A parakeet is trapped in the stairway. She hears it beat its wings against the walls, like a moth hitting the light. Her husband stands at the bottom of the stairs, hands shielding his face, afraid to come up.
The parakeet’s squawks become the cries of their ninety-year-old neighbor, screaming at her caretaker. Screaming “Where am I?” Screaming “Where’s my son?”
This time, Jan can’t ignore her. She is in her neighbor’s house, only her neighbor is her grandmother, hunching on a stepstool that is drowning in a pool of tears. Her grandmother is quietly tearing out the hair between her eyes, strand by strand.
Jan watches in sick fascination. Wind the white hair around the finger. Tug. Wince. Again. She rouses herself. “Gran. Stop. Please.”
Her grandmother looks up with her deepset ringed eyes.
“Don’t,” she repeats. “Please don’t.”
Those inconsolable eyes, so much like Jan’s mother’s. Eyes that will cry you a river finally focus on her.
“When you lose a son,” Gran says, “you can tell me how to mourn.”
And Jan is running, running, running, past the dive-bombing parakeet, up the stairs, but the door gets ever further away, and she knows what is waiting for her on the other side, what she will find in the crib, and she is a scream, the world is a scream, she is falling down its throat…
…and sitting up, gasping, in her bed. The baby is asleep in the cot beside her. She leans over. Puts her hand under his nose. Is there breath? Brushes her hand over his cheek. Is he cold? Cooling? He stirs, gives a slight gasp, and her breath comes back. Safe.
“Do you find yourself consumed by anxiety?” the nurse in the clinic asked.
“Well, sometimes I’m afraid he’s not breathing. I always go check him at night,” she had answered. “But that’s normal, no?”
Memories of being sent to check on her brother. Just place your hand on his back, make sure he’s breathing, her mother would say. The butterfly stirring under her fingers.
The nurse watched her, then gave a half smile. “Yes, I guess we all do that.”
Batnadiv HaKarmi is an American born writer and painter living in Jerusalem. A graduate of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University, her work has been published in Poet Lore, Ilanot Review, Poetry International, MomEgg Review and Partial Answers. She is the recipient of the Andrea Moria Prize for Poetry, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction.
She teaches Creative Writing in Emunah College, Jerusalem, and is on the faculty of the Brandeis Institute of Music and Art, Waltham MA.