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The only light that came into the room slithered between long strings of clay beads that swung in the opening of an ajar door. As these strands danced back and forth, so did the shadows that stretched their way to the bed where the woman lay.

Ophelia Atlin moved her head, cheek slipping upon the cool cover of a pillow and her own white hair, as the beads clattered chaotically to announce the entry of two persons whom she could barely see. She still knew who they were, of course. A woman didn’t forget what the presence of her young daughter and the girl’s caretaker felt like even if an early near-blindness meant she couldn’t cradle them in her sight. It was laughable in a way, to somewhat look and feel like an old woman when she had barely reached forty years of age.

“Dorothea.” She reached out to her child, trying not to let inner desperation cloud her face. How much would the little one even remember after losing her mother at the age of eight? Maybe if she held her close as much as possible now, a few segments would stick for her to look back on.

The child climbed into her mother’s outstretched arms. A small head was gingerly placed upon a thin, bony chest. How the mother wanted her daughter to tug on her arms asking to play, to pull on her hair too hard as she played with its lengthy tresses, to throw a temper tantrum with her tiny fists, but such habits had been forced from her with the coming of her mother’s weakness.

“How is my darling today? What did you do?”

“The tradespeople came today. There are too many tomatoes.” Her little nose scrunched up in disgust.

She laughed, adjusting her daughter’s weight atop her. “Remember to always eat your vegetables, okay?” The child was growing chubby, adorably so in the mother’s opinion, but her health still needed to be ensured. It never hurt to put these reminders in early. “So you can grow up strong. Stronger than Mommy.” Since when had every word sounded like a farewell? Why couldn’t she keep her mouth from sending every sentiment down the same road? Before Mommy is gone; because Mommy will soon be gone.

Small flowerbud lips formed a pout. “Okay.”

The mother wanted to scream and sob. “Just remember.” An edge of pain like a brisk rainstorm wind cut across her chest, and she sucked in a breath.

“Time to get off Mommy, Dorothea.” The caretaker, Ophelia’s friend Sil, reached for the girl.

“No! No, it’s alright.” The mother reached up to pet the child’s hair. Her fingers got caught in a tangle that knotted the gray strands together in an inexplicable and inescapable manner. “I thought I told you to comb your hair every morning.”

“I —” The girl halted abruptly.

“What is it, sweetie?” The mother almost closed her eyes in reverence when the girl’s thick fingers touched her lips.

“Mommy?” The child held up fingertips tinged red.

“What?” the mother asked as a stream of blood and bile erupted from her mouth. The child shrieked as it splattered them both. She flailed as her caretaker seized her beneath the armpits and clasped her to his chest, pressing her face there to shield her view from the sudden horror. Even so, the child managed to wriggle her way towards peeking over her shoulder.

The scene left both morbidly transfixed. Ophelia’s body jerked about, a bird with two broken wings attempting flight, her head lolling to the side. The wreckage spread slowly, from the tips of her fingers and toes upwards and inwards. It was strange, the way a body could bend upon itself, the sounds it made when bone swerved at unimaginable and incorrect angles. Like snapping corn away from the core of its husk. Crack, crack, crack, up the arms and legs, ribs caving in upon and impaling internal organs, and lastly the neck. In this way, a slow, merciless death came to its close.

The daughter, Dorothea, in this unforgettable last memory of her mother, saw her own future displayed.

 

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Sara Mullins

Bio: Hi everyone! Hope anyone who reads this is doing well and taking care of themselves. I love storytelling and aim to become better and better as I continue to write and practice. In terms of what I like to write... In truth, though it's what I'm worst at, the goal is just to get to the fluffy romance scenes. The obstacle is only what lies before and between. Alas. Again, take care, all.

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