Emily Hessney Lynch
JUST THE TWO OF US
There is a woman cut in two by the window. One side of her is slowly shrinking. It’s so gradual it’s hard to tell, but if you stand there long enough, you’ll notice. Something silvery drips from the side of her. Drip. Drip. Drip. She rests a veiny hand on the rawness of her wound, where she was sliced, like a log split by a lumberjack. Her eyes are downcast, tracking the movements of the silver on the dull wooden floor. I’ve never seen her like this before.
It’s the side of her that could have been. From the doorway, I watch the silvery liquid pooling at her feet. As she continues to drip, the fluids run toward me. I crouch down to examine them, all the things she could have been if she’d let herself change.
All these women she could have been, swirling in puddles of silver as she shrinks shrinks shrinks.
I’m immobile in the doorway, unable to tear my eyes from this shrunken side of my mother.
I spare a glance at her other half. There’s no liquid to be seen but she’s ballooning. Expanding. A righteous look on her face. This is who she is, who she has clung to for years and years. Balloon-Mom’s wound isn’t raw though the split just happened, it’s hardened like a shell. It’s pale pink like a newborn, but nowhere near as soft to the touch. I knock my knuckles against her and she issues a low boom, not unlike a drum. There’s a hollowness to her.
Balloon-Mom turns, rolls her eyes. “You should have been here an hour ago,” she scolds. “Don’t touch me. What were you doing? What took you so long?”
I try not to slip in the silvery fluid from her other half as I lean over to Shrunken-Mom, her whole form shriveling as I place a hand on her shoulder. I wish I could have known her better, this dreaming woman, scared as she is. “You were always good enough for me,” she mumbles without looking up. All I want is to look her in the eye but she will not meet my gaze. I tear up but I do not let the liquid spill over.
“Get over here already!” Balloon-mom barks. I turn back to face her, too quick, and slip in the silvery puddle. As I come crashing down, she rolls her eyes again. She inflates and inflates, and I stay on the floor because it’s easier. I can feel the dreams flowing around me. It’s calming. They’re lapping softly like small waves on a lake, cool and soothing.
My neck feels hot. My eyes dart up toward Balloon-Mom, who has just let out a hacking cough. A small crab tumbles from her mouth. I feel it scuttle up my spine, shudder as it makes a home at the base of my neck.
“There! You’ll be just like me now,” Balloon-Mom says, triumph and joy glimmering in her all-consuming eyes.
The job she could have kept, the promotion she would have gotten if she hadn’t decided to be a stay at home mom. A life someplace far from the 20 the nondescript suburb where she was raised. What she would have built for herself had she plucked up the courage to leave her ever-drinking husband.