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Story by Jeff Landon (Read author interview) December 19, 2016

Art by Karen Prosen

In the kitchen, my father arranges pills into a plastic container that used to house cutlery. Blue, yellow, pink, white, blue, yellow. Everything perfectly spaced, with a built-in alarm buzzer my sister rigged up for him.

“Your mother is naked,” he says. “Backyard.”

I move to the sink and look out the window. Under a surprising winter sun, my mother sparkles from the metallic glitter she likes to drip all over her skin. She stands beside my father’s raggedy herb garden. I need to work on this, soon, buy some seeds or mulch or whatever it is a garden needs.

“It’s warm, Papa,” I say. “She looks cozy enough.”

“She looks like a fool,” he says. “We should get her,” he says, meaning: Go get her. “And, Sammy, bring her a robe for Christ’s sake.”

Her robe is diaphanous with a dragon’s head emblazoned across the back. The head is gigantic and deranged. Eyeballs like shards of glass.

Two weeks ago, I brought my mother home from a retirement village named Loblolly Luxuries. She had loved a man named Donald at Loblolly, but he died before it was expected and she came back home.

Home is an L-shaped rancher, white brick, new roof. Home is hot dog water on the stovetop, wine spills on white carpets, mice in the walls and a woman named Janice on my laptop. I pay her ten dollars an hour to touch herself and in all candor I wish she would smile more often. I’d give better tips, if she did.

“I know this robe is tacky,” my mother says. “Donald gave it to me. He had terrible taste but he loved to dance.”

“Sounds nice,” I say. “For real.”

“Last week,” she says. “Last week, guess how many words your father said to me?” She doesn’t wait for a reply. “Six,” she says. “He said, ‘Do you know where my thing is?’”

I count the words in my head. I don’t correct her. Instead, I lead her back into the kitchen. My father disappears. I fill the sink with suds and warm water and do the dishes by hand. In the last hour of my married life, Ruby had handed me a box, the last box, filled with kitchen utensils.

“You’re just like your father,” she said. “Apple off a tree.”

Now, my mother lines ornaments on the laminated countertop beside me. Three snow globes, five music boxes—a little parade. Over a silver music box, a tiny ballerina pirouettes endlessly. The dancer’s neck is long and her fingers reach for something unseen.

My mother shakes the globes and gobs of chemical snow fall on open fields, a New York skyline, and two rogue cows. She cranks the music boxes to life. Bach, Holly and the Ivy, and a lullaby so soft I want to crack open my skull just wide enough to let this music slink inside and live there for a while.

About the Author

Jeff Landon has been published in numerous places, print and online, including Crazyhorse, Wigleaf, FRiGG, Another Chicago Magazine, F(r)iction, and others. He is also a contributor to New Micro, an anthology of flash fiction published by W.W. Norton in 2018. Lately, he’s been doing some chair yoga.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Four

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