At first light there is a world in my ribcage. I fasten it shut with a clink and throw away the key. I’ll use it another time, I say to myself.

I ponder vibrations as I wash the coffee pot. I do this every day. I used to do it the night before. But that was a long time ago, before my mother slipped away.

I cook as little as possible. Pre-packaged meals are helpers. Lots of cardboard boxes in the recycling. Packages arrive on my porch. I pick them up, gently, and sort through what I need. The days come. The days go.

The rush of water in the shower knows the key, so I stop taking showers. I sponge bath myself like I’m an 80-year-old woman. No, like I’m a 40-year-old woman taking care of an 80-year-old woman in a nursing home.

I don’t know what food really is, is the problem.

If I eat my mother, I will die and be absorbed. If I eat this potato, I will eat my great-grandmother. If I eat a tangerine, I will know sorrow. It’s that simple.

In the afternoon, I sip my coffee and nibble on a piece of hard toast. The sunlight on the little gray and yellow linoleum table that used to be in my mother’s cramped apartment and is now in mine strikes my eye like a wizard. It hits a line indented on the surface. A mark I left when I was 10 for an art project. Like a wizard, I become water, lose my flesh. I am a rib. I am in a cage. I am in her world. I am behind her eyes looking at my father in 1962. I am picking up the baby, good baby. Despite my best efforts—or because of them—I have become the sea; I am wave after wave of the people before me. Not just my mother, but my father, my brother, my grandparents, my great-grandma. Ripples in my skin crest and fall. I am not a body. I am a tide, and the moon holds me in its sway. Let it fall. I let it fall and I learn to—I have to—swim.

© Cheryl Pappas
[This piece was selected by Sara Crowley. Read Cheryl’s interview]