The two of us sit across from each other at a scratched card table with pocks along the edges where wheelchairs have kissed it. The lights in the ceiling hum.
Mom, are you hungry? One face turns to me, slack and vacant. This is the most common one now. There are two more, hidden from view. Your old face—original is more fitting, they're all old—clear and present, only occasionally surfaces now. And the third face, hard and mean. That one has always taken up too much space, requires too much. The room's not big enough for that one.
How often do you break from the ether? Switch faces for me now; I want to read your eyes. I can still coax them out of you. Words, I mean. Here, let's do the crossword.
You used to invent words for things with no name. Silly stuff. The time water from the tap hit the silver spoon in the sink and leapt right back out on your white apron? Pseudoaquanastics. I still remember. Do you? God, how you laughed, which made me laugh, too.
Words were like rain to you, falling and collecting in small pools around the house, the kitchen humid with crosswords, bedrooms damp with filled notebooks, notecards dripping in the den.
Tides changed with me. You changed. Pain, serotonin levels. Pills and therapy. You said I took your words away.
Still, I grew. I showed you my own words. You wore your third face. How much, you asked. I told you what I'd earned. Your dark eyes narrowed. For that?
Look here. Back to the present. Twenty across. Rhymes with orange.
I remember at the start of your waning, you'd fill in boxes with invented answers. Pizza topping, nine letters. Pepperont, in ink. A type of hat, you said. You were convinced. You almost convinced me.
Anna O'Brien is a writer and veterinarian currently living in central Maryland. She has had fiction published in Cease, Cows; Scrutiny Journal; Luna Station Quarterly; Panorama Journal; The Reject Pile; and Brilliant Flash Fiction. She is also a contributing editor to the magazine Horse Illustrated and writes a monthly blog on the creative side of the veterinary industry, called VetWrite. She loves hiking, Labrador Retrievers, and lives by the motto: "no coffee, no workee."