon. Now, she is all skin cascading from bone, she is almost remains. I do, I say. I will. His slanted gaze reaching for comfort to hand to me, all sterile pads and latex gloves and Toxic Waste Only bins behind us.  She isn’t dressed, I think again. My eyes stay open, wet, but the images still come. Magenta gowns we would have tried on in front of a three-way mirror, I’d sit and argue hot from cheap champagne, no, that’s better for your figure, no, that won’t be easy with a bra. Fat seeping from her sides that we never loved enough.

I like this one, she would’ve said. It’s kind of nice.

It’s my day, Mom, I’d remind her. My day.

But now, here, as I promise myself to him, my daughter pulling rolling curtains open and closed and open and closed, our rental priest with his to-do list in his back pocket, I can see it was never mine, everything that’s mine belonged to her, because I was her, and without her, I’ll be someone else. This world will be someplace new, the kind of place where you say I do as your mother dies in a metal bed behind you, and there will be no magenta, no music, only fluorescent lights beaming on a beige, cushion-less chair.  We stand boxed in by corners and cracks, dust-covered and uncared for, three generations becoming two. My little girl squeals and jumps on the linoleum, yellow pigtails flying up and down, up and down, and all the days to come unfold before me, they are all my days, they are decks and decks of cards that have fallen everywhere, cutting my palms, slicing me to pieces.

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