My mother draws her breath like a bad cartoon. No doctors can tell us what’s wrong with her, so we don’t let them see her. She was always busy living, proliferating. Now she’s making a career of her one death. Dad doesn’t exist. Dad never existed. She had us without him.

Our visit with the realtor is for her a waking nightmare. We’re buying her last house. What if? she says, then loses the thread forever. Her breathing is confused and shallow, noisy, ineffectual, disturbingly occasional. Her tissues are in panic, but in her eyes a generous urgent willingness to laugh off what is after all the very funny comic horror of her confusion if only I will signal her please signal her that I am laughing too. This is richer than fear. For mother now my hair is on fire and only she notices but no one will listen and maybe after all it’s just a style.

The realtor says my mother won’t earn interest on her escrow and I say Of course and my mother has to trust her son whose hair is on fire but who doesn’t seem to notice. The realtor will not look at her. He aims his casual agency at me. His days begin and end in flame. Commissions are the warmth radiating from buyers with their heads ablaze. He shows me where to have her sign and hands me a flaming pen.

Mother forgets. The world she believes to be changing so quickly is really only breathing, burn out, burn in. I show her where to sign. She’s searching my face for a clue. She’ll cry before she signs, I know, but she will sign. If I can hold my breath and take the heat, she’ll sign. Together we stand and burn.

Copyright ©1997-2006 David Hodges

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