Mom and I are on her sun porch watching a documentary about a man who won lots of money on a game show by memorizing patterns. This morning she smells of the lavender from her neck pillow that's supposed to be for travel, but she wears it all the time now. In the mornings I have to remove the tape she's put on her eyelids. She claims this keeps them from drooping. She tells me to grab an edge and just rip, like a band-aid, so I do and her shoulders jump but she doesn't make a sound. How do they look, she asks, and I say red. I've made her pumpernickel toast with lots of butter, and coffee the way she likes it, extra weak. The game's patterns are super easy. I spot them immediately. I am not interested in your patterns, Mom says. After the show we go to the rec center to swim laps. I complain about the chlorine wrecking my hair so she buys me a swim cap with daisies all over it. She swims one lap then floats on her back. Her belly sticks up like a bright green island. I swim back and forth for several minutes, then tread water next to her. That man was trying to cheat the system, she says. To my mind he was just smart. When I was in middle school, she and my dad sent me to a psychologist who gave me an IQ test. I scored 142. He said my behavior problems were due to being bored at school. I don't remember being bored. I spent a lot of time in the principal's office playing cards with the assistant. Now I manage a beauty salon downtown. I don't even know how to cut hair, but I can schedule people, take appointments, make sure the money all adds up at the end of the day. Mom starts hacking and I tow her to the edge. She thinks she has lung cancer. I think it's just post-nasal drip and paranoia. She's survived four bad marriages and a year of homelessness. The game show guy eventually lost all his winnings on a Ponzi scheme. The IRS was after him for back taxes. He absconded to Florida, became a Buddhist, and died in a car accident at forty-nine.
Kathy Fish is the author of
three collections of short fiction, most recently TOGETHER WE CAN BURY IT (The Lit Pub). She will be joining the faculty of the
Regis University MFA program in January of 2016, teaching flash