At eight years old, I tried to remember to keep the sliding glass door to our patio completely shut or all the way open. Grandma didn’t seem to care if her cigarette smoke curled into the house, staining the already beige walls brown with tobacco, and Grandpa pretended he didn’t notice how the summer humidity seeped into the kitchen and raised the AC settings to 74. 75. 76. They did care when Mom walked into the door when it was left ajar. They cared about the crack in the glass, the Easter bunny stickers clotted with snot, Mom sitting on the tile, crying. If only I could see, she says. It’s okay, Grandma says. You’re okay. Fuck, Mom says. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. No one says anything to me: I stare at the half-open door, its hinges tilted on the metal track, and remind myself: shut it or leave it open.
Mom and I walk through the door of the tattoo parlor. We don’t have an appointment or a care. It’s her forty-sixth birthday, twenty years since she fell into a coma with her brain tumor, twenty years since it crushed her optic nerves, and we’re dead-set on celebrating in a semi-rebellious way.
“We want tattoos!” Mom exclaims.
One of the artists looks up from his sketchpad. Graphite coats the tips of his fingers and is smeared across the corners of the page, distorting some rough outlines of sugar skulls and pin-up girls.
“What would you like?” he asks.
Mom shrugs. “Surprise me. It’s not like I can see it anyway.”
The artist glances at me and I point to a tiny-cross-design hanging on the wall. He nods in understanding.
“Come on back,” he says. Mom starts forward before I have the chance to.
Dory, from Mom’s Lighthouse of the Blind community group, has a golden retriever. We’re not allowed to pet the dog when she’s working, her working hours dictated by the black and blue harness that matts down her yellow fur. Dory grips her dog’s harness’s handle tightly. The dog always sits by her left leg, warm, topaz eyes attentive. She watches us. When Dory taps her dog on the head, the dog lays down by Dory’s feet, paws stretched across Dory’s sketchers, her mere touch a reminder of her presence. Why can’t we get Mom one, I ask Grandpa? They’re expensive, he explains, and they’re almost always working. If we got one, you couldn’t play with him. I ask Mom for one anyway. Wouldn’t you like a dog, I ask? Mom shakes her head and grips my elbow with her left hand. Walk, she says. I take a few steps forward, guiding her body with mine. Her feet follow me. I tap my toes, impatient for an answer. It finally comes: why would I get a dog, she says, when I have you?
Mom, Aunt Barbie and I are drenched. Our jeans cling to our legs, white T-shirts sticking to our arms as we hop out of the tube-ride at Universal Studios and head toward the exit. Chlorine stings my eyes and I blink, trying to clear the blurriness. Barbie walks with Mom, two feet ahead of me. She turns right, avoiding the rope that blocks off one side of the exit. I blink and when I open my eyes, Mom’s headed straight for a pole, one that bears a sign reading “Exit Only.” Barbie cries more than Mom upon collision. I’m sorry, she says, over and over again. Mom’s forehead swells, a bump growing above her right eyebrow. I lean close to her as she gently presses ice wrapped in recycled napkins to it: I guess they call it Popeye’s ride for a reason, I say. She laughs through her tears.
Grandma took Mom and I to the mall for a treat after the longest week of third grade. Momma and I ended up standing at the corner of the smoothie kiosk with penguins, her hands on my shoulders as I kicked the foot of a statue and waited for Grandma to pay for us.
“Here you go, darlin’,” the kiosk worker said. She handed me a smoothie. Wrapping my hands around it, I smiled before sticking the straw between my lips and sipping. The watermelon and strawberry slush was cold in my mouth and I swallowed, enjoying the way the ice lingered down my tongue, my throat. I caught myself before the second sip. I pulled the straw from my lips and turned toward Mom.
“Momma,” I said.
She dropped her hands from my shoulders and reached for the cup. I placed it in her hands.
“Careful. It’s cold.”
When she leaned down to find the straw, she titled her face too far to the left and I gipped her chin to guide her to the right. She smiled before placing her lips around the straw and taking a drink.
When we left the mall, Mom clung to my right elbow. We walked through Macy’s, heading to the parking lot, and once we stepped outside, I was too caught up thinking about my new book purchases, forgetting to warn Mom about the ledge of the sidewalk. I stepped down. Momma didn’t.
Her foot caught nothing and she fell forward, her grip on my arm tightening before she let go. I closed my eyes and turned away. I couldn’t watch.
When I got enough courage to look, my gaze stayed fixated on the concrete ground, which was splattered in red. Red ran into the crevices of the sidewalk. It splattered the weeds that were peeking through the cracks and stained the tips of my white sneakers. A scream rose in my throat: Momma was hurt. Momma was bleeding.
I forced my eyes upward, thankful to see Mom sitting upright. Grandma squatted next to her and rubbed soothing circles into her back. Momma’s smoothie lay next to her foot, its contents spilled across the street, coloring the pavement red.
We’re stuck in each other’s orbit.
Mom and I are a package deal, conjoined twins who maneuver the crowded aisle of Publix side-by-side. Her cane clears a path to our right. I shift my shoulders inward and pivot on the left to avoid collision with other shoppers.
Her left hand grips my right elbow. Her fingers are sweaty, and when I stop too soon, her grasp tightens, indenting my skin. Sometimes, when she holds on too tightly, bruises circle my elbow, each purple print a tender reminder of responsibility.
“Excuse me,” I mutter, sliding past a person and their cart.
“Sorry,” Mom says.
We side step, one foot at a time, and keep walking down the aisle toward the milk. Mom’s grip tightens again when we stop at the display. Her fingernails pinch my skin and I wonder if they’ll leave imprints.
Macey Sidlasky is a student and instructor at the University of South Florida. She is currently a MFA candidate in Nonfiction and teaches English Composition, Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her cat, mom and grandma, and can always be found with her nose in a book.