That was all it took.
One kick, and a cup of change.
I squeezed off the train at Harvard Ave, sweating underneath my collared shirt and pea coat, and walked toward the worst mistake of my life. It was a cold, cloudy day, no sight of the sun to be found. In Boston, March isn't a month. It's a proper noun describing the long, gray trudge between winter and spring. Everyone had their heads down and their hands in their pockets, except for the people sitting on the sidewalk. They had their heads up and their hands out. I have nothing against the homeless, but when they come out in numbers, they make getting down the block a guilt trip. You help none of them, you feel bad. You help one, and you have to practically run by the rest. There's never enough to go around, and sometimes you're just cashed out. Even if you're carrying around a roll of quarters in your pocket, sometimes you're just cashed out.
That morning there were the usual faces. One was a black fellow in a sleeping bag with big white eyes that seemed to jump out of his head. Another was Napkin Guy, who'd earn enough for a cup of coffee and use the coffee to purchase a few hours of real estate in Dunkin Donuts, making gorgeous, intricate flowers out of paper and straws. There was a woman who never stopped swinging her arms and calling out, “Can I have a dollar? Can I have a dollar? Can I have a dollar?” Occasionally she wore a leg brace, but today she'd left it . . . wherever she left her things. I'm not saying she's a faker, but sometimes I wondered if she wasn't just out to make a buck. Down that little strip of Harvard Ave, I passed maybe six homeless people in all, some parked next to shopping carts of recyclables, one or two holding urgent, anxious conversations with themselves (but still able to give me entreating stares as I went by) and soon I was biting down on the urge to scream, “I'm not a goddamn piggy bank!”
I wish I had screamed, but I didn't. I did something worse.
And it made me feel good.
For a moment.
There's a woman on the corner that everyone calls Mom because she calls everyone who passes ‘her sweet child.’ She'd sat on her corner underneath an old movie theater marquis since Boston was nursing on the Queen. Her voice was melted chocolate and cigarettes and her skin was as thin as parchment paper, so she was forced to hide herself under thick blankets and wear a hood over her lined face. Every winter I expected her to die, and every spring she was still there.
“My sweet child,” she said as I rounded her corner. “Can you spare a—”
That was when my foot found her Styrofoam cup in its path, and I could tell you I had no time to change course, that what happened next was an accident, but I won't. I kicked it. Like a boy at an empty soda can, I kicked her cup of change . . .
. . . and followed through, swinging my leg up through the hip and nearly spinning myself around in the process.
Quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies—the whole shebang—exploded in every direction. They ran down the sidewalk. They rolled into the intersection. A few even made it to the other side of the street. The sound of them scattering was music, and my outgoing breath stretched itself into something thin and strange in order to escape my throat, which closed tight in excitement. The noise I made was almost a yelp, like I'd been kicked. Everything went quiet in my head. I'd shocked my own inner audience into silence.
At long, long last my foot touched back down. I looked at Mom, who looked up at me from her deep hood, her face wide open . . . that is how I remember her in that moment, not hurt or surprised, but open, as though I'd knocked down some door inside her and let the wind into her house. All those many, many winters she'd sat there on her corner, and I let the cold in. I let the cold in, do you understand?
I hunched my shoulders and strolled away, my whole body desperate to break into a run. My office was one of six tucked out of sight underneath a concrete overhang, but she must have known where I worked and what I did. She had been there a long time, after all. I went into the warmth, blushing and apologizing for being late, and that was how the first day of my last week on Earth began.
The name of my practice is “Show Me Your Smile!” and before lunch I repeated this catchphrase to six different children, including one exceptionally unlucky eleven year old who I had to schedule for a root canal. My own smile was hiding somewhere back between my ears, and forcing it out for an appearance made the muscles in my cheeks hurt. I burped almost nonstop—sick, anxious burps that poisoned the air in my mouthmask. When Lucy, my receptionist and dental assistant, offered to pick up Indian food, I declined. Instead I went down Beacon with a fifty dollar bill rolled in one fist, thinking this will take care of it, this will more than do. The corner under the marquis was empty except for a few scattered coins. Mom was nowhere to be seen.
“The lady who sits over there,” I asked Napkin Guy. “Where is she?”
“Where did she go? Do you know?”
He sniffed a lacy white paper rose. Deeply. This was getting me nowhere. I told him I liked his flower, then I went back to the office. For the rest of the day my guilt was like a cavity in the back of my mouth. Until I got it filled in and capped, I wouldn't be able to focus on anything else.
That's why I took the girl in, mostly. Guilt. Not goodwill.
I had finished my last appointment and was putting on my coat when Lu poked her head in through the door. “Mike, there's a young lady here hoping to see you.”
“Tell her to schedule an appointment.”
“I tried to, but she said she's in a lot of pain. I think”—Lu dropped her voice—“I think she's had things pretty rough.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, like on the street. She has money, though. A whole wad of it. She must have saved up a long time to come here.”
I glanced at the clock: 4:28. I was already going to be late getting home to relieve Cassie, but I was usually late getting home to relieve Cassie and she never seemed to mind an extra hour or two with my mother—as challenging as those hours could sometimes be. Besides, staying longer would give the old woman extra time to return to her corner, and more than anything I wanted her to be there when I left. I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to make things right. I wouldn’t get any sleep if I had to take her cup of change to bed with me tonight.
And, yes, there was the suggestion that the girl might be homeless. Would I have said yes otherwise? Would I have invited her in otherwise?
“All right, let’s see her.”
“Really. Just get her info first if she's got any.”
The girl walked in as I was fetching my lab coat back out of the closet. She was tall, slim but not starved, and dressed in yesteryear's clothing: boots with holes in them, blue jeans with ripped knees, and a pullover sweatshirt about five sizes too big. One glance at her face, pulled tight from the ponytail she wore, told me that I'd be pushing if not exceeding the limits of my pediatrics' specialization by seeing her. I'm more than capable of peeking into an adult's mouth, of course, but doing so takes business from the general practitioners and is a great way to lose their referrals.
“Hello, Dr . . .”
“Dr. Roberts,” I said. “But you can call me Mike. Everyone else does. And you are?”
She paused briefly. “Tiffany.”
“Nice to meet you, Tiffany. What's bothering you?”
Her mouth worked silently, as if she was sucking on one large and painful gumball. “I don't know, but there's something wrong.”
“Well, let's have a look.” I nodded at the chair while putting on latex gloves. She took an anxious seat. Nobody, except for children too young to know better, gets into that chair looking comfortable. Most treat it like a medieval torture device, and that's pretty much what it is underneath the cushions. “All, right, Tiffany. Show me your smile.”
Until then Tiffany hadn't given me more than a glimpse of her teeth and, to tell the truth, I wasn't expecting a pretty sight. The homeless have bigger concerns than dental care. But I was wrong. Her smile was beautiful—straight, clean, and perfectly white. Even pained, it made her face light up.
“Did you have braces?” I asked out of pure reflex.
She shook her head.
“You're lucky then,” I said, and winced inwardly, glancing at her worn, baggy clothes. They smelled as if they had been washed in men's body spray, and I guessed that was more likely than a Laundromat. “Okay, Tiffany, open up wide.”
She opened up wide, and I leaned over her, not realizing until it was too late that I had forgotten to put on my mask. Thankfully, her breath matched her smile and not her outfit. I smelled peppermint and some faint citrus that might have been lemon or lime. I've got a good nose. My mother used to make me sniff her wine back when I was a kid. I would start off by listing what was there—blackberries, granite, so on—but I'd always finish with something absurd like ‘wet teddy bear,’ or ‘baby pillow.’ My mother would laugh, and then . . .
“Dr. Roberts?” said Tiffany. “Do you see anything?”
“Sorry. It's been a long day.” I turned my eyes forward to the present. A quick scan of her teeth showed nothing out of sorts. No nasty brown spots, no lesions. “Well, we're not dealing with a cavity. And you're not showing any signs of gingivitis.”
Then I saw it. A tiny lump behind the 29th and 30th posteriors—in laymen's terms, the teeth set halfway back on the lower left side of her mouth. The gums there had begun to climb the enamel, and under them something bulged. A supernumerary tooth? Those usually presented themselves in children, but a late erupter wasn't out of the question. This one had probably been camping out down in the roots of her posteriors, and now it was getting ready to show its ugly little head at long last. Strange, though, that her other teeth hadn't been displaced at all. I glanced at Tiffany. Her eyes were watching me closely, with what struck me in that moment as cold interest. For a second I felt as if I were the one in the chair under examination. I looked back into her mouth. Blinked. The lump had risen closer to the surface . . . unless the gums covering it had crept back ever so slightly, and wasn't it odd that those gums weren't swollen or bleeding? I gave them a poke to test their tenderness, but instead of squishing beneath my fingers, they moved. No, that is only halfway to the truth. Her gums didn't just move under my touch; they shrank from my touch, sliding down like a clingy red robe. Something pricked me—something that looked like a baby canine tooth but completely black, and I pulled my hand out with a gasp.
Tiffany shut her mouth. She got up out of the chair. “Thank you, Dr. Roberts, for seeing me. I feel so much better now. How much do I owe you?”
I was too bewildered to answer.
“Come on, Doctor, you don't work for charity. Everything's got a price.” She thumbed a few bills out of her pocket. “One hundred dollars. That's ten a minute. Does that seem fair?”
“What—what was that?”
“What was what?” she said, smiling a thin bright smile. She dropped the money on the chair. “Goodbye, Doctor, and good luck.” At the door she paused and gave me a long, thoughtful look. A look with no warmth in it whatsoever.
“Everything's got a price,” she said.
Then she left.
I stood there staring after her until I became aware of the tingling, throbbing heat in my right hand. A drop of blood welled from my forefinger, spreading between my skin and the skin of my glove.
The sun was setting, and the clouds simmered reddish purple to the west. To the east, where I was headed, the sky was already dark. I had spent five solid minutes disinfecting the prick on my fingertip, first with rubbing alcohol and then with hot water and soap. Still the tingling continued.
Mom's corner was a shadow underneath the old marquis, but not an empty shadow. A hooded face watched me from a lump of blankets. Those blankets were brown, I know that, but in my mind they're red. Like gums.
“Ma'am?” I said. “I'm sorry for earlier. I hope this helps.”
I held out the fifty dollar bill, now wrapped in the hundred dollars that Tiffany had left me. I wanted to be rid of it all. To wipe the day off the slate and start fresh tomorrow.
Mom looked at the money. Then she looked—at least I could swear she did—at the Band-Aid on my index finger. Finally, she looked at me. Her eyes were as dark as the coming night, and terribly sad. “My sweet child,” she said. “My poor, sweet child, there is nothing to be done now.”
“Just take it. Please.”
“What has been given cannot be taken back. By anyone.”
“That doesn't make any sense.”
I pocketed the money, feeling confused and frustrated and tired. Tired, most of all. As I turned to leave, one wrinkled and surprisingly strong hand shot out from her blankets and clamped my wrist. “Mind the cracks,” she said. “Watch where you walk and where you reach, and never go any place you can't see into first. Even if it's in your own house.”
While she spoke, a bottle fly crawled out of her beaked nose, walked to the cusp of her upper lip, and rubbed its black forelegs together luxuriously. The sight of it held me there. I did not feel her let go, did not realize I was free to move until I was already moving away, and soon I was on the green line bound for home.
My mom and dad met at college right here in Boston. He was a business major from a small town in Texas with a lust for cowboy hats that no amount of ridicule could kill. She was city born and a groupie for Karl Marx. They hated each other from the very beginning.
I was born before either managed their Bachelor's degree. To my dad's Christian family, I was something of a bastard; being born out of wedlock made me a permanent blind spot to them. I've gotten a few Christmas and birthday cards from their clan over the years, but I've never seen their faces outside of photographs. My mom's side didn't care much for the coupling, either. Her parents were devoutly liberal and atheist, and I'm pretty sure they looked at my fetus as some sort of prenatal hijacker, as if my mother's body were a vehicle that I had taken control of violently with the intent of driving her toward a life of obligation and unfulfillment. Nothing she said could convince them that my dad wasn't forcing her to keep me. They eventually wrote her a check to have ‘it taken care of.’ My mom deposited the check and put the money toward an apartment in Cambridge. Her parents didn't speak to her again until she released her memoir four years later (most of this I learned from reading that same memoir, which enjoyed top placement on Ivory Tower bookshelves as well as a darling of a review from The New Yorker). They were proud, they said, ‘to have helped shape her literary development.’ They bought me a Moleskine notebook in the hopes I might follow in her footsteps, which to them were their footsteps, and being four at the time I used the blank pages for some exemplary doodles that my mother tacked to the refrigerator. I haven't tapped into my creative side once in the three decades since. Unless you count what you're reading now. But I'm not writing this for fun. I'm writing this to stay sane.
Dad got his first real paycheck for something related to home security systems when I was six. He and my mother bought a house in Savin Hill, a cute seaside community in Dorchester that earned the colorful nickname Stab 'N Kill for no apparent reason other than it was catchy. We moved out of the one bedroom, and on our first night in our new home, my dad did the cheesiest thing of his short and unsentimental life. He bought a diamond ring, tied the ring to my head using my hair, and sent me to my mother wearing one of his cowboy hats, knowing she could not stand the sight of me taking after his filthy western ways. She plucked off the hat as expected and turned about ten years younger in one wonderful moment that I will never forget. I may never have had the chance to really get to know my dad, but he made me a part of making my mother happier than I have ever seen anyone since, and that counts for a lot, I guess. One month before their wedding he went down to the basement in the middle of the night to fetch some logs for the fire, and a bad circuit blew in his brain. My mom woke up as their bed cooled, and she spent nearly half an hour wandering the dark house before she found him dead by the woodpile. She saw a few men after that (and a woman or two, I suspect), but nothing serious ever came out of the affairs. In her heart she was still engaged to my father.
Coming back from work under winter's early sunset, I walked through the noise of the overpass into the sudden and always alarming quiet of Savin Hill. Swings dangled limp in the empty playground. Waves lapped gently near the boardwalk where I used to skateboard (and before that, to my great shame, scooter). Sleepy Victorians looked over the street, each one a slightly different color than the last. Since I was a kid, the houses in this community have reminded me of people—all unique but essentially the same. I miss them now. I wish I could see them, but they are not there anymore.
My mother's home is one of the few that was built with space to breathe. It has a backyard with trees and a vegetable garden, a picket fence, and a paved comma of driveway that separates the front lawn into tidy green portions she named Clause One and Clause Two. At least, it used to have all these things, and that evening I walked up the cobblestones to the front door not knowing what a privilege it was to be able to do that.
I knocked. My house key dangled on a chain around my neck, and I did not have the motivation to take it off. Also, I'm right handed, and my right hand wasn't feeling too hot. Or more accurately it was feeling too hot. The index finger had begun to swell, filling its sleeve of the glove like a sausage cooked inside the casing. I didn't want to bend it, and I didn't want to think about it either.
Fast, purposeful footsteps moved through the house, and I heard the rattle of Cassie's key. Both the front and back door have double-keyed locks out of necessity. My mother had wandered outside once and walked almost all the way to Milton on the trails that run by Quincy Bay. Two high school kids saw her strolling in her slippers and nightgown, called the cops, and shared their cigarettes with her to pass the time. Thank God it had been July and comfortable out, not January.
Cassie opened the door, and I had to fight the urge to take a step back, as I always do when I see her. It's not that she's beautiful, which she is, or that I'm in love with her, which has been the case since I interviewed her for the job last spring in a coffee shop by the Common. It's that she's big. I don't mean heavy. I mean big as in she fills up wherever she is whenever she's there, and that goes especially for the house where we live together happily, even now, in the place I've built for us inside me. Her skin is dark, but she is bright, my Cassie—she makes me want to write bad poetry about candle flames that go on burning in the rain or wind.
“Hi Mike,” she said, stepping back to let me inside. I both worried and hoped that I would brush her, and when I didn't, I felt disappointed as well as relieved. She was wearing black jeans and a faded blue chambray shirt that I wanted to lay my head on as I fell asleep. Ripping it off wouldn't have been so bad either, as long as we're on the subject of conflicting emotions.
“Sorry I'm late. How is she?”
“She's a lovely old gal, and right now she's taking a lovely old nap.” Cassie gave me a look that was like a touch on the shoulder. “How are you?”
“Then take off that raincloud you're wearing. It doesn't look good on you.” She gave me a real touch now, a thump on the back. “Show. Me. Your. Smile.”
I thought of the girl in the dentist chair, of the tiny lump hiding behind her perfect front teeth, and managed to move one corner of my lips.
“Better. But not much.” Cassie crossed her arms. On most people the gesture closes them off, but Cassie wears it at an ironic, amused angle, as if she's holding onto a good joke. “You know what you need? You need to draw yourself a nice motherfucking bubble bath, and never mind that you're a big strong boy. I'm serious. Go do it now, and don't come out until you're pruned. I'll stick around. I won't even charge you extra.”
“I already owe you extra,” I said, remembering the bills in my pocket. I peeled off my gloves and thumbed a few out blind. “Here.”
“You think I'm going to take that, you're a fool. Good lord, get yourself a cab once in a while.”
“None of that. I know why you're still riding the train, and it's not because you like the company.”
She was right. Cassie Llynch might have been five years younger than me at thirty-four, but she had an MS in nursing with a background in degenerative brain disease that made my own specialization resemble a high school diploma. To live up to her salary, I'd been forced to cut a few conveniences from my life.
I lowered my hand. She grabbed it. “What in the hell happened to your finger?”
The skin around the Band-Aid was puffy and red, and the nail looked as if it had gotten caught in a car door.
“Nicked it,” I said. Then I added, “The other day.”
“You'd better get it checked. That looks ugly.”
“I will tomorrow if it's not better.”
“Yeah. I'll reschedule a few afternoon appointments if I have to.” I wasn't lying to make her feel better. If given the choice right then I'd have taken a penicillin shot to the heart, only I was worried what I really needed was anti-venom. Infections didn't set in this fast, and that tooth . . . that black tooth . . . it had looked almost like a fang.
Cassie was still holding onto my hand, but no longer looking at it. “I wasn't joking earlier, Mike,” she said, staring right at me. “You need to give yourself a break. Take a night off. You'll wear yourself down if you don't, and you'll do no good for anyone then. Not her, and not you. Tomorrow I've got my class to teach, but the day after tomorrow, I'm free all night. You say the word, and I'm here with Chinese and a pair of earplugs. You'll go to bed fat, I promise you, and you won't have to get up again all night.”
“That's really sweet, Cassie. I'll think about it.”
She let go of my hand at last, and still far too soon, and patted me on the cheek. “It's nothing to think about. Don't be a dumb man, Mike. Nobody's got time for that. Especially you.”
“All right,” I said finally. “Wednesday.”
Cassie kissed me on the cheek, something she had done once or twice before, but never so softly. “Good boy.”
The living room reappeared after Cassie left. It had always been there of course, but I had not been able to see it past her. I found myself standing in a quiet house with dark purple carpeting, dark brown walls, tall oak bookcases, and leather everything else. I locked the door and then put the chain with the key back around my neck. Cassie wore her own key the same way for easy access. Fires are a danger in any home, but they become a real worry in households where a family member has a habit of absentmindedly turning on the burners over the stove. Particularly when all exits are locked.
A Tupperware of chicken salad waited in the refrigerator. Cooking for me as well as my mother wasn't a part of Cassie's job description, but she always made a little extra, and I was more than thankful for that today, having fed myself nothing but anxiety since breakfast. I scooped some into a bowl and ate as I walked upstairs, using my less-practiced left hand to hold the fork because of my bad finger. My mother's room was dark. I peeked in on her to see if she was showing any signs of waking. She wasn't, and I was thankful for that too. I needed—
Just thinking the word, needed, unlocked a door inside me.
I needed a shave (my mustache hairs were poking me in the lips, and my beard was beginning to adventure down one side of my neck). I needed a shower. I needed a bubble bath and a six pack of beer to go along with it—and maybe a dream or two of Cassie. I needed music. Loud music. I needed a hard run, a good scream, a long night's sleep. But what I needed most of all was in the room down the hall, where I now sit, typing this.
My mother's office was not much bigger than my freshman dorm room, which I could clear in one hop. There was a single window curtained by plush blackout drapes. There was a closet so tiny it was almost nonsensical, tucked in the back where the ceiling sloped down and hidden behind a half-sized door. And there was a desk of polished hardwood on which sat an ancient IBM typewriter. Its E and T keys had been worn blank from use, and the space bar rested at a crooked angle from being struck always on the left side, by my mother's left thumb. A fresh sheet had been loaded into the carriage for tomorrow. This was a part of her ritual, the new page waiting in its place. When I was a kid, I never needed an alarm clock. No morning went by when I did not wake to the sound of her clacking away in here. Over her career Bev Jacoby wrote and published eight acclaimed but decidedly unpopular novels, four collections of poems, and two self-memoirs, the first recounting her bohemian childhood and extradition from that world into the role of a young mother. The second, titled My Hungry Friend, came shortly after her diagnosis and charted her first creeping footsteps into the alien landscape of Alzheimer's. The book was billed as “honest and heartbreaking” by The New York Times, and while it may have been those things on the surface, it was horror underneath the skin, the work of someone haunted—hunted—and holding on white knuckled to herself. At first my mother's hungry friend is a jokester. It eats the sofa in the living room and replaces it with a stranger's couch. It picks the car keys right out of her hand and leaves her walking around the house looking for them. Then it begins to take bigger bites. It swallows the backyard and spits up a forest that she becomes lost in while searching for her carrot patch. It munches away the route to the grocery store, the art house movie theater, the river, turning the city where she has lived her whole life into a concrete jungle roamed by roaring metal beasts and bug people who move about in herky-jerky packs. By the final chapter the faces of her friends, her son, have been licked clean of all familiar features. The closing lines of the book I'll never forget, for they terrified me.
“My hungry friend follows me where I go. He takes a nibble here, a nibble there, and where I am I do not know.”
It wasn't just what was said in those final words. It was the slight erosion of her careful syntax and the presence of that almost sing-song rhyme. Some piece of architecture in her head had begun to slip. The room that contained her prose became the next meal for her hungry friend, and before the book hit shelves, she was no longer able to construct meaningful sentences. She turned to poems, and that did her well for a while. Very well. She wrote free verse with more success than she'd ever had. Her final collection won The National Book Award for poetry, though she could not quite understand what that meant by the time the results were announced. I moved out of my Allston apartment and back into the house shortly thereafter. My girlfriend at the time was upset by my decision. She wanted me to send my mother to a home, but she did not know my mother's ritual. She did not know that my mother's most lucid hours of the day were the sunrise hours spent in her office at her typewriter. In the shrinking house that was my mother's brain, poetry was her last and brightest room.
At least, it had been.
I sat down at her desk as I had done that morning before work. This was not something I did frequently, but the night had been a bad one for Bev Jacoby, meaning it had been a bad one for me too, and I had needed (there was that word again) something to pass the time until daybreak. So I'd made some coffee and come into her office to do a little reading. Thinking, I don't know, thinking I'd catch up with her. Or maybe I'd known then. Maybe I'd known for a while, and that was why I hadn't ventured in here in months. I opened the top drawer where she kept her poems, took out one of her latest works, and began to read—just as I was doing now. Unlike that morning, however, I did not shove the poem back into the drawer after the first few lines.
Sonlight on the walls
The halls go
I was warm
I am cold
Put me together
I am apart
When I finished, I read it again standing it up. I read it a third and fourth time, pacing slowly around the room. At last, I leaned my forehead on the downslope of the ceiling and let my knees go limp, so that my neck took on the weight of my body. I stood there like that until the muscles along my spine and shoulder blades began to ache. I was as close to laughing as a person can be without laughing. I sounded like an overheated dog.
I crumpled the poem into a ball and threw it into the corner, where the ceiling was lowest. I could still see the poem, though, and I needed, needed, needed, not to see it. Almost falling over in my hurry, I bent over to grab it. I ripped open the office's tiny closet, tossed the poem inside, and slammed the door. Then I put my back to the door and sat there with my face in my hands. That morning I had taken a glimpse of the poem, a nibble, if you will, and made myself stop before it got all the way inside me. I'd gone through the whole day like someone with a lump of spoiled food caught in the throat, trying desperately not to swallow. But I'd swallowed now, all right. I'd eaten my fill, and nothing could stop what came next.
I sobbed, and while I sobbed, I banged my head back against the closet door. Knock. Knock. Knock. I must have been making a good deal of noise because soon came an answer.
“Who's there?” my mom called, from out in the hall.
I stopped everything, breathing too, and stared at the office door in a state that was close to terror. I did not want to see her. Or be seen by her.
“Who is it?” My mother's footsteps moved downstairs. She was going to the front door, I realized. Once there, she'd try to answer it, and would go on trying, getting more and more frustrated because the door was locked. I heard the knob click, and click, and click. “Who's there? Who's there?”
My face was sticky wet, and so were my hands. Snot hung in ropes from my nose. I wiped them away with my sleeve, started to get up, and looked back at the closet. Leaving my mother's poem in there seemed wrong, whether or not she would ever realize it was gone. Leaving her poem in there would be like . . .
Coins scattering down a sidewalk.