Kate Lister Campbell


At 10:30 PM on a rainy October Saturday, Brandi Clark slips on wet leaves. When the back of her head hits the ground, her brain knocks against her skull. She cannot feel it yet, but fluid is seeping. She lets her boyfriend help her up. They are late to a rock concert. Brandi tweaks his bicep through his Black Sabbath t-shirt, sucks her flat stomach to concave. Inside the venue, the walls are painted black. Colored lights flash. Brandi’s boyfriend likes to be in the pit. They push through sweaty bodies to the stage. The drumbeat is not steady—it accelerates, corkscrews, never softens. Brandi hears the music with her whole body, as if soaking in it. She feels something like joy here in the pit, shoved against sweaty men who are, for once, oblivious to her body. Halfway through the set, her headache begins. Arcs of pain radiate from the base of her skull. Brandi closes her eyes against the flashing lights. She touches her boyfriend’s neck and signals to him that she will be right back. An hour later, the set is over. Brandi is unconscious on the floor of the women’s room.

When Brandi Clark falls, you are home with your mother. You are Helen Callahan, eleven years old. Saturday Night Live is on TV. Your mother is dozing next to you on the couch, but she is always dozing now. A virus invaded her heart last year, disguised as the flu. You don’t like how the sickness makes her look—pale, papery. But, secretly, you do like some things about it. How she is home all the time now, instead of working nights and weekends. How she is happy now just to be around you, not yelling anymore about the dishes or the laundry or how you’re old enough to take some responsibility. Sometimes, when she was yelling, your mother transformed into an animal before your eyes—a hyena, a woodpecker–and you became too distracted to hear her instructions. Now, she is smiling in her sleep on the couch. You sit just close enough to feel her warmth without waking her. You close your eyes for a long minute and it’s 2 AM. You shake your mother awake and help her to bed.

Five o’clock, Sunday morning. The heart that will be your mother’s is still inside Brandi Clark’s chest. The fluid in Brandi’s brain has compressed the tissue irreparably. Brandi’s boyfriend slumps in a corner of the hospital room, away from the tight knot of her family beside the bed. He told them about the wet leaves, but they do not believe him. People don’t die from wet leaves on the pavement. Brandi has been stripped and gowned in hospital garb, but her heavy black eyeliner has not been removed. Little black rivulets under her eyes show where the sweat ran while she danced. No doctor attends to her. The family has decisions to make. Yes to her heart, to her liver, her kidneys. No to her eyes, no to her skin. The hospital forms make it surprisingly easy to carve up a daughter, a sister. Brandi’s boyfriend thinks of her naked, glowing. He would like to feel her heartbeat before whatever happens next. But he is afraid of the family, afraid of their lawyer who has suddenly appeared.

The call from the hospital comes at 10AM. You are making your mother Sunday breakfast. Pancakes with strawberries. You have become a good cook this year, watching Food Network on the little television in the kitchen. Before the doctor even speaks, you know. Your mother is in the bathroom, being bathed by the home health aide. From behind the bathroom door, you hear splashing and soft laughter. The pancakes are browning on the griddle. A cool breeze comes in from the window you cracked. For a split second, you consider hanging up. Instead, you run with the phone to the bathroom door and surprise yourself by pounding the wood hard with your fist.


Kate Lister Campbell lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY, but is originally from Kansas City, MO. When not writing, she works with nonprofits to design job training and placement programs for youth and adults with barriers to employment. Her work has recently appeared in The Baltimore Review, Foundling Review and Bluestem. She is a student at The Writers Studio NYC.