Elizabeth Theriot

Hallelujah By and By

I’d follow Maw-Maw’s metronomic snores across the hallway, creaking forest papered with mystery-novel dust jackets, into her sheets blanketed with detergent and Dove soap, jagged moonlight on her feet, warm skin, a second skin cocooning me.

The biggest drinks are frozen with extra shots that go bang and leave holes, sweet with the spittle of Bacchus, like how I was delivered by a flash of lightning—

Shutters begged to get brought in out August rain crying like blue eyes while the kettle gloated and Mama, all legs in cut-off shorts, carried mugs of honey-sweet tea to her mother, reading by the window, listening to Willie Nelson. We thudded over broken branches hunting for ice down River Road to escape the heat, magazines on my lap sleek with androgynous boys, bodies scratching at the radio.

Someone will braid my hair with poppies and silly string but first, before Christmas, her eulogy clung all coffee-grind to my tongue, the sky’s jaundiced Cyclops eye unblinking while I waited for rain that wasn’t even a suggestion and you were always on my mind.

Que sera sera she might have said but her silence made the ground silence and my speakers would not silence for months, my thumb broken, threaded fingers bleeding beneath the nails. Back home the roof leaked all through summer, petty drops that helped Mama’s hair change color.

My sweat hung back in puddles on the ground, red skin peeled like sheets left out in a storm, years run off into some dense and lurid swamp.




Same Roads, Different Houses

I thumb through decades of flowers—How your mother knew the difference between a fold and a cuff, how her boyfriends stare from the red leather album and I worry about these pictures. He crouches beside you long and narrow, eyes empty, arm circling your ruffled dress. Begin with families, return with things only wished for, like married first at sixteen, neither name pronounced right, like you and George in sepia, windswept on a boat, like Jesus with the credit for your sobriety, like Paw-Paw on a motorcycle, driving trucks after the Korean War, after his tattoos loosened, like books that taught jewelry, laying brick, painting, Hershey desserts, like ten pregnancies and half as many children, and when Go home, Danielle were the last words, and your daughter with her daughter in your house, and your son who came back from Vietnam, and how the others made a little show of history. I heard them argue over furniture while you were dying down the hall.




Remainders

Four hours and nearly a dozen eggs later and I have a chocolate birthday cake. I don’t even really like chocolate cake. She would’ve eaten a slice and drank from the tin mug kept in her freezer just for chilly milk. It’s still there. Hers was its last human mouth but I remember cold metallic on my lips and then the cream.

*

One of the last things Maw-Maw insisted (and she was one to insist) was that Momma buy me a small netbook for college. It wouldn’t connect to Wifi, had no USB port; anything I wrote was typed into a tomb. It sits in my old bedroom beneath a carefully wrapped charger. I don’t know if I remember the password, if I could get back in even if I tried.

*

Momma grabs the glasses for me from a plastic tub in the closet. They aren’t the ones I remember. Anti-climactic, the thin wire sits lightly on my face. Maybe she bought a new pair right before the aneurism. Mom says these were the ones next to her chair, next to her book, next to her water.

*

Whenever Momma tells a story it’s bound to be in her own voice regardless of who’s talking. Creation, intimacy, I get it. But the vines that crawl around my brainfolds are industrial, thick. I hear the A/C sputter.

*

Daughter, if someday you exist, I hope you carry resurrection in your throat.




Total Variable Cost

In precalc Mom texted me to hurry if I could it was time for the surgery
I’m almost certain it was sunny bright the gravel crunching
Airline highway framed like a school project you know
the paneled cardboard but bordered with car dealership Shell station graveyard
and at the empty house I showered maybe had a snack but I remember the shower
and an emptiness across the 1-10 bridge though there must have been other cars
maybe even traffic and cars clogging the Ochsner parking garage like arteries
around the hospital with platelets and cells shining too brightly in the sun
my chipped nails pushing against the hospital smell hanging in curtains
that failed to conceal the final act the glass-walled waiting rooms failing
to conceal all the screens playing daytime TV soaps the aunts and cousins
assembled like loose bandages and my mom didn’t say Well you missed your chance
she was sorry but the doctors had waited as long as they could
so I followed her past nurses and doctors whose faces were the same
plastic black signs and white letters the same intensive care
unit/ICU/Maybe if she hears our voicesempty stomach tugging me
frantic the small room dissolving around her the tubes and wires
a future like colorless metal Mama we’re here, I brought Elizabeth and maybe I did
try to speak before I left them down another hall sunlight drowning the glass windows
the reception desk again cars again fountains flanking obsidian statues
arthritic finger twisting toward the sky refusing to explain
if I had been selfish or afraid or how to quantify the difference




Sestina for Greeting My Body


Elizabeth Theriot grew up in LaPlace, Louisiana and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She works with Black Warrior Review as nonfiction editor and teaches writing. Elizabeth has work forthcoming in Winter Tangerine, Storyscape, and Sword & Kettle Press. You can find her writing online in Jet Fuel, Crab Fat Magazine, OCCULUM, Tinderbox, and others.