the mess

At the university gym, while our kids played in the ball room, I smelled morphine. Sudden, pungent, chemical. I smell morphine. He and my husband chatted, and their voices went underwater while the scent wrapped its palms around my head and locked its fingers, as vivid as the squirt of it through the tube in my baby's scalp. Am I supposed to know this person? Why do I smell morphine? Why does nobody else?

The man mentioned his work, a parking complaint, and I startled, and his face snapped into place and the scent loosened its grip, its point made.

He was once my anesthesiologist.

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I see a little boy standing by the creek, and he looks just like Ben, but he isn't. I must have called to him because he turns around with a rock in his hand, smiling. Then he is in a wheelchair, twisted and convulsing, and I can't stop his pain, and I can't stop missing him, loss upon loss upon loss, and the people around the dining room table click their tongues, smug, right about how I did it all wrong.

+++

The word is at the forefront: parallel. Lives, selves, outcomes. The woman who died on the gurney, the ghost. She is a good mother. She takes care of the boy who died too, and he runs, and he knows her, and they throw rocks into the creek beside their little house, the house filled with sunshine.

+++

Declarations echo: what I am, and I'll never forget it.