Mother. Earth. Tongue. by Debbi Voisey

As you lie on your deathbed, the nurse asks me for help. Your body is drawing down the moon and bathing in its spotlight like a beautiful actress on the stage.

‘She’s started speaking in tongues,’ the nurse says, and I look down at you as though you will start to do it on cue. But you remain silent.

‘Tongues?’ I remember how, back in our younger days, yours would either cut me to the quick with its sharp meanness or bring me intense pleasure. One or the other, or both. ‘How do you mean?’

‘A foreign language,’ the nurse says. ‘Little spurts of words. Like postcard messages. Brief, infrequent.’

We travelled a lot together. You always said the Earth was a beautiful canvas on display, and needed to be looked at by many admirers. Our favourite place was Santorini. All that black sand and blue sea, the sound of birds and creaking sails, sun dancing off the water in shimmers of liquid gold. We’d never learned the language. We’d always been that couple who’d thought speaking slow and loud English would suffice.

You move now; make a noise.

‘There, did you hear it?’ the nurse asks.

A few more mumbles, and in my mind I’m back at our first house, the day we’d moved in. In our little corner of the beautiful planet you wanted to trip around like Phileas Fogg. I’d been so afraid to lose you, wanted you to feel earthed here, where we would raise three girls and one boy, and bury several dogs before the end of our globetrotting.

I’d carried you over the threshold and we’d sat on the floor, eating Chinese among our unopened boxes, made love in the light of the moon, and you’d fallen asleep in the bowl of my spoon, mumbling contentedly. Happy to indulge me, to raise our kids, to anchor yourself sporadically. To be a mother above all else. Even above your own wants.

We’ve seen everything, you and I. Been around the Earth countless times. Travelled on the Earth around the Sun more times than I want to acknowledge. We’ve lived through cancer, and the death of our son from suicide. When you cut him down and cradled him, your body screamed words that seemed of another tongue, not of this Earth. You told me later you don’t even remember making any noise, that you thought you were internalising it. I think I would still have heard you anyway.

The nurse has a clipboard and pen, is looking at me as if she expects me to translate. I want to say: ‘I’ll never tell you. It’s our secret.’, because there are still things you’ve never even told me, about how it felt to hold him after death, but I say nothing.

We hold our breath, waiting for the next mumble.

But it never comes. I’m just standing on the Earth, waiting for you to silently jump off. Waiting to jump off right after you.

Debbi has short stories and flash fictions published in print and online.  Her Novella-in-Flash, “The 10:25” is forthcoming from Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press in 2021.  She can be found tweeting as @DublinWriter, and has a website and a Facebook page