I think about you, Maggie, how you stamped your bare feet in 
the muddy orchard and screamed profanity in front of the hired 
hands, how you stepped into the irrigation tank naked, how your 
mother cried as she dragged you back to the house and dialed the 
doctor from the old black phone on the wall, her voice breaking, 
and how when the ambulance came the men twisted your arms 
behind your back so that you couldn’t scratch at their faces, go for 
their eyeballs. I think about the boy next door, peering from behind 
a tree, already missing your wild invitations that made him shudder 
with pleasure. And how your mother said he was not a nice young 
man, to take advantage of your illness. 

I think about you, after you married the man who thought he 
could take care of you, how you entertained me in your tiny kitchen 
with the yellowed window shades and the dishes piled in the sink, 
the red blot of lipstick on your cup, the overflowing ashtray, as you 
brazenly blew smoke rings in the air.

I see you, Maggie, sobbing on the side of the desert road, 
slamming your fists on the hood of your broken-down car. I see you, 
unkempt, flailing your arms at the drivers who pass by with their
eyes fixed straight ahead. I heard how you said you would have 
gone in either direction if someone had just stopped. 

And then I see the years wind on, the chain-link-fenced 
grounds, the electrodes taped to your temples. 

But sometimes, Maggie, sometimes I see you catching a ride 
with a stranger, a man with suitcases and cash, and your future is 
classy hotels, and nightclubs, where your lipstick clings to the rim 
of a highball glass and your smoke rings float to the ceiling.

Harley Crowley lives in Escondido, California and writes for enjoyment, most often in the flash fiction form. She has had stories published at Everyday Fiction, Long Story Short and the Boston Literary Magazine, and was a winner in a "best start" contest at Glimmer Train.

This story borrows from the few facts I was able to glean about my aunt, who spent her life in mental hospitals from young adulthood. She and her sisters are gone now, but the undercurrent of pain, not often spoken, lingers. I have always been fascinated with the way a submerged family story still echoes, and how we keep needing to grasp for a truth that will satisfy us. This is my version.



Copyright 2009