Richard Mirabella


Mary was born in a port city in the heel of Italy in 1928. She was the sec­ond Mary, a replace­ment for the first, who had entered and left the world in one day. Because she was the sec­ond Mary, her moth­er wor­ried about her too much. When she turned five, she almost died any­way, burn­ing up and turn­ing bright red. She felt heavy and wet. Her brain swelled up and then went down again. As she laid in bed a parade of chil­dren came into her room, an end­less line of them, iden­ti­cal pairs of her broth­ers and sisters.

Afterwards, she was changed. She cried and car­ried on about lit­tle things and helped less around the house. She got angry with her broth­ers and sis­ters. When her fam­i­ly moved to America, she threw fits. Her moth­er had to car­ry her onto the boat like a piece of luggage.

Mary grew up. She was a real American and would not speak Italian. On the steps of the New York Public Library, she met her hus­band who had shrap­nel in his leg and smoked cig­a­rettes. They mar­ried and moved to Long Island with its pota­to fields and long yel­low grass. Perfect rows of hous­es. The saline smell of the ocean some­times reached her when she stood on the front lawn. It remind­ed her of Italy, and she would have to go into the house to escape it.

Mary gave birth to a daugh­ter, a wrin­kled doll with lit­tle olive arms and legs. It puked on Mary’s cloth­ing, so she stopped buy­ing nice things.

The baby grew up. She had thick black eye­brows like her moth­er and devel­oped big breasts, wore tight jeans and smoked cig­a­rettes, stayed out late with her friends. Mary called her a slut and threw a bar of soap at her, black­en­ing her eye. She got mar­ried and left. Mary had two more daugh­ters to take the other’s place. They grew up and got degrees and left her.

She ate and grew fat, tak­ing up more and more space on the couch, until her hus­band moved to the chair, and tak­ing up more and more space in the bed, until he moved to one of the emp­ty rooms left by the girls. He went away once for a whole week with­out telling her where he was going. She called her daugh­ters and cried, and then her hus­band came back. A few years lat­er he died of a heart attack and the house got qui­et. No more cow­boy movies, no more base­ball. Only the stink of men­thol smoke lin­gered in the couch cush­ions, the cur­tains, the bed, the clothes hang­ing in the closet.

Mary for­got to eat. She called her daugh­ters and she shout­ed. She grew very thin. You’re shrink­ing, one of the daugh­ters said. They cooked for her and watched her eat, and when they were sat­is­fied that she’d eat­en enough, they left again. Their names escaped her. She sent birth­day cards in which she’d scrib­bled notes that unrav­eled like string. She used words that did not exist and took too much med­ica­tion, which made her legs swell up. They went down again, but she was not allowed to be alone any­more. A doc­tor took a pho­to­graph of her brain and showed the daugh­ters pock­ets of black­ness in the green­ish white image. They took her to a home for peo­ple who had for­got­ten. They did not tell her where they were going. A man came and got Mary out of the car and put her into a wheel­chair. Come on, sweet­heart, he said. Sweetheart? Was that her, he meant? She did not have her things with her, she thought. What would hap­pen to her couch?

She shared a room with a woman who took all her clothes off and walked around like a sag­gy ghost. Every two weeks, some­one came by to style her hair, which had gone com­plete­ly white for the first time in her life. Nurses rushed in and out. She called them names, or com­plained that they were steal­ing from her or try­ing to kill her. She com­plained to her daugh­ters when they vis­it­ed, she begged them to fire the nurs­es. They couldn’t, they told her. Go away, she said. I don’t love you. I hate you.

Soon, she couldn’t get out of bed. She felt very light, falling into the light­ness to sleep. She woke up to the sounds of talk­ing and hum­ming. People were talk­ing about some­one called “her” and some­one called “she.”

Her daugh­ters came and stood around her, watch­ing her every day until her heart stopped. She saw her­self walk­ing up the steps of the New York Public Library, and then she was her­self walk­ing up the steps. She expect­ed to see her hus­band, young again, with slick black hair, limp­ing up the steps with a cig­a­rette between his fin­gers. Instead, a girl was wait­ing for her at the top, block­ing the door; she wore a fur coat and held a sequined clutch, nei­ther of which Mary had ever owned. Can you let me in? Mary said. The girl seemed to be stunned out of a trance and almost dropped her purse. Oh, I’m sor­ry, she said, snap­ping open the clutch and hand­ing Mary a rec­tan­gle of plas­tic. Here is your card, she said, and stepped out of the way.


Richard Mirabella is a fic­tion writer liv­ing in Upstate New York. His flash fic­tion has appeared in Glossolalia Flash Fiction and Pequin, both online. He is work­ing on a novel.