My Mother Wants to Know if I’m Dead

ARE YOU DEAD? is the subject line of her email.
The text outlines the numerous ways she thinks
I could have died: slain by an axe-murderer, lifeless
on the side of a highway, choked to death by smoke
since I’m a city girl and likely didn’t realize you needed
to open the chimney flue before making a fire (and,
if I do happen to be alive, here’s a link to a YouTube
video on fireplace safety that I should watch). Mom
muses about the point of writing this email. If I am
already dead, which is what she suspects, I wouldn’t
be able to read it. And if I’m alive, what kind of daughter
am I not to write her own mother to let her know
that I’ve arrived at my fancy residency, safe and sound,
and then to immediately send pictures of everything,
like I promised her! If this was a crime show, she posits,
the detective might accuse her of sending this email
as a cover up for murder. How could she be the murderer,
if she wrote an email to her daughter asking if she was murdered?
her defense lawyers would argue at the trial. In fact,
now that she thinks of it, this email is the perfect alibi
for murdering me. And that is something I should
definitely keep in mind, if I don’t write her back
as soon as I have a free goddamn second to spare.

More by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

July

The figs we ate wrapped in bacon.
The gelato we consumed greedily:
coconut milk, clove, fresh pear.
How we’d dump hot espresso on it
just to watch it melt, licking our spoons
clean. The potatoes fried in duck fat,
the salt we’d suck off our fingers,
the eggs we’d watch get beaten
’til they were a dizzying bright yellow,
how their edges crisped in the pan.
The pink salt blossom of prosciutto
we pulled apart with our hands, melted
on our eager tongues. The green herbs
with goat cheese, the aged brie paired
with a small pot of strawberry jam,
the final sour cherry we kept politely
pushing onto each other’s plate, saying,
No, you. But it’s so good. No, it’s yours.
How I finally put an end to it, plucked it
from the plate, and stuck it in my mouth.
How good it tasted: so sweet and so tart.
How good it felt: to want something and
pretend you don’t, and to get it anyway.

Things That Happened During Petsitting That I Remind Myself Are Not Metaphors for My Heart

The dog refuses to eat. I keep filling her bowl
anyway: new kibble on top of old, hoping
that it will suddenly becoming tempting.

When I write, the cat watches me from a chair.
When I look at him, he purrs loudly, leans forward
so that I might touch him. I don’t.

Now the dog refuses to come out of her cage,
no matter what I say, no matter how wide I open
the door. She knows that I am not her master. 

On the couch, the cat crawls on top of me
and loves me so hard, his claws draw blood.
I am so lonely, I do nothing to stop it.

There are lights in this house I want to turn on,
but I can’t find their switches. Outside, an engine
turns and turns in the night, but never catches.

Things We Didn't Talk About

The boy found hanging on the golf course.
The boy with the bruises, who’d arrive
to school coatless in the middle of winter.
The man with the red face and the thick stutter
who cleaned up our vomit in grade school.
The veteran who spoke to the seventh grade,
confessed how scared he’d been and wept.
The cousin who disappeared completely
after she refused to eat anything but olives.
The mother who was a drunk. The father
who told us all he was an undercover cop
and that’s why he had the gun. The boy
who got shot. The boy who got cancer
in both legs, his angry dad, his frail sisters.
Why we never got responses to our get well
soon cards, the mute teachers continuing
their lessons plans. What happened
to that hungry black dog who’d bolt
through the school yard, the one
that refused to stay leashed.