Paula Younger's writing has appeared in many literary journals, including Harper Collins’ 52 Stories, The Rattling Wall, The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, and The Nervous Breakdown. She earned her MFA from the University of Virginia, and received the Henry Hoyns and Bronx Writers Center fellowships. She teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she received the Beacon Award for teaching excellence.
The first time my mother rose from the dead my son was a month old and I had a fever of 103. My husband had left for a business trip to sell a company that specialized in landscaped rock and gravel. The sale was necessary to pay for our hefty mortgage. I had strep throat, a bottle of amoxicillin and a newborn.
Neil sent me a text with a link to a babysitting website. “She’ll be there in 30 minutes. Hang in there. Don’t pick up the baby.”
It would be okay to hand over my non-talking newborn to a stranger. No need to worry that his neck could snap if not supported properly, that he was too young for solids and didn’t use formula. Our pediatrician dubbed breast milk ‘liquid gold’ and I constantly worried I wouldn’t produce enough. In my feverish haze, the Just Like Mom babysitting website was manna. Golden women with hair blowing in the breeze, happy young children playing in a field, a baby swaddled in a soft white blanket.
My baby’s cry turned into a wail: his hungry sound. My tight, full breasts pressed against the nursing bra. I shook, either from Jake’s cries or the fever. I pushed my hands against the walls of the narrow hallway for support and walked into Jake’s darkened room.
He paused mid-cry and jostled against his sleepsack, trying to free his swaddled arms. He gave me his wooing look—big eyes and an eager smile. His jaundiced skin made him look tan. I longed for the orange to subside and his body to rid itself of the excess bilirubin, something I didn’t even know existed until Jake didn’t have the right amount. I picked him up, but dropped him back onto his crib. His wail escalated into a new register. I cried out, “Mom!” Jake startled, and then wailed harder.
I had called for Mom plenty of times before, an old habit whenever I felt overwhelmed, but this time someone moved just beyond the door to the hallway.
“Who’s there?” I stood in front of Jake’s crib with my arms outstretched, the most protective posture I could manage.
Mom wore her burgundy business jacket and skirt. Her left black high heel was missing, and so was her eye. Her skull was dented and oozed red. I stared at the gaping hole. I had assumed if there was an afterlife, it cleaned people up.
“Sorry for the mess,” Mom said. She limped over in her one shoe. “Why don’t I take him so you can get some rest?”
Mom scooped up Jake. I put my hand out to stop her, but worried about touching her.
Miraculously, Jake stopped crying. He nestled against Mom. Was there some essential element that was the same between us, whether or not she had a heartbeat?
“Goo,” Jake cooed, a new sound.
“Smells like someone messed his pants,” she said. I couldn’t breathe properly, much less smell. She pressed my forehead against her cheek. I closed my eyes so I didn’t have to see her. “You’re burning up, baby girl,” she said.
The doorbell rang.
“Who’s that?” Mom asked.
“The babysitter. Neil found a service.”
Mom frowned. Her disapproval was more intense with the missing eye. How could a lack of an eye convey so much?