H C Bending
You bury your mother on Monday and the wolf moves in on Thursday. She creeps in through the back, when the storm exhales and thrusts open the screen door, and tracks muddy prints up the hardwood stairs. You peer around your bedroom door. A gray-brown mass is lumped on your bed, chewing at the mattress. The bed sinks beneath her weight. You tiptoe down to the kitchen while thunder growls, fill a tupperware bowl with lukewarm water, and leave it at the top of the staircase. You sit on the powder room's cold floor with your head between your knees and listen through the ceiling as the wolf ravages your belongings. Hear your antique armoire buckle, then split. Your floral curtains shred under savage claws. You don't feel yourself falling asleep, but when you awaken the wolf's ochre eyes are on you, an accent pillow clenched between her incisors. She curls up and nestles her head on the cushion. You trail your fingers down her back, feel her thick spine jutting through her hide. As she naps, her bristled midsection rises and falls with each heaving gust. You notice a dry burgundy stain clumps one of her paws.
You fill the upstairs tub with Merlot.
You strip down to nothing
then climb in headfirst.
The wine overflows and soaks through the wood.
You feel nothing.
You are nothing.
The red your mother drank the night before you found her cold and stiff and swaddled in bedsheets.
The wine she devoured until her slurred words crossed your face in a suckerpunch.
Your mother's photo album is torn at the cover. The photographs inside are water-stained, tinted sepia. The plastic page covers are layered in grime. You flip to the older pictures, ones your grandparents took before they were grandparents. You peel the plastic back and take out the photo of your young mother, a girl no older than ten, saddled on a Friesian. You hold the picture at eye level. Trace the cigarette burn scars on the insides of your wrists. Feel the empty patches of hair torn from your scalp. Finger the dent in your nose from when your mother cracked it open with her bare hands.
The evening before she passed you bathed her.
Massaged soap between her cruel fingers,
cleansed the puckered skin of her back.
Soap streaked the folds of her decayed skin.
You trickled bathwater through her thinning hair,
and prayed in the morning she'd be kinder for it.
As you drained the tub, she crept out, naked and sagging.
What hair remained on her head clung to her shoulders like a shroud.
Clouds tear the sky apart. Rain flits down in sheets, crashing against the windows. The resting wolf flicks her tail and nuzzles her head into your pillow. You press your nose against the glass and watch as the storm stretches across the barrens. A barreling corkscrew columns from ashen clouds. A groan of thunder snaps the wolf awake. You watch the tornado vacuum fences and trees. An idling Chevy pickup hovers, then vanishes into twisted smoke. The storm's eye gapes like a mouth.
The roof is cracking at the corners.
Thunder is clapping the sky.
You lure the wolf into the bathtub with a freezer-burned steak.
While her canines gnaw the frozen meat,
you drag your chewed mattress across the groaning floor.
You pry the bathroom door shut and crumble into the tub. Yank at the torn mattress. Try and fail to cover yourself from the battering cyclone. The wolf snarls at your struggle. Her dull nails chitter on the tub and she pounces, collapsing and crushing your limbs against the porcelain, a weighted blanket with teeth that could butcher, and her chest hums, pelt blinding you to the storm tearing your home apart. Her damp nose prods your forehead. You wrap your arm around her, bury your face into her underbelly. The house shrieks and cranks and rumbles. A quick, crackling snap belts over you. Silence.
Your mother died from a plethora of causes.
Alcoholism and undiagnosed cervical cancer among them.
You spent the afternoon in the funeral home, nodding to questions you didn't hear.
The undertaker handed you a casket catalog.
You picked the only one you could afford,
though it was two inches too small for your mother's long, lithe body.
The Monday of the funeral, you bent her legs at the knees so she'd fit.
In the open casket,
she looked like she was sleeping.
You pretended she was.
H.C. Bending is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in HASH Journal and The Bangalore Review.