by Michelle Reale

Afterward, we slept in one room, my mother on an army cot and my brother and I in our sleeping bags.  The air conditioner groaned.  I was still thirsty.  The television flickered.  She hadn’t turned the sound down and I couldn’t sleep.  I hadn’t thought she liked scary movies.  A girl screamed and my brother stirred.  I patted his back and he settled again.  My mother’s shoulders were shaking.  She was crying.  I closed my eyes, pretended I was asleep too.  The commercials were louder than the movie.  After awhile I heard her snoring.  I wanted to shut the TV off, but I was afraid she would wake. The movie ended. The Star Spangled Banner played.  My brother said something in his sleep and I patted him again.  I wanted to cry too.  Why was I the only one who couldn’t?  I unzipped my sleeping bag and got up.  She’d fallen asleep holding the remote and I couldn’t find the TV’s off button.  What are you doing, she said.  I turned.  She was looking at me like she did sometimes, like it was my fault, all of it, whatever.  I never asked for this, she’d said once, and I knew she meant me and my brother.  I said, I was just.  I couldn’t think what.  She patted the cot for her cigarettes.  They were on the floor underneath and I got them for her.  The pack was almost empty.  She shook one out, lit it.  Can we drink the water here? I said.  She shook her head.  Hush, she said, your brother’s sleeping.


Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Her work has been published or is upcoming in a variety of venues including Smokelong Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Gargoyle, Word Riot, elimae, Monkeybicycle, Eyeshot and others.  Her fiction chapbook Natural Habitat was published by Burning River in 2010, and her second collection Like Lungfish Getting Through the Dry Season is forthcoming from Thunderclap Press.

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