1 Dead Grass

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It's the screams that wake me.

I find her clawing at dirt beneath a yellow moon. Her hair sticks out like scarecrow straw around her head while she digs, crying out, "Mercy!"

The skin on her thighs, as black as the night sky, glistens underneath her skimpy nightgown while breath billows from her lips like cigarette smoke.

The large house, our new home, looms behind me as I drag my feet across the stretch of lawn. I'm still not used to having all of this wide, open space. Mom says eventually I'll adjust. But how long is eventually, exactly?

Dead grass crunches under my Pumas as I approach her huddled form.

She digs, specks of dirt flying, spit spraying from her dry lips, her crazed eyes focused on the small hole in front of her, making her appear older than her thirty-seven years.

I hate seeing my mom like this.

"Momma, it's ok," I shush her, clutching her head to my chest. I'm sixteen, and I don't have much to offer. But I do my best to calm her.

The neighbors might hear all this noise, and we're too new for any unwanted attention. Besides, we're black. Well, she is. I'm more the color of a soy white mocha from Starbucks. But around here it doesn't matter. They see anything darker than a sheet of paper, they're calling the cops.

"Mercy!" Mom howls into the night.

She cries into my night shirt, clinging with dirt-stained fingers. But the t-shirt means a lot to me, so I try to twist my body from her snotty embrace.

The bleach-stained Biggie Smalls shirt is ratty and frayed at the collar with holes in the sleeves. It used to reach my knobby knees but after repeated washes, it barely covers my waist. It was my dad's, but then he gave it to my sister.

I started wearing it after she died.

"Mercy is dead, Mama," I say. For the thousandth time.

"No! No! That can't be." Mom shakes in my arms, bucks at me, knocks her head against my chest. "I saw her. She came to me!" Red lines crack the whites of her eyes. She scratches at me like she's feral. Jagged pebbles scrape my knees.

I'm getting tired of wrestling with Mom.

"Mercy is dead," I say again with more exasperation, inching away. The smell of dirt nauseates me. "It's been two years, Momma."

"Mercy crawled into my bed," Mom insists. "She told me to dig her up. What are you looking at? Help me dig!"

I don't point out that Mercy is buried in LA, far from shitty Pachuck, Oklahoma, where we live now.

Mom is adamant. She saw Mercy. She swears it over and over again as I stand with dirt stains on the knees of my sweatpants, my bones aching in the damp chill.

"C'mon, Momma. Let's go to bed."

Resignation brings a slump to Mom's shoulders. If she's not carrying the weight of the world, she's dealing with the phantoms in her mind. 

I pull her to her feet and allow her head to loll on my shoulder. "My baby, Mercy!" Mom howls. I drag her onto the porch, which wraps around the house like a hug, and inside our drafty home.

Since we left LA with its big sky, and moved into this unfamiliar house, Mercy keeps haunting and crawling into bed with Mom.

My sister never asked questions when Mom disappeared for days because Mercy was as gullible as a lamb. To her, Mom was this mythical figure who secretly wore a cape. I must've been born jaded because I've always seen Mom for what she is. This is why Mom preferred Mercy.

Mom isn't the only one who misses Mercy, of course. Sometimes I miss her so much, my stomach cramps, and my chest heaves. She was my twin. It feels like I'm missing a body part: an arm, an eye. Does half of a heart beat?

The way I see it, Mom is the lucky one. I'd give anything for Mercy to appear to me, but my sister's probably still mad at me.

And I don't blame her.

And I don't blame her

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