200 Nights
Gay Degani

The oaks darkened to mocha as evening deepened. Mud and water, marsh grass, the rich earthy scent of coffee grounds and roses tinged the air. Scattered laughter floated across the bayou while a distant radio played accordion, fiddle, and washboard. Yvonne sat on her porch, wrapped in a scarf of memory, its silken edges frayed to confetti. She touched a gnarled finger to her tongue, rested it there.

If Carl were here, they’d be sitting on the steps and he’d reach over to caress her cheek with work-hard hands, sweetened over the stainless steel sink with Lava and almond lotion. She felt him now, folded in the gloom. Tasted his salty neck. Felt his hair dust her skin. She closed her eyes and gently rocked back.

But the memory of her daughter’s insistent voice slid through the warm night, murmured in her ear. “You have options.”

“Go away, little girl. Leave me be.” She lowered her eyes to her own rough hands. Even out here, alone at the camp, she wasn’t alone. She took in a breath, let it out slowly, and tried to conjure Carl again, but the radio music had been switched off, leaving only the sound of crickets.

What had Krista said today on the phone? “Mama, come stay with us, please. You’ll be closer to your grandbaby…and the cemetery.” The cemetery, Yvonne thought. As if he were really there. She wasn’t ready. Not yet. Just the thought of driving into town made her weary.

She rocked in silence until she became aware of music again, then smiled when she recognized her own raspy voice, singing an old Cajun song she’d forgotten she knew, “…regardez donc quoi t’as fait,/Tu m’as quitte pour t’en aller…”

Later, when the moon paled the water, she pulled herself from the rocker and trudged to her solitary bed, empty now for two hundred nights.

In the morning, she sat outside to sip coffee from an old china cup. Shrimpers puttered to their nets on the bayou, sun threaded the trees, an egret barked. When she was done, she took the tin coffee pot from the kitchen and tossed the grounds over the edge of the porch where long ago, he’d planted butterfly roses in the only glint of sun on the property. Their stems were hard tangled wood, the leaves edged brown, curling in, but the blooms were still a rich orange-red, full and heavy.

Days now? she thought, 201. She’d call her daughter today. Maybe next week.

Gay Degani loves words and patterns and believes the world can be mathematically explained, but has no idea how or why. Her stories can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, Night Train, 10 Flash, Emprise Review. Nominated for a Pushcart, she edits EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, assistant edits at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs (occasionally) here.