Literary Spotlight: Lynn Lipinski

Literary Spotlight: Lynn Lipinski

From WTP Vol VI #1

The Dying Kind
By Lynn Lipinski
2017 Honorable Mention for the Literary

Sheila arrived at Mrs. Harper’s house in midtown Tulsa around four in the afternoon, nodding her head violently to eighties-era punk rock by a band called Agent Orange blasting out of the car’s one working speaker. She parked her twelve-year-old Toyota Corolla on the street and used the steering wheel as a drum as the song finished.

She fished in her brightly patterned fabric purse for her make-up bag full of pills, uppers, benzos and opiates, and some weed. She tweezed her fingers to grab two orange-and-white capsules, Adderall, and put them in her mouth. She reached in the glove compartment and pulled out a fifth of Jim Beam and washed the pills down. She needed the stimulants to stay awake after a long night and morning of drinking, and the alcohol to tamp down the anxiety that came with it. She hadn’t wanted to call in sick. She needed the money, and she wanted to see Randall, who had been dodging her texts. Randall was Mrs. Harper’s thirty-one-year-old son, and he was the closest thing she had to a boyfriend right now, despite his wife and kids and vapid selfishness that kept him in permanent adolescence. A tall, striking man, lean with strong arms and shoulders, Randall had a shiftiness around the eyes that made him look as untrustworthy as he actually was. Still, he gave her money for drugs and helped her pass the time on the long night shifts at his mother’s house.

She angled the rearview mirror to get a look at her full face, and saw she’d forgotten to change out her silver nose ring for one of the clear acrylic ones. Mrs. Harper hated the nose ring and had once tried to pull it out. She worked the ring out of her nose and tucked the silver hoop in her change purse. She shoved a piece of cinnamon chewing gum in her mouth and her transformation into clean-cut caregiver was complete.

She knocked lightly on the wooden screen door. Dora, the hospice caregiver on the day shift, answered with a grimace. She was as wide as a house, with rolls of fat disguising her neck peeking out from underneath her bright pink scrub top. The television blared some afternoon talk show about cooking. The air inside was warm and thick, and a suffocating combination of cooked fish, human excrement, and air freshener assaulted Sheila’s nose.

Though she wasn’t tired, she yawned a couple times in quick succession. She knew from experience that was a sign the Adderall was starting to work.  She could feel her heart pounding and armpits sweating like she’d run two miles. At least her mind was clear.

Bony old Mrs. Harper lay in a hospital bed in the darkened living room. A hot pink satin mask shaded her eyes from the afternoon light streaming from the open front door, but it didn’t prevent her from screeching out “Shut—door!” Instead of looking up, Mrs. Harper pointed her head to the side, away from Dora and Sheila. Her wiry gray curls scratched on the pillow. But Sheila could still see her mouth was set in a straight, angry line.

“She’s in a mood,” Dora whispered.

“Me too.”

Dora raised her eyebrows and shrugged, then turned to get her purse from the tray table by the television.

“I, I, I – sick of it,” the old lady said.

“Now, now, Mrs. Harper, we’re just saying goodbye.”

Dora moved toward the door and Sheila flattened herself against the wall so the big woman could pass in the narrow entry way.

“Her son called to say he was coming by tonight after work,” Dora said. “Have fun.”

Sheila shut the wooden door behind Dora and slid the deadbolt shut.

“How are you doing today, Mrs. Harper?”

Mrs. Harper’s first name was Nancy, but she insisted that the caregivers address her more formally. Sheila had been working as in hospice long enough to know how important these little scraps of dignity were to the old or the very sick in their last days. Nearly all of Mrs. Harper’s independence was gone, robbed from her by a stroke eight months prior. She communicated mainly by pointing and shouting out the few words her brain could remember. Her right arm was more of a prop than a working part of her body. She could only walk a few steps, and that was with assistance, and she’d lost control of her bladder. She needed someone to change her diapers and feed her meals. Fortunately for her, the family had enough money to pay a firm to provide those services.

“Who?” Mrs. Harper used her good hand to peel a corner back of the eye mask, and raised her neck.

“It’s me, Sheila.” She walked over to the bed and fussed with the beige fleece blanket laying over her thin legs. Mrs. Harper’s feet, covered in fuzzy pink striped socks, pointed up like an anvil.

The old woman made a sound like hmmph and pulled the eye mask back down over her eye. Her right arm slipped off the bed and dangled uselessly for a moment until Dawn gripped her forearm and rested it on the mattress. Her arm felt less like flesh and more like a bone with loose skin hanging off of it.

“No good,” Mrs. Harper said.

The old woman could have meant her useless arm, or she could have meant Sheila. Sheila decided she meant the latter.

“What did you say, Mrs. Harper?”

The old woman turned her face away from Sheila again and pretended to sleep.

Just like her brother, Andrew, Sheila thought. King of the big silence. Well, go ahead and freeze me out, old lady. See if I care for ten dollars an hour. She walked down the hall past the gallery of family photos—at least twenty-five of them—framed and hanging on the wall. All those smiling faces, and only one or two came to visit.

Watching someone die in hospice care wasn’t for everyone, and that meant family too. It was hard to see people wasting away in their last months or weeks of life, particularly if they were in pain. Sheila understood it. The dying usually lost their appetite for water and food, losing so much weight that their skin sunk around their bones slack as a shroud. Near the end, their skin started developing these mottled purple spots, which meant that the blood was no longer circulating. Some people didn’t like seeing those physical changes, and preferred to remember their loved ones as they were when they were healthy.

Sheila had started working for Rosebud Palliative Care four months ago. The brochure avoided use of the word hospice and its sound of a death sentence, but doctors only put patients in hospice or palliative care when they thought patients had six months left on this earth. So what it basically meant was that the terminally ill came home to die, with someone keeping them clean and hydrated, periodically checking vital signs and making sure they didn’t run out of medications to ease the final bits of suffering.

Dying, Sheila had found, could be fast and unexpected, like her father’s. Or it could be long and bewildering, as it had been for her last patient, suffering from dementia and frightening hallucinations that made Sheila believe he saw ghosts. Even the easiest patients were never as peaceful as Sheila had expected when she first signed up. Lots of moaning (“Lord, take me” was Mrs. Harper’s favorite) and complaining, with sporadic visions of loved ones and glimpses of white lights or perfect Garden of Edens to make the diaper changing and sponge baths worth it.

Sheila didn’t mind the physical manifestations of death, because she felt an almost magnetic attraction to the dying. It stemmed from a desire to witness life stripped of what was illusory and false and to see the veil lifted between this world and the next. She believed in heaven, not as a place with pearly gates like her father the preacher had described, but instead as something essential, like a fine vapor of atoms and molecules combining and dividing, all one with God.

With every one of her patients, she asked them about the visions they had, asking them to tell her what heaven was like. Days from death, she loved watching them sink slowly into their interior life, as though even to be touched or open their eyes and see this temporal world pained them. She’d been in the room three times when someone had passed, and each time she had sat watching their faces for signs of God or Jesus sightings. With Ruth, the dementia patient, she had sat vigil with an old German shepherd dog, both watching Ruth’s chest as it rose and fell a few times before stopping. Then, above her chest, some gold mist had glittered briefly in the air, dissolving faster than a blink. Sheila would have thought she imagined it, but for the dog’s strange reaction. Eyes trained on the same spot as hers, the dog had sat upright, ears forward, and barked twice.

Sheila went into the kitchen to look at the medicine log. Mrs. Harper had last had morphine four hours ago, which meant she was due for another dose in two hours. She decided to move it up an hour so that Mrs. Harper would be out like a light when her son Randall got here. She’d just write the expected time in the medicine log. No one had noticed when she’d done it before.

“Are you hungry, Mrs. Harper?”

The old woman didn’t answer, which wasn’t unusual. The stroke had made it hard for her to speak clearly, and she frequently couldn’t think of words she wanted to say. This aphasia made it easy for Randall and most of the caregivers to lose patience with her and blurt out words they thought she might be trying to say. The result was often more confusion, as her stroke-addled brain struggled to keep up with the torrent of words. Sheila used her considerable patience to let the woman try to get the words out.

Dora had left the dirty lunch dishes in the sink, and Sheila filled the sink with water and soap. She was too amped up on the speed to be able to sit down, so she’d clean up after Dora. From the crumbs on the plates, she could see Dora had only prepared a sandwich for Mrs. Harper instead of making a hot meal. She was a lazy woman. Through the window, she looked into the side yard, where a young elm tree, bare-branched, swayed in the wind.

She heard the key in the lock while she was drying the dishes. Then she heard the door opening, a male voice calling out hello, and a frown took over her pale face. Randall was early, which threw her medication timing off.

“Mother, hello,” he said in his deep croak. The hospital bed whirred and she heard Mrs. Harper cough and say something back in a low voice.

She threw the dishcloth on the counter, but missed and watched it slide to the floor. She stepped over it to the kitchen table, where Mrs. Harper’s medications sat. Nearly twenty bottles, all white plastic of varying sizes, were clustered together like a tiny skyline of prescription drugs. The tallest bottle contained suppositories. Constant constipation was a hard truth of old age. The other bottles were an assortment of pills meant to lower blood pressure, reduce the urge to pee, lower cholesterol, thin the blood and fight depression.

And then there was the good stuff. A glass bottle and eye dropper for the morphine, and Mrs. Harper’s anti-anxiety drugs. Sheila had been stealing Xanax a few pills at a time from Mrs. Harper, like she did from all of her patients, on a weekly basis. What she wanted to do tonight was knock the old lady out with fifty milligrams of morphine and then kick back with Randall and enjoy her goody bag along with a few of Mrs. Harper’s stash. Otherwise, once Randall left for his family dinner, the night would be endless television watching and boredom, time ticking so slowly by that she could see the minutes floating in the air, going nowhere.

“It’s time for your medicine, Mrs. Harper,” she sang out from the kitchen.

“Tell her – no.”

Randall met her in the hallway, out of the old woman’s sight but not her hearing.

“Hey, baby,” he whispered. He ran his hands up and down her sides.

“Not yet.”

She tried to move past him with the morphine and plastic syringe in her hands, but he held her in place, grinning. He slipped his left hand into the back of the elastic waist of her scrub pants and pressed his fingers into the top of her ass. She leaned in and licked his nose.

“Randall – the thing, the thing. Tree. The thing.”

They rolled their eyes in unison at one another. Randall shouted over his shoulder that it was already dark outside.

“Not dark,” Mrs. Harper said. She sounded mad now, and Sheila thought she could hear spittle flying out of her mouth. “I can see…”

“Don’t start shouting, Ma,” Randall said. He patted Sheila on the butt and turned back to his mother. She followed him to the hospital bed, morphine in hand. Mrs. Harper pointed toward the backyard with a crooked finger. Her eyes were trained on Randall’s.

Sheila unscrewed the morphine bottle and inserted the syringe with no needle into the clear liquid, drawing up a big enough dose to squirt in the old lady’s mouth and knock her out for a few hours.

“Don’t do it now,” Randall said, putting his hand over the morphine bottle. “There’s plenty of time. Let’s take her outside.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

Randall shook his head. “Come on, she just wants to go look at the scotch pine in the front yard. The gardener told her it has pine wilt.”

“Pine wilt.” Mrs. Harper pointed a crooked finger more insistently now at the sliding glass door leading to the backyard.

“What’s pine wilt?”

“It’s why the pine needles are turning grey. Some disease carried by worms.”

Sheila squirted the morphine back in the bottle, and walked it back into the kitchen. She came back into the living room, leaning over to pick up Mrs. Harper’s enormous Velcro-strapped shoes. They were heavy shoes, made out of shiny leather the color of a mushroom, and styled for comfort and sturdiness rather than style. Randall had his mother sitting up and swung her legs to the floor in one swift movement. Sheila bent down to work the shoes onto the woman’s curled, gnarly feet, while Mrs. Harper watched, wiping the ever-present drool from corner of her mouth with a tissue.

Randall scooted the wheelchair to the bed and set the brakes.

“Are you ready, Ma?”

Fear flickered over Mrs. Harper’s face, as it usually did. No matter how many times she was transferred from bed to wheelchair, she still looked frightened every time. Sheila placed the woman’s good hand on the wheelchair armrest and watched as Randall gently put his hands under her shoulders and lifted her to standing. She swayed slightly on her feet, back and forth, barely a stick of a woman swimming in a pink extra-small size T-shirt and fleece pants.

“Turn, turn,” Sheila said. Mrs. Harper began to pant, her eyes wide open.

“We forgot her glasses,” Randall said. He turned her gently and Mrs. Harper flopped into the wheelchair with a loud sigh. She looked uncomfortable, with one hip higher than the other and the enormous round toes of her shoes dangling to the carpet.

Sheila found the glasses on the side table and gently hooked the frames behind her ears. The large, roundish frames made her look owlish, and the heavy prescription lenses magnified her eyes to alien proportions. Sheila noticed Mrs. Harper was still huffing from the trauma of getting into the wheelchair.

“Tree,” she said.

“She’s got to make sure everyone’s telling her the truth. Don’t you, Ma?”

Mrs. Harper waved her bony crooked hand as though dismissing Randall’s comment.

She released the brake from the wheelchair and rolled Mrs. Harper to the front door Randall had opened. Slowly, she pushed the chair over the threshold bump then down the wooden ramp to the sidewalk. Pink and yellow streaks filled the sky as the sun set over the treetops on the opposite side of the street.

“Let’s just put her to bed and have fun,” Sheila whispered over her shoulder to Randall.

Randall passed her and walked through an opening in the hedge to the front yard.

“You get paid to take care of her,” he said in a loud voice. “So do it.”

A surge of anger passed through her, causing her breath to quicken and a few beats later emerging in the form of a rough push of the wheelchair, for which she almost immediately felt sorry. Mrs. Harper’s upper torso swung forward wildly, and Sheila had to reach out and grab a shoulder to keep her in the chair. Mrs. Harper fumbled behind her, finally grabbing Sheila’s wrist with a surprising amount of force. She crooked her neck back and stared at her with one magnified and watery blue eye.

“Watch it,” she said with utter clarity.

Sheila gave her hand a squeeze. The guilt washed all but a remnant of the anger away, and replaced it with self-loathing. Her anger, once acted upon, always felt misdirected and dangerous.

“Sorry, Mrs. Harper. Look, there’s the tree.”

Randall kicked some errant wood chips into the pile around the base of the tree trunk. Sheila hadn’t noticed the tree before, but she now noted how it looked like a large version of a dried-out Christmas tree left on the curb for too long. Its brown and grey needles drooped in patches interspersed with green ones that were not yet infected.

“That tree’s going to have to go, Ma,” Randall said.

Sheila pushed the wheelchair to the edge of the driveway, where a passageway had been cut into the box hedge, providing a good view of the yard and pine tree.

Mrs. Harper leaned forward, staring at the tree like the Book of Life was written on its trunk and she was trying to find her name. Randall disappeared around the side of the house, and returned with a wood-handled rake. He dragged the rake over the thick green grass, picking up small pieces of mulch and bringing them to the main pile. Mrs. Harper’s shrubs were cut into neat squares, and a tree in the corner had been cut in the style of a poodle, its mostly bare branches capped in green balls of foliage, like leafy pompoms or some tree from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Sheila and Mrs. Harper watched Randall half-heartedly clean up the yard. His dark hair, long and loose on top and shaved in the back, kept falling in his eyes and he kept pushing it back in a futile, repetitive gesture. He dragged the rake over the grass, letting the mulch bits popcorn against the tines and jump out of the rake’s path. He probably moved ten pieces of mulch to the main pile under the trunk, and scattered another ten on the grass. It was the most inefficient raking Sheila had ever seen.

“He needs to cut his hair,” Sheila said to Mrs. Harper.

Mrs. Harper sighed, and Sheila saw her shoulders slump in the chair. She noticed the old woman’s short silver-white hair was matted in the back. Dora hadn’t bothered to comb it today.

After a bit more futile raking, Randall leaned on the rake handle, small sweat stains forming underneath the arms of his dark green polo shirt and dust sticking to his khaki pants.

“It’s like I have three jobs,” he said. “I go to work at HomeMart, I come here and help Ma, and I go home and get yelled at by Christine. I shouldn’t have gotten married, should I, Ma?”

Christine was Randall’s wife, and he seemed to put as little energy and work into their marriage as he did raking the mulch from the grass, which is to say not much. Sheila wondered if he worked hard at HomeMart, selling mobile homes out of gravel lot in a sketchy stretch of Admiral Boulevard in east Tulsa or if he also carried out those responsibilities in a half-assed manner.

Mrs. Harper chuckled meanly.

“Time to go inside,” Sheila said.

Mrs. Harper didn’t put up a fight. The movement into the wheelchair and the energy it took to sit up had drained her of any remaining energy store she had, and her head was lolling to one side as though even her neck was tired. She’d barely need the morphine to fall into dreamland tonight.

Sheila rolled her back up the ramp and into the house. She and Randall repeated their dance with Mrs. Harper in reverse, only relaxing when the old woman lay in the home-care hospital bed she would die on, arms at her sides and breathing deeply from the exertion of movement. She shivered as Sheila covered her in a heap of comforters and blankets. The covers weren’t enough, and Mrs. Harper went on shivering even as the morphine Sheila shot into her mouth sent her to sleep.

Randall stood for a moment watching the old woman sleep. Sheila muted the television, watching the talking heads on the early evening news move their mouths and smile. They stood like that for a while until Randall took her hand and pulled her to the front bedroom and onto the bed covered in a white chenille spread.

He touched her hair, and she ran her fingers over the stubble on his cheek. Soon they were kissing and their hands were moving all over their bodies, their tongues going wild inside each other’s mouths. He pulled her onto the bed, which made an enormous squeak. Their arms and legs intertwined, they panted like dogs who’d run a mile, the throw pillows falling to the wood floor with a soft thud.

They kissed and then he lunged forward and rubbed his face in between her breasts. She arched her back, and he worked her scrub pants and underwear down to her knees. He stood up, and she did what she usually did, which was to lay on her belly, put her feet on the floor and grip the far side of the queen mattress while he entered her. She’d never had an orgasm this way, and was confident she wouldn’t tonight either, but she wanted him to be in a good mood. Sex was what kept him coming to her, she knew. He had confided in her that on the few occasions that his wife was willing to have sex, she just lay there, arms at her side, with a grimace on her face. Sheila kept up a steady stream of dirty talk as Randall pounded into her. Her grip tightened on the bed cover, pulling it in big handfuls toward her face. It smelled like overly sweet fabric softener.

When Randall was done, she pulled up her scrub pants and flopped onto the bed next to him, her hand on his chest.

“You’re a fucking angel of death, you know that?”

Sheila pulled her hand back and ran it through her hair, feeling the dampness at the roots from sweat. Randall sometimes got angry after sex. It was probably the only sign of a guilty conscience she ever saw.

“It’s a job,” she said.

“Oh no, you enjoy it, don’t you? I can see it in your eyes when you’re bending over my mother, giving her that morphine that eats at her brain. You’re killing her.”

“I’m helping her make her transition,” she said. “Want some weed?”

She wished she had brought in the flask from the car. The Adderall was making her paranoid. Randall wasn’t accusing her of anything. He was just moody, maybe joking.

He nodded and she went in the other room to grab her purse. She looked over at Mrs. Harper to make sure the noise and movement wasn’t penetrating her morphine stupor. The woman lay perfectly still under the mound of blankets, her head thrown back and jaw slack.

She flopped back on the bed, and pulled a joint out of her bag of pills along with the lighter. She tried to keep the contents of the bag hidden, not wanting to share everything she had with Randall, but he was too distracted or post-sex sleepy to notice.

“What makes someone become a hospice caregiver? Can’t be the money.”

She lit the joint, took a long drag and passed it to Randall. She held the smoke in her lungs for many beats before slowly exhaling. Her brain was speeding, and she tried to hold down the panic under the fire of Randall’s questioning.

“Money is money.”

Randall handed the joint back to her. She tapped ash into the top of a crystal jewelry box from the dresser.

“My dad died a few weeks ago. I know what you’re going through.”

“Did you kill him?” Randall gave the same kind of mean chuckle his mother had on the lawn. Sheila took another drag and thought about what to say. He was just trying to provoke her.

“’Cause I think sometimes about killing Ma, here,” he said. “A pillow over the face for a few moments, sure would solve a lot of problems.”

Sheila leaned forward. Her ears started ringing and her head throbbed, as though a bomb had gone off in the room. She told herself it was the Adderall and took another hit from the joint. The bedroom window facing the side yard had become completely dark.

“I didn’t kill him,” she said. “What kind of question is that?”

“You sound like my wife,” Randall said. He rose from the bed, extending his hand for the joint.

“Did you ask her if she killed her father?”

She followed him into the kitchen, where he took the last drag and then ran tap water over the smoldering joint.

“Death just makes things easier sometimes. That’s all I’m saying.”

Sheila slowly nodded her head. “It certainly does for me. Looks like I’m going to come into some money.”

“Yeah, well, so would I, unless this damn hospice care eats up all of her savings. We’ve already had to take a reverse mortgage out on the house. Any of your patients ever ask you to hurry up the process?”

She picked up the stack of clean plates she’d left on the ivory Formica countertop when Randall arrived, and put them into the cupboard with a clatter. Her hands were trembling, and her heart pounded in rhythm with her head. She glanced at Randall out of the corner of her eye, and saw he was staring at her, unsmiling, his head tilted slightly and to one side. The thick lock of hair fell forward to cover one of his eyes.

She shook her head.

“It’s normal to feel that way, Randall. But people die on their own timetables, when they’re ready. Just like trees do.”

“Don’t give me the brochure crap,” he said. “And we’re going to cut that tree down.”

Sheila thought about the moments before death, when the breathing rattled and rasped, and sometimes paused for long stretches before starting up again. She remembered her patient who was dying of kidney cancer. He had taken a long, shuddering breath, then fixed his eyes on the ceiling. A wide smile grew on his face, so joyous that Sheila could only imagine he was seeing heaven. She wondered what her father saw when he died. She wouldn’t have been surprised if he saw the devil himself. But more likely, her ever-faithful mother argued for his entry to heaven with St. Peter, protecting him in the afterlife as she did on this earth.

“Did you know that there was this doctor who measured the weight of people who were dying? He found an unexplainable weight loss of a little less than an ounce in all the patients he tested,” Sheila said. “That’s the soul, leaving the body. And it only does so when it is ready, when all its work on earth is done.”

“Her work is done, trust me,” he said. “All she does now is hold on out of stubbornness.”

Sheila wanted him to understand the power and the peace within that moment of natural death. The slow building of a desire within the patient to detach from this world grew into a crescendo of rebirth. The patients labored to depart, like snakes shedding skins. This was particularly true of the devout Christians. She’d never had any patients or clients who weren’t Christian, so she didn’t know if it was the same for people of other faiths.

“That same doctor, he believed that the soul gave off a light when it left the body. I thought I saw it once. It was like a golden shimmer in the air. Gone in a moment.”

“I don’t go in for that spiritual stuff. When you’re dead, you’re dead. A piece of meat.”

“Shh,” Sheila said. She worried irrationally that such talk would disturb Mrs. Harper. She peeked back out into the living room, and saw that the old woman had raised her arm and was clawing at the air.

“What is it, Mrs. Harper? What do you need?”

She walked over to the hospital bed and saw the woman’s eyes fly open. For a moment, she lay there, blinking, before touching her index finger to the heart-shaped charm on the gold necklace she wore. Her glare was like a cold shower for Sheila. Her head stopped pounding and the anxiety in her stomach deadened.

“Mrs. Harper.”

She heard Randall’s footsteps on the carpet behind her, then his face appeared at the foot of the bed. He waited for his mother’s eyes to find him, but she kept staring at Sheila.

“Mrs. Harper, it’s okay to let go. I’m here, and Randall’s here, and everything is going to be fine.”

To Sheila’s surprise, Mrs. Harper coughed then spoke. “Tree,” she said in a full voice.

“The tree will be okay,” Sheila said. The words sounded empty as the woman continued to stare deeply into her eyes.

“Stupid,” Mrs. Harper said with a wheeze. Her breathing accelerated to a pant, mechanically regular and with a bit of a rattle, like a piece of machinery winding down.

“What what what what…”

“What is it, Mrs. Harper?”

“What what what…”

“Do you want more morphine?”

The old woman shook her head. The breathing turned to a gasp, with a small squeaking sound at the end.

“Oh God,” Randall said. He sat back down on the couch, his eyes trained on his mother.

Sheila went to the foot of the bed and pulled the covers over the woman’s feet. She stripped off the fuzzy pink socks and saw the skin had turned as purple as a bruise, a sure sign death was within hours.

Mrs. Harper’s eyes shut again, as though she had to use every bit of her energy to focus on her breath.

Sheila felt calm and unafraid. The air in the room seemed to change, turning cool as a fresh breeze from outside.

“It’s close now,” she told Randall. “You’ll get your wish tonight I think.”

“What did you do?” he said. He sprung off the couch and grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” she said. “It’s just happening. Don’t you feel it?”

“Ma, Ma!” Randall was on his knees on the side of the hospital bed. He grabbed her hand and leaned into her face.

Sheila looked out the window at the night sky, the backyard a black hole ready for Mrs. Harper to slip into. Randall started to cry, his shoulders shaking and fat tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Oh, Ma, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Randall said. He buried his face against her hand lying still on the hospital bed.

Sheila pulled the wheelchair close to the bed, and sat in it. Her eyes flickered between Mrs. Harper’s head and chest, the two places she thought most likely to store the soul. If the gold shimmer happened tonight, she wasn’t going to miss it.

Lynn Lipinski is an MFA student at Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in UCLA Magazine, Trojan Family Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and several small literary presses.

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