Shere Wants Undone
by Tomi Shaw
The telephone is cradled between chin and shoulder,and there's a crick in her neck. Her sister'srattling on about work politics between people Sheredoesn't know. Louann apparently is fucking thepreschool teacher and that somehow makes Shere'ssister's job harder because those two are out to gether fired. Shere doesn't know how that logic works,and her sister hasn't explained it well, either. Shere's not even articulating the nodding she's doingwhile loading the dishwasher. There's a little pebblein her left breast and that's the reason Shere calledher sister. It is cancer; Shere just knows it is. She's dying and her sister is talking about an affairshe's not even having fucking up her work routine andthreatening her job security. Shere realizes hersister has kids to feed, but there's this pebble inher breast...She clicks the phone off, cutting hersister off in mid-whine. Unsister.
She can't catch her breath, and before she knows itshe's on the sidewalk, running the two blocks to herex-husband's house. John answers with a sortaperplexed look, but waves her in and to the sofa. "Katie, okay?" Shere nods, doesn't speak. There's NOway she can. She sits on the couch and just shakesher head back and forth because she can't believe it'son the tip of her tongue to say what she came here tosay. But she can't. She jumps up and darts to theroll-top desk John's Auntie passed to him because sheended up a spinster and didn't want the desk, anheirloom of her mother's second husband, to end up ina Goodwill store. John was reconciling his checkbookand statement and Shere picks up a check and writes onthe back of it: Katie is yours forever now. Sheraces from the house and adamantly refuses to go inand take back that check. Unexed.
Katie's school is two miles away, and Shere gets therequicker than she's ever run it before. She can'tbreath, really. A stitch has caught in her side, andthere's something burning between her nose and behindher eyes. She marches through the front doors of theschool building, into it's 2 ½ story foyer, passes thegiant pencils...red, yellow, orange...of the wing Katie'sroom is in, and barely slows her run until she stopsin front of the door with the train cars marked witheach student's name. Ms. May's plump brown gazefalls on Shere's face pressed to the skinny glass panein the door. She motions Katie to the door. Katiesmiles the whole distance across the floor. When sheopens the door and steps into Shere's arms, Katiegiggles, "Mama, I'm seven now." Shere's afraid she'snot going to be able to say it, like at John's. Shecan't write a seven year old a note. Not for this. Shere swallows. "Love is forever, remember?" Katiegiggles again, smiles, nods. "Just always rememberthat, Katie." Shere starts her run back out of the school, before Katie gets the door closed. Unmommied.
Back home, Shere shaves her head. Unfemaled.
It takes a week for Shere to get Unchurched, UnGoded,and UnAmericaned.
On a beach in Jamaica, she straps on the oxygen tank. She's known how to dive since Bahama, since dealingcards in Casinos where she was the only white womanwho wasn't married, the only white woman for thelocals to attempt to harass through the defense of allthe other American dealers, all the white men. Sheknows about bends and how you have to decompress onthe way up or bubbles expand your bones, and it hurts,badly. She learned how danger increases as oxygengets sucked up quicker at 33, 66 and 99 feet. Raptureof the deep, too, she knows. How a diver can get to apoint where they think they're swimming up, whenreally they're going down. She dives, and counts. 33feet--1/2 hour of air. 66 feet, 15 minutes. She stopsthe dive. Suspends. Twirls. Dances. Undone, shewants. She slips off the straps, spits out thebreather, blows bubbles...those bubbles that normallywould carry her to the surface, a constant exhale ofbubbles through decompression, avoiding bends,reaching the surface and breaking into the sun. Shelets go of the tank. It falls away. Unalive...soon.
"I am Un," she bubbles. It's all the pebble's fault! Shere punches her chest. This was a decision shecouldn't make, didn't get to decide. She moved fromLondon to the Bahama's to get away from Daddy's scowl. She decided when and where. She left the Bahamas andwent to Illinois with the one white man who showed hera glimpse into life without drugs and too much sex. She decided when. They'd gone to church, found God.Who decided that? Had a baby. But Katie, Shereplanned. For the eleven months it took to make herand the nine it took for her to be born. And everyday of her life since. Shere remembers that last day,walking Katie into the building, wanting to pullKatie's coat up to cover her ears and avoid aninfection, but Katie liked to have her hair flowey. That's what she called it: flowey. Shere shakes herhead, shakes, shakes, shakes...but it's all wrong.
"I am Un?" she thinks. Unnot.
She kicks...up, exhales bubbles...all the way to the topon one exhaled breath...wasn't that what she was taught,how it was supposed to work...breath bubbles out, allthe way out, all the way to the surface...to where thesun shines, hair dries and in a breeze is flowey.
About the author:
Tomi Shaw lives in Kentucky, late of the woods but now in the big city lights. She loves the sound of rain tat-tattering on a tin roof. Summer weekends finds her at the drag strip in a bittersweet-colored Mustang, cutting killer reaction times and putting guys on the trailer home. Her work has appeared in Absinthe Literary Review, Flashquake, Snow Monkey, Clean Sheets, Penthouse and elsewhere. Coming soon to Smokelong Quarterly, Outsider Ink, The Dead Mule and Literary Mama.