Kiana Govoni

Grave Flies

The image of your mom as a screaming mannequin in a hospital bed wouldn’t leave you alone. It nibbled on the corners of your sight on your long drive back to her home, and it played peekaboo with your sleepless eyes when you later tucked yourself within her bed and clung to her rescue dog Rosie. When the mannequin face said peek, you said, mannequin, mannequin, mannequin

Rosie didn’t understand your mumbling. She was tired, kicking out her back legs, and huffing for sleep. You knew that each utterance of mannequin meant nothing to her because Rosie hadn’t seen that face and couldn’t understand yet that your mom was never coming back to either of you. But curled up together in bed, you still talked to her about the mannequin face and the screaming mouth before reassuring her that while you were now an orphan, she wasn’t.

“I’m going to take good care of you,” you promised.

When Rosie responded by nuzzling her muzzle into the dents of your neck, her breath a pungent sweetness that tickled your corpse skin, you petted the top of the dog’s tender head and whispered, “I’ll take care of you just like she did. I promise.”

Rosie still didn’t understand, but you knew she would have to soon. After giving you a goodnight lick, she fell asleep in your wakefulness and hogged the sheets, happy in her oblivion. And as Rosie slept beside you, you felt her wet snout and saw your mom’s mouth flung wide open like it had been in the hospital, a cave mouth dressed in a hospital gown, your mom’s nudeness barely covered, though you knew the exposure of her body wasn’t the reason she died in a scream. 

No, the reason your mom’s mouth was trapped in a hail Mary, mannequin scream was because her false teeth were missing. She had lost her two front teeth as a teenager, when she tripped over a curb at the mall, hurrying to a part time job she was always late for, and now the gaps were on display. And the cavern of her mouth, questioning the fairness of her mortality and how a common cold could rot into pneumonia and steal the life of a woman under fifty were more reasons why your mom was still screaming. 

But there were worse ways and places to die, you kept telling yourself, even as your mom’s mannequin face kept screaming in the dark. And when the screaming finally quieted, you could then close your eyes to everything, cradle your mom’s dog in her now mother-abandoned bed, and do what she no longer could: love Rosie, protect her, and join her in temporary sleep.

Or so you thought.

 

“Careful,” you warned Rosie as you put away your cell phone. The phone calls, texts, and voicemails from friends and family, from your aunt with her detailed funeral plans for the coming Friday, were still on ignore. It was only Sunday, two days after your mom died, and you and Rosie were in the living room watching TV. But Rosie was now coughing around a dog chew and hiccupping distress, and you pat her back, quickly starting to worry. “Rosie?”

Rosie was all lab, eating dangerously fast and taking no time for air, choking on liquids and solids more times than she didn’t. You patted her back a little harder and jumped when she hacked out a chainsaw-gag and started a struggle. 

The way she gagged was familiar to you, you realized, numb up to your gums. Your mom had been a choker too, food sticking to the walls of her throat like syrup on cake. But she had always coughed it out—on her own, with soda, or with your frantic wailing on her back.

“Hey, breathe. You’re okay,” you said with your voice and not with the desperation of your heart.

Rosie’s body quaked, her throat vomiting another awful sound.

“Hey…”

Rosie hacked.

“Stop. Please,” you begged as you beat down on tender fur.

Rosie did stop. Stopped struggling.

“No, breathe!” You hit her back so hard you felt like an abuser. And a liar, always the liar. You claimed forever with Rosie. It had only been two days.

You threw yourself away from her and ran for the old PC on the other side of the living room. Doggy CPR. The Heimlich. Of course you didn’t know either. You just turned on the monitor with dripping fingers when Rosie stopped making sound.

You stalled, blinked into the flickering computer screen. Then your body moved through robotics, with a pivot and a jerk, to see Rosie slumped over on the couch. You slowly dragged your feet back to your mom’s dog and slammed to your knees before her body, the carpet not absorbing the sting of your crash. 

You stared. Rosie’s body was not as mannequin-like as your mom’s had been. Not yet. And her mouth was still closed, so you went to wrap your fingers around her snout, to keep it closed, to keep the flies away. Because as your mom used to say when you came across dead roadkill on walks or when together you watched carcasses tanning under a blazing sun on the discovery channel, when dead is really dead, that’s when the flies come in.

No flies, you thought, swiping away crumbs from the dog chew that killed Rosie. And just as your fingers clasped onto that snout, breath rushed out of Rosie’s body, and you fell back screaming. And you were still in a scream when Rosie shook out her body, spat out the rest of what had killed her, breathed, and looked down at you through a different set of eyes. 

They were your mother’s brown, and then they were hazelnuts, a silver sheen glossing the corners, and you bobbed in a tongueless abyss.

Rosie didn’t mind your muteness. She jumped off the couch and tackled you, licking you almost down to the bone. When you found your voice, you held onto the dog’s soft face and wheezed, “M-mom?” thinking, no, can’t, but knowing it was yes, yes, as she breathed into you.

And your mom, in Rosie’s body, barked yes, yes, her breath milk and raw bone. Then she knocked you back down, licking her way into your mouth. 

You heaved, and you laughed, crying, “Mom. Mom. Mom.”

 

Your mom eagerly leaned into the massage. You scrubbed with your hands and scratched gently with your nails, scratching away the dust, Rosie’s death particles, and the white patches of freckles that peppered her cheeks and jaw, cleaning your mom to celebrate her return. 

You resisted temptation and didn’t call your aunt or your uncle to tell them there was no need for a funeral anymore, to apologize for not opening the door for them—again—when they dropped by yesterday. Instead you kept your mouth shut, secure in your secluded reunion with your rebirthed mom, and rejoiced. 

Satisfied now with her cleansing, you threw towels on your mom’s withering body and laughed sticky tears when she tore out of the bathroom, hyperactive, running circles instead of humming and dancing around in a puff of lavender on two, strong legs.

You wanted to get into bed and talk with your mom under the covers, but she wanted to watch TV once she calmed down. You hesitated, but your mom was adamant. So you compromised and set up on the smaller couch away from the cushions Rosie died on. Then you gave your mom popcorn and watched her with a bird’s eye while she devoured her popcorn, without a single choke, and watched the food network channel, one of the channels you two used to watch together at night before bed, from the time you were a kid to when you went to college.

When you tried to remove the bowl after she was finished, your mom collapsed on you and trusted you to carry her weight, peering up at you in a way a human mother never could. 

“Mom, I don’t know,” you said slowly, not knowing how her new body would react to too much popcorn. 

Your mom had been back for only a few hours. She was adjusting well to her new body, but she wouldn’t eat Rosie’s food. You knew that she needed to eat to live, to eat something appropriate for dogs, but your mom licked the tips of your fingers and huffed warm air onto your skin, begging. The sensation of that rough muscle left a popping chill as it tickled you, but in your heart, your mom’s new affections felt so right. She was still Mom.

Your mom cocked her head, waiting, and then attacked your face with a dog’s force and love as you stared into her eyes. 

“Fine,” you agreed, laughing through dog hair and slobber. “You get one more cup. If you’re still hungry, you get the dog food. Don’t look at me like that.”

 

Your mom loved howling a canine’s melody in the mornings, waking both you and the closest neighbors when she had to pee. She loved eating but still wouldn’t eat like a dog, accepting only what her human body once had: her morning fried eggs, popcorn for TV and movies, spaghetti and sausage for dinner, apples with peanut butter for dessert that she shitted out into juice diarrhea. You were gut-thankful she never cried for another dog chew, and so far, she only had one choking scare that ended after a single cough.

You let her keep eating what she wanted, eating to live, because you could make dog food good for her later. Now was the time to feast, and throughout the week, you didn’t stop her from much, letting her eat, sing, slip the socks off your feet, letting her steal all the dirty napkins and tissues from the table and the trash can.

Outside, your mom liked to run circles, snap at bugs, chase squirrels, and dig. Even though she was a dog now, her new digging surprised you. She had once hated holes and empty spaces, filling to the brim anything secondhand that she could fit into those vacant voids in your childhood home.

Witnessing your mom dig space and leave it naked day and night scared you in ways you couldn’t articulate. So you watched her closely and later washed away the filth from her body, the dirt and white dust that stubbornly stuck to her face.

You became a silent watcher in those moments of tearing into the earth, and you kept stalking your mom with both eyes and ears all the hours throughout the following days. And as you stalked, you came to more realizations. Your mom would need companionship outside you and the human variety—daily trips to pet-friendly stores, playdates with dog friends, appointments at dog spas. Everything dog and more.

TV binging and all-day snacking would not be enough forever, even for a lab, because your human mom had been an indoor and outdoor woman, a born talker who talked to people everywhere she could. Your mom’s needs came first now, so you started slow by attaching a leash to her collar Saturday afternoon, a week and a day after she died a human death. 

When your mom looked up at you with those angel eyes, you asked “Okay?” then smiled when she barked an enthusiastic yes.

 

Walking your mom was just like walking any regular dog. She sniffed the air, walked in a trot, and pulled you over to old, smelly trees. You were the one with behavioral issues, your eyes on the lookout for anything with the potential to enact harm.

When you ran into her neighbors, they offered their condolences, petted your mom’s head, and called her a good and pretty girl. To you, that felt like typical human-to-dog etiquette. You were pleased though you still had to suckle on your tongue, not enjoying the neighbors’ proximity to your mom.

“When’s the funeral?” one of them asked as your mom sniffed at the man’s golden retriever. 

“This coming Friday,” you told him, unashamed.

According to your aunt, funerals should happen no later than a week, which meant the funeral should have been yesterday. Two weeks meant no open casket, but you hadn’t cared a minute about funerals during this week with your mom. You finally agreed, just the other day, to have the funeral this coming Friday. For your aunt. For the phone calls to stop. To officially mark the continuation of your mom’s new life with you in different form.

“What time? I—” The man was saying something to you, but you couldn’t understand anymore. You stopped listening to man and listened to the dogs. Your mom was still on leash, but she was straining and cramping your hand. And then she barked and slipped out of your safety, running across the man’s yard with his dog.

“Ma—” you started a scream that spoke your mom’s name in a way you never could again in human company. Awkwardly you finished with, “ma,” and held your tongue. You couldn’t be too excessive. To the outside world, this dog was not your mom. And your mom wasn’t in danger. 

She was living.

You didn’t intervene, instead observing her run and play-bite using her teeth, her mouth not in a Hail-Mary or face-shifting mannequin scream that you hadn’t seen since her resurrection—her face now at a dog’s height, tongue hanging out in play.

Your mom needed to be around other dogs, you reminded yourself. She needed to not stay accustomed to being with you all hours of every day. The funeral for her human body was soon to happen, and without her, you would help lay her former body to rest. Your mom’s siblings were also coming over in two days, and you were finally going to let them in.

You wondered how your mom would act around her siblings, and as the neighbor continued another ramble, you pictured her, in exaltation, jumping on their laps, singing, and lapping up their salt like they were made of cream.

 

Your mom attacked her big brother first. Her love for him hadn’t changed. In her canine body, she wiggled and jumped in a way she couldn’t as a human, licking love and powerless to stop herself. So you stopped her, holding onto her collar while your aunt and uncle secured the door behind them. 

“She get into your caffeine?” your uncle asked, all spread-legged, bald headed, and half-comfortable once he was on the couch. Waving his fingers, he clicked his tongue when your mom whined for him again. “Calm down, girl.”

“Thanks for letting us in,” your aunt commented stiffly beside your uncle, on the couch Rosie had died on. “Now.”

“Your welcome,” you said from your spot on the recliner, your mom straining between your legs.

Your aunt wouldn’t look at her. She was the baby sister, the only sister now, and she wasn’t your uncle. She wasn’t passing comfortable. She was a folded chair stuck in a jam, two large Talbots bags framing her calves, her arms protecting her belly, her eyes restless. “It’s like she doesn’t even know Win’s gone,” she remarked.

“Cut it out, Fran,” your uncle said before you could open your mouth. “She loves people, needs them. Probably more now since…”

Neither your aunt or uncle could see your mom in her new body. Even when she was human they could barely see her in all the senses. Living only towns apart with hardly a peek of their faces or echo of their voices beside on birthdays and holidays. You had seen your uncle more growing up, but you still hardly knew him. He was a stranger-uncle. Just like your aunt.

Your mom’s reasonings for their absences had always been consistent: They didn’t just have children. They had spouses too. They could love through distance. They were busy.

“What have you got there?” you asked your aunt, pointing at the shopping bags and holding onto your mom as your aunt detailed the death shirt and death pants and death shoes they bought for your mom’s human body.

“We won’t be able to see her with the closed casket, but Win will be comfortable,” your aunt said, staring at you.

You didn’t respond to her disapproval. Your aunt chose the time and day of the funeral, the plot, and the inscription, but you chose the tombstone, paid for the most comfortable looking coffin that you couldn’t afford, and were paying for the church lunch.

“Thanks for picking out the outfit,” you said, only half listening. 

Your uncle wasn’t listening at all. He was fixated, his hand extended to his sister-dog. “Come here,” he beckoned, his tongue clicking. 

You thought, for a split of a second, that he was finally seeing your mom. But he continued, saying, “Come here, Rosie,” acting like he wasn’t aware of your hoarding, your arms a laden anchor around your mom.

You both needed this, you reminded yourself. And so you surrendered.

Your mom zipped forward and pounced quick, your uncle laughing with tears soaking up the whole of his eyes, your mom loving him like candy before she turned to her sister and crossed the physical distance denied to her human body—giving kisses while your aunt tried to push her away without looking, her eyes blinking in a rapid wander.

You called to your mom and she came back to you, so easily. You would always love her. You promised now to always see her.

 

“Okay,” you said. “Go play!”

Your mom didn’t need any more incentives. This was her second time out of the house, and she was in ecstasy. When two dogs ran chasing after a frisbee, your mom tore after them. You stepped back without releasing your eyes from her and returned to the group you had stood around following your arrival at the dog park. 

The group were still engaging in dog-parent conversation, and you invented bullshit lies to join in—lies about saving your mom from the local, overcrowded animal shelter—lies about feeding your mom a pure natural diet—more lies about taking her to all the top hiking trails. Lies that felt believable, like something you, through your mom, could have accomplished with Rosie.

Your mom hadn’t cared too much about natural food for humans or canines. She wasn’t a hiker but a beachgoer. And you didn’t remember which shelter she had adopted Rosie from, couldn’t remember how often she and Rosie kept frequenting the beaches to socialize, sunbathe, and as your mom used to say, stretch it all out.

The last time you had seen your human mom was one month before she died a human death. She came to your apartment for lunch and didn’t talk about herself or the dog she rescued six years earlier, after you left for college out-of-state. During lunch she asked about your job as a paralegal, about you being back home. 

You were two years out of college with a degree you didn’t use. Your loans had loans, you were building yourself up, needing steady pay, and you couldn’t indulge in many talks, meets, or greets even with your mom. That’s what you kept telling her. And yourself. Especially when she called you two weeks after her visit, worrying about a persistent cold she couldn’t get rid of. 

But you didn’t have the time for sickness.

In the park you kept track of your dog-mom’s play while you stayed lying to the group. Her roughness surprised you. As a human, your mom didn’t push back against aggression. She stepped back and laughed, eyes stretched into something tamely hurt. In her new body, she snapped her jaw down, teeth meeting in a smash of other dog teeth when they played too rough and overstepped her boundaries. 

You were so proud you could holler. This is what she needed, being out, taking no lip or teeth. You would keep giving this to her. Forever. You would be a better daughter. 

You moved your pride and your eyes away from your mom to clarify one of your lies to the group. Just one second. One second away.

 

In one second dogs were screaming. In one second you couldn’t see your mom. Somehow you found enough air for a power scream of, “Ma! Ma-Rosie! Rosie!” 

Your panic stirred a greater panic. But your mom still heard you. She screamed loud and guttural, and you and the other dog parents ran straight into her distress. 

When you found her, your mom was another version of herself and fighting with a German shepherd, the two dogs rolling around like they were trying to annihilate a fire with the blood they stole from each other. You leapt toward her and her assailant and jumped right in, hands first. 

You suffered a bite or two before someone tore you out of the dog pile and wrestled to restrain you. But you couldn’t be stopped, jumping right back into the rolling mess of dogs—an unseen face joining you and doing it right this time, you pulling your mom’s legs, the other face pulling the other’s. 

When the dogs were free, you lost yourself inside your mom’s distraught howls. Cradling her in your arms, you placed your back to the shepherd, and ignored the other dogs and humans crowding around you as you shivered.

“Daisy!” a woman yelled, pushing through the crowd, and grabbing onto the shepherd like it was a buoy.

You recognized her from your dog-parent group.

“Here,” she was saying to you, frantic, in her trembling body, her bellied voice. “She gets startled sometimes.”

You forced your feet to support you and held onto your mom’s collar when she growled at the shepherd, who was rearing for her. 

The shepherd owner’s face paled to a ghost when she noticed the damage to your hands. “Let’s go over to the fountain,” she said, “and wash—”

Your skin trembled. Your mom growled again and following her lead, you opened your mouth and used it. “Shut the fuck up,” you hissed. “Control your fucking dog and contact your vet. Now.”

 

Your mom was free of blood and encased with a cone, her wounds bandaged, her body in a lethargic crawl when the vet brought her back into the examination room. Her new quieted form scared you. The look on the vet’s face terrified you. 

You didn’t stay in a stand, falling to your knees and opening your arms and heart to your mom. “What is it?” you asked the vet once your mom was safe in your arms. 

All your anger had abandoned you and now all you felt was nauseous fear. You let your mom out of the house and only a few days later she was already injured. She needed to stay a part of the earth. You promised. But you were already seeing what happened when your mom lived in risk.

“Rosie is going to be fine. Most of the bite wounds are superficial. The other dog actually came out worse,” the vet explained, looking surprised.

This sounded like good news, and to yourself, you cheered on your mom’s violence and triumph before the way the vet continued to look at you scared your lips back to the ground. 

Seeing this fear, the vet cleared her throat. “We’re still sending you home with a prescription for antibiotic cream. Make sure to purchase your own and think about seeing a doctor for yourself.”

You didn’t bother looking down at your hands that were crudely bandaged and cleaned out with bathroom soap, water, and a bath of hand sanitizer.

“The other dog was all up-to-date on their shots according to their records, but the risk of infection is always a concern,” the vet continued when you stayed muted. “Make sure to apply the cream to Rosie’s wounds for fourteen days. We’ll show you how to redress the bandages.”

“But?” you voiced.

The vet sighed and stopped playing ignorance. “Rosie is doing really well, but she’s still a senior dog. Her eyesight is getting poorer, and we have to be careful with her safety. The park is still a great place for her, but think about investing in a carriage. They come in all sizes. Rosie’s kidney levels were also low during her last check-up according to her records, so I would advise having her levels tested again soon.” 

You had disguised your shifting as a relaxing shoulder roll at senior dog, but here you couldn’t wear disguises. “Kidney levels?” you parroted, all lips, no feel. “My m—, my Rosie is getting older, but she’s still in good health. As you said. I’ve been taking good care of her!”

“I’m not saying that you’re not,” the vet said, holding up her hands, “but the reality is that Rosie is twelve years old. That’s advanced for larger breeds. Another fight could seriously harm her. Like with people, physical injuries can impact other health ailments in dogs. Is Rosie still taking the kidney medication I see she’s been prescribed?”

“Yes,” you said, hurrying yourself into another lie and clutching your mom’s body in your gutted misery.

“Good, good,” the vet said. “We want to maintain Rosie’s quality of life as long as we can.”

“She’s not normally like this,” you spat, your mouth filled almost to the brim with saliva. Swallowing hurt. “It’s, uh, the attack that’s making her look like this. She’s very happy and very loved.”

“I know,” the vet repeated softly. “Keep up with the medications and think about going to a canine physical therapist to—”

“Yes! Anything I need to do, I’ll do.” You wanted to wipe away your mom’s pain and fatigue, to scrub off those pesky white patches that were never dust or discoloration. But you couldn’t reach her face.

“Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,” you whispered into your mom’s cone. “I don’t care about the cost.”

 

You kept memorizing your mom’s face hidden inside the cone, mapping the white age. Twelve was just twelve. Twelve was still young. You fed your mom the kidney pills you hadn’t known about and cleaned her wounds like ritual. You wouldn’t idle on healthcare, but you couldn’t allow separation. When your mom was healed, you would take precautions but not keep her in a carriage, keep her locked away. She needed to live to keep living. You would just be more careful.

While she was still in recovery, you knew that you couldn’t leave her alone to despair. You didn’t trust her safety with anyone, so when you had to leave your sanctuary, again, you didn’t go alone: You walked your mom to her own funeral. 

You were dressed in the plainest black funeral attire, and your mom was in a navy polo dress, which you bought following a last-minute trip to the pet store. The dress, you reasoned, made the bulk of the cone eating her neck less noticeable. 

But you two were still a quiet spectacle in the old Protestant church. The in-laws looked at you both funny, and the minister peered into your gullet with brows raised to the heavens. There were around fifty people in the old church. You recognized very few, and you ignored the eyes staring from the pews. 

Your mom didn’t. Knocking her cone into pew and legs, she licked as best she could while you tried to pull her away. And when you finally reigned control, you pulled her along to the front pew where your aunt and uncle sat gawking.

“A dog in a dress,” your uncle whistled. “Ha!” Here you granted your uncle immediate access to your mom’s leash. Then you fell onto your spot on the pew and watched your uncle engulf your mom as much as he could while you told him about the dog fight, showing him your hands. 

“By god,” he whistled again. “Rosie a fighter? And this dress? Win would get a kick out of this. Ha-ha!”

You didn’t think anything about the ordeal was ha-ha, but you knew what your uncle was really saying.

“Unbelievable,” your aunt hissed from your other side. “This is a funeral. For my sister!” Her eyes were looking straight ahead, and she was a sitting board in silver pearls and a black turtleneck dress. Your mom had bought her those pearls. For Christmas last year.

“Zip it, Fran,” your uncle said.

You had nothing to say to your aunt. Once you looked away from the shine of her pearls, you gazed into the heart of your mom’s casket, where her human body lay. In that casket you saw her on the back, arms crossed, in her colorful Talbots death clothes and shoes. Your uncle saw too and released your mom’s canine body to a degree, rubbing a slobbered hand from left eye to right. 

Your mom scooted closer to you and sat on your feet. You cast her a quick look, saw her eyes gazing upon the closed casket, and returned your own forward. The framed picture on top of the dark wood entranced you all—the toothy smile, all her real teeth, the sugar-powered, bubble cheeks, hands lifting two giant homemade oatmeal cookies like they were trophies. 

You feasted on the curly black hair, the expanse of her adoring eyes and thought, oh yeah. This is how your mom once looked.

Other family members approached you before the start of the service to offer their condolences and to stare at your mom, who was concerningly quiet and uninterested in human attention. The minister finally ventured over and looked your mom up and down and side to side, looked at your fuming aunt and your foot-tapping uncle. And then at you.

“Are you ready to begin?” he asked, his voice a pillowed kindness you wanted to float in.

You put your hand on your mom’s back, looked at her, looked at the casket, the picture, and your hands shook. “We are,” you said, but you soon experienced some difficulties. You kept looking at the picture. Your eyes pitched, blinding you, and you felt like you were sliding out of your seat. 

But unlike you, your mom and her siblings could see just fine. Seeing the casket and your mom’s picture, listening to the minister pray for her soul to reach heaven safely, your aunt trembled, your uncle sniffled, and your mom sat in somber, her tail pounding after each utterance of God and heaven’s gates.

 

Your mom had lost her calm during the gravesite farewell. She tried to jump up and swipe a paw against the hanging casket and got at yelled by your aunt with her mouth and the minister with his eyebrows and the spectators with their eyes and your uncle with the muscles in his face.

“I’m sorry. She’ll calm down soon,” you had said, and when your mom didn’t calm down soon, you debated whether you should just bring her home immediately. But you stopped yourself because the service wasn’t for them. It was for your mom. And it was for you.

When the service ended, the lingerers had lingered for a goodbye and final stare at your mom’s merciless physicality. And over your shoulder you saw your aunt in a fume and your uncle, your mom’s big brother who stroked her soft fur and laughed at her dress, glaring with wet eyes at your mom for her disturbance.

But she couldn’t disturb her own funeral you had thought, and you called out, “It’s been a long day,” but your aunt and uncle didn’t hear you. They were hearing only each other, you and your mom discarded from their sight and sound. Then they had left with the others for the luncheon at the church, and you disregarded them too.

Because no one else mattered. Because you weren’t like that anymore. You saw everything that was your mom, and your mom, you cherished.

Now you two were alone, your mom flattened into the ground, the chaos of her energy detained as you both kept staring into the hole that was already dug, the burial vault and the casket hovering above the open dirt. 

The vault, with the casket, would be fully lowered into the ground and covered later at night, and you kept looking into the hole, and observing how much space there was, satisfied that your mom’s human body had plenty of room to rest forever.

You were preparing your feet to leave and take you and your mom home—back to sanctuary—when something that sounded like punches thumped in your ears.

You adjusted your ears, looked away from the hole, and realized the punches were your mom’s tail slamming the ground. With her eyes enamored by the casket she tried another jump and swept her paws out, straining for the wood.

“Not again. Stop it.”

Your mom ignored you and kept jumping, choking herself as you tried to pull her back.

“Stop, you’re hurting yourself,” you said.

She didn’t stop. Your mom kept lunging forward and choking vomit-sounding gags—deathly gags that you would never forget. You let go of her and stood in a stupor as your mom, with maniac digging, directed her attention to the ground closest to the hole.

“Stop it,” you whispered, your voice a hollowed pit. “We’re going home.” 

Your mom tore up grass and dirt and pawed at her cone, freeing her neck.

“Hey!” you yelled. “You’re going to hurt yourself!” Smashing the tips of your teeth together, you trapped air where it belonged, inside you, as your mom refused you in her dig, digging downward into a dark hole.

“Mom, please.”

Your mom kept digging like a rodent, splashing dirt all over her new dress, dirtying your mom’s favorite color. In your scattered mind you saw her abandoning the hole and returning to the vault, toppling over the casket, disrupting her human photo that you still saw resting on top of the wood. Burying your mom in the dirt.

“Stop!” you hollered and lunged for her leash, your mom’s leash. Your mom who couldn’t leave you again. It was the middle of the day. Moths and beetles swam through the air and your mom ate them in her frenzy. 

And as she ate, you screamed, “I’m trying to keep you alive!” and grabbed the lease with a rigor mortis grip. “I’ll give up my apartment. We’ll stay here, and I’ll be here. With you! And I’ll still take you anywhere you want to go. Anywhere!”

Your mom turned and jumped, knocking you to the ground in your distraction. You screamed, “It’s only been two weeks!” and she nuzzled your throat and kissed you in a way that felt just like her human goodnight kisses. 

But here, her lips weren’t puckered and mom-sweet, her dog mouth hanging open, exhaling something rancid. You tried to breathe in your mom’s life, but she returned to digging and howling after kissing you a final kiss. 

Sitting up, your legs and belly were in a crisscross, and above you, your mom’s casket, her human body, and her burial vault dinged the sound of grave flies. You kept hearing the flies go buzz during your stumble over toward your mom. You flicked away the torment, focusing on the ferocity of her digging feet.

And past those little feet, you saw into the hole she was birthing and lived alone on empty couches, lived in slumbers not warmed by the weight of a mom’s living body, but lived in a freeze, frozen in a mom’s left-behind, nightgown skin. You lived all the orphaned meals, and still seeing that dark in the hole, you achieved the final inch. 

You bent down. You reclaimed your mom’s leash. You closed your eyes to her smiling picture and goodbye kiss, and with might in your throat, you started pulling your mom away from her grave.

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Kiana Govoni is a writer from the Boston area. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where she received her MFA in fiction. Her work has been featured in or is forthcoming in The Broken Plate, Cardinal Sins, The Bridge, and elsewhere.