Mother didn't expect it, didn't look for it or hold her breath waiting, but suddenly it was there: twenty-three seconds of gentle reassurances and deep, satisfying sighs.
The orange sliver of afternoon sun whispered into Althea's feverish room and Mother was there, keeping the girl's spirits up, feeding her 7Up through a straw and massaging her left hand. The other children appeared, sweet childhood sweat introduced into the sickly room. Thomas with his dirty knees and scuffed school shoes, Elizabeth elegantly tomboyish in cutoffs and flip-flops. They breathlessly asked about Althea, throwing themselves into bed with her, Elizabeth's arms around Althea's tiny waist, Thomas next to Mother, still afraid of his older sister's crumbling body.
And that's when the world stopped.
Did you notice? it murmured behind Mother's left ear, and she touched each of her children and smiled.
For twenty-three seconds the intrusive world disappeared. She didn't hear the commercial trucks stumbling by the ever-messy house, nor smell the acrid pavement burning under the September sun; no suffocating exhaust came from cars pushing for more space, no erosive cancer was tearing through her daughter's fragile bones. Mother breathed in the stale air tainted with childhood sweat and let the moment be. She looked for no solace, no meaning, no answer; she simply was.
But then the seconds were gone as Thomas and Elizabeth pushed off the faded bedspread, embracing their freedom and shuffling to resume their play outdoors. Mother watched them go, then glanced back to Althea, lying in a bed with a crease of a smile on her lips.
She had felt it too.
C. Jai Ferry grew up in a small rural town. She put together her first book of poetry, complete with a lime green cover, for a class assignment in fifth grade. Today, she focuses on gritty short stories and poetry with everyday narrators facing not-so-everyday situations. She shares free stories at www.cjaiferry.com.