The Long Beep
Casey Hannan

My mother's fingers are scissors. There are lines to cut. My mother doesn't cut them. She pinches my grandmother's lips. My grandmother's eyes stay closed.

"Baby bird," my mother says.

My grandmother's breath is translated by a machine. There are plastic tubes folding and unfolding. It could be a robot huffing glue from a sturdy bag. I ask my mother if robots can get high. My mother says she thinks cars are robots, and cars perform better with the special oil, so maybe.

Short beeps come from a monitor. My mother taps her feet in time. The beeps poke me in the ear like ignored text messages. I check my phone. The screen is empty.

A nurse brings lunch. My mother sucks Coke through a bendy straw and cries. She looks like an animal abandoned after the egg. Her feathers are purple under her skin. They're the bruises she got from hugging herself too hard.

We bite our sandwiches into bat's wings. I say there's no flavor but what the tuna got from the can. I fly my sandwich into the garbage.

My mother dusts off the beeping monitor with a napkin. She brings the napkin to her lips and wipes away leftover tuna. The grease streaks the napkin but doesn't absorb. My mother dabs the napkin at my grandmother's mouth and laughs.

"She could die," my mother says, "and it would take a computer to show me anything's different."

A nurse wheels a patient down the hall. The patient is a teenage boy.

"I know that woman," he says. "That woman hint me with her car."

He  means to say "hit," but he's missing his nose.

I look at my grandmother like I look at the art in a museum. I wait for something to move.

My mother gets cheek to cheek with my grandmother. I lift my phone. I press my thumb on the screen to take a picture. My mother's forehead comes across like sandpaper. My grandmother looks pink and well.

My mother sneezes. My grandmother dies. The long beep tells us.

"I killed her," my mother says.

A doctor comes in to correct my mother. The doctor says my grandmother's brain died when she hit the windshield. We were just waiting for her heart.

"Something to consider," he says.

My mother considers it.

I press my thumb on the screen of my phone again. I want to send my best friend a picture of a dead woman. I send the picture to my mother instead. Her pocket shakes. My mother pulls out her phone and looks.

"You shouldn't have done that," she says.

I say it was an accident. My mother repeats the word and swallows.   

Casey Hannan's first book of stories, MOTHER GHOST, is coming soon from Tiny Hardcore Press.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of B Tal.

Read more of CH's work in the archive.

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