Ending by Natasha Bonfield
I don’t feel well, my mother says. She looks past the edge of the cliff where the sea would meet the sky, if there was a sea anymore. But there isn’t, so the sky tumbles on.
I heard that Hector died. It is all I can think to say. She never liked Hector. I hope his death might bring comfort. Or maybe I want her to feel worse.
That man always cut too much fat with the beef, my mother says, squeezing her eyes so they became flaps of wrinkled skin.
My mother’s hand sits between us, gently cupping a small stone.
I think of placing my hand on the stone, too, so that we are almost touching. Physical contact is very important, the doctor had said. Will it extend her life? I asked. Anything can happen, he said.
But my mother’s crumpled hand on the solid rock feels like it means something. It is a work of art. Symbolic, maybe. I don’t want to risk ruining what could be found millions of years in the future. If she dies right here, that is, in this very position, which might happen, anything can happen. Anything can happen, said the doctor, and anything can happen, they said, about the world, and now both are dying, most certainly nearly dead.
To the empty sea my mother says, There’s something horrible about you.
She says, Remember how you used to smell. When you worked in that hovel with the grease. You made my house stink of chips. We couldn’t have anyone over.
I told you to change your clothes before you came into the house. But you never did.
But that’s how you always were. Selfish.
I pat my mother’s arm, transposed. I pat the rock next to the rock she is holding. I imagine the rock is her soft sagging skin. The rock sends me a message through its bumps, a code carried from her rock to mine. It says I am sorry I was such a bad mother. It is exactly the sort of thing my mother would never be brave enough to say aloud. Only via dirt.
I’m sorry you’re so sad, I say.
Stop that. I’m not sad. You’ve disappointed me, is all.
I should have done more, I say.
Yes, you should have.
From our place on the cliff, we can see the sky sinking to red, then orange, then gray. It melts through the colors then back again. I cough, once, from the smoke. The stone in my hand is very hot. My mother hasn’t let go of hers, so I don’t, either.
When I’m gone, promise me you won’t fraternize with the Kowalski girl.
Christine. She’s a nuisance.
I won’t, Mum.
She always made you come home crying. Made fun of your shoes.
My shoes, really? My school shoes?
No, no, your trainers. Your ugly gym trainers that made you look like a metrosexual.
Right. Christine died ages ago, Mum.
Ah, well. There you go.
The heat is awful now, even all the way up here. My shirt clings to my neck. I cough again, but it doesn’t help. My lungs are warm. The rock burns my skin.
My mother asks, What will you do, when it’s over?
I shut my eyes to the fiery sky and wonder. I am ten years old in Miss Boer’s class. Greenhouse gasses and the circle of life. The end is the end is the end is the end. Foregone and unthinkable. It is now. It is worlds away.
I breathe in smoke. I hold my mother’s hand.
Natasha Bonfield is a writer of short stories. Originally from the United States, Natasha is now based in London. Natasha's work has been shortlisted for the 2020 Grindstone Literary Short Story Prize and appeared in Northern Gravy, Mulberry Literary, and Sapphic Writers Zine, among others. Twitter: @natashabonfield