Blessings is the Third place winner in the October 2023 Flash Fiction Competition.
My sister crawled in on all fours. Her knees and elbows were blown out in the wrong direction, as though her brief time in the dirt had transformed her into a spider: twiggy, efficient, fanged. She dragged in mud over the threshold, uninvited, leaving uneven tracks for our eyes to follow to the gnarled oak. Preacher had put Sissy to rest just yesterday. He’d pressed an anointed thumb to her forehead, had spoken words straight out of The Good Book, and promised her broken little spirit would find comfort in the kingdom of heaven.
It’s been raining since and the air is heavy with static. Mother prayed all morning for the weather to turn. She worried that Sissy’s grave would slide away from us. I worried about how the sky illuminated in turquoise.
When Sissy crawled in, she brought the mud with her and an aching stink of rot and leaking formaldehyde. Her bones clacked like reeds. Roots tangled her hair and the hemlines of the dress we buried her in. Mother’s kinfolk said we needed to bury Sissy standing. Instead, we buried her with her feet pointed east so she could rise up with The Rapture.
As The Good Book said.
Mother, good southern baptist that she was, jumped out of her floral patterned recliner and shouted, “And the Lord spake and all the children warshed in the blood of The Lamb will rise up!”
Her hands, twisted and swollen like the tree in the yard, twitched forward. She meant to grab her bible, which was always near, but instead yanked up a decorative doily from the coffee table and waved it around like the Holy Spirit had come and infected it. Sissy’s mouth, glued shut, held a muffled rattle. Her spider joints rotated, moving her waxy, mud stained body towards us. The bones of her neck chattered, and I drew my feet up off the floor, tucking them tight against my body, where I sat on my corner of the loveseat, and she couldn’t grab me. Sissy’s forehead was a sinkhole where Preacher touched it with holy oil, and several maggots curled out of the hole.
“I think someone should tell the funeral home they didn’t do their job right,” I muttered. “She ain’t all the way dead.”
“Hush that talk!” Mother flapped the doily around again and brought it to Sissy’s face to dab away the embalming fluids leaking from her glazed eyes and the corner of her mouth. Sissy’s thick lips puckered as she tongued it and Mother cooed, “Like Lazarus out of the pit! We’ve been blessed by the Lord! The stone has been rolled away! You must set the table for dinner.”
Sissy skittered again but kept one cloudy eye on me. Mother cradled her waxy, damp face, openly weeping and rocking. She ignored the grubby little creatures tumbling out of the gap in Sissy’s forehead. Her sealed lips puckered with a continued pulse around Mother’s perfumed neck. Testing. Hunting. I moved out of the room, slow like a cat being watched.
The wind began to rattle through the branches and scraped against the shaking windows. Out in the distance, a train was coming, slicing through the blue-green sky. The house slanted. I set the kitchen table with the cheap plates and cutlery. Since the funeral, we’ve been inundated with casseroles and my hands shook as I dumped cold, gooey tuna melt into equal serving portions. What else was I to do? Call 911? Run out the door and to the neighbors in the brief hope that I wouldn’t get caught in the coming twister or tangled in the exposed roots and devoured by the earth in the ways Sissy should have been?
“Oh, she won’t eat any of that,” Mother sighed with a milky satisfaction as she wandered into the kitchen. All the exposed parts of her skin had welts the size of a kiss. It looked loose, shifting with fluids. A grub fell out of Mother’s nose and, unseen by her, crushed beneath her big toe. For the first time in her existence, Sissy followed Mother with an undiluted affection. My toes curled in my socks as Sissy continued to nuzzle at Mother’s flesh. We sat at the table, Mother demanding we hold hands as we say grace.
Sissy’s muddy fingers found mine and we looked at each other while Mother’s head was bowed in reverence. “Dear God, our Father,” Mother sighed. Sissy’s grip tightened, her jaw working and her tongue pushing behind the glue of her lips. Poking, sliding, dissolving. Her tongue was a dog tied to a post in an abandoned yard. The tether was breaking, the snap of a wicked bite was fast approaching. Mother tilted her neck back, throat flexing as she raised her voice up. “Thank you for this bounty we are about to receive.”
And Sissy smiled, flashing a pearly tooth.