Poor Kelly, Poor Me

Kelly had never heard of food, and so she died. It was all quite sad, really. The paper ran a lengthy obituary, since it was a slow news day, and even printed some 8×10 glossy headshots Kelly had taken during her formative college years in which she expressed interest in modeling, acting, dancing, and burlesque. Everyone in town remarked on her incomparable beauty, and many of the men tucked the headshots into their wallets to gaze at while on the job, or driving home through agonizing pockets of city traffic.

At her funeral, Kelly’s friends and family bemoaned their loss, Kelly’s parents standing in the corner, sheepishly examining their dress shoes, socks, stocking tips, pant cuffs, anklets, tattoos, and toe rings. When approached with gifts, they would reply with a curt, “thanks,” or “sure thing, buddy.”

When Kelly’s mother returned home after the grueling ordeal she confessed that perhaps it had been her fault that Kelly had died, for what sort of parent was she not introducing food into Kelly’s diet at an early age?

“That she lasted this long is a testament to your savvy mothering,” Kelly’s father said, consolatory, as he pulled off his long black socks, of which he now knew, on a personal level, every thread and weave.

“Yes. Well, I read a lot of books. Not all about mothering, of course. The classics, too. And plays.”

“Which were your favorites?” he asked, now fully nude except for his wedding band.

“The ones about mothering,” she said, mostly to herself.

Kelly’s sister, Carolina, was twice as young as Kelly, but rotund and healthy. She had known her sister was dying for quite some time, but never felt the time was right to bring up the subject of her starvation. Once, when joking about their teenage neighbor, Brian, Carolina took down a box of Ritz crackers from the pantry and set it on the table in full view of Kelly, but Kelly just continued laughing, even as Carolina began plucking the salt-laced crackers from the box by twos and threes with her grubby sausage fingers. Let me lead by example, she thought, like a good Christian. Soon, the box was empty, and Kelly floated to her room, the light from the window refracting through her breasts, and onto the kitchen wallpaper.

In the months following Kelly’s death, Carolina would often wake up terrified that she, not Kelly, had never heard of food, and she would clutch her paunch, digging into her soft, buttery skin.

“Do you think Kelly will attempt to come back, like in Ghost?”

“No,” said Kelly’s mother. “That’s foolish.” Then, “What is Ghost?”

Slowly, but surely, however, things returned to normal, and the family moved on. Kelly’s father finished his doctoral, Spontaneous Combustion in the Works of Charles Brockden Brown. Kelly’s mother began gardening, first in her own backyard, then around the neighborhood, and throughout the city. The Second Women’s Cultivation Club inducted her as an honorary member, for which she received a plaque that she hung by her mirror, next to her framed headshot of Kelly. Only Carolina remained untethered. After graduating high school, she moved in with Brian, and became pregnant with his child.

“You’re looking quite ravishing today,” Brian would say, pinching her enormous spherical belly through her maternity wear, but Carolina felt distant and weak. She knew he kept photos of Kelly, not just the famous newspaper glossy, but others as well, taken with a telephoto lens from his bedroom window over the course of many years. Did he love Carolina only because of Kelly? When he made love to her, was he attempting to push past her bulk toward something else, his lips hungry for waif-like bones, for prisms of light? Would their child walk? Or would she float?

The baby was born in the back of a taxi cab on the way to the hospital, and weighed 2.7 ounces. She had pale, pink skin and curls above her tiny ears. The taxi parked next to a Yield sign, and Brian, always the gentleman, tipped the driver three dollars, before opening the rear door for Carolina.

“What shall we name her?” Brian asked, and lifted the baby, his baby, skyward, examining it at every angle for shafts of seeping light.

“I’ll hazard a guess,” she said, and stumbled from the cab, dabbing at the blood on her calves and carrying, in the crook of her armpit, the books her mother had passed down. The driver sped away, reaching for his wallet, feeling strangely giddy, and the baby started to cry in long, sharp wails. It was a long time coming.

 

By Kevin Hinman