By Sam Stephenson
A child in her bed,
hair drawn up,
can’t stop coughing.
Her mother rests beside her,
exhausted from the endless days.
The girl steals a short breath,
savoring the reprieve for just a moment
before her deep bellows echo around the walls
Morning comes and the girl has yet to stop.
Red-eyed and restless,
her brother comes to care for her.
He listens to the rhythm of sickness,
as it rings in his thoughts.
The girl’s coughs fade slowly, like the tide receding.
Her brother pulls a smile to his face as his mind welcomes the silence:
a friend he has been longing to see, nearly forgetting its tender symphony.
A cool breeze blows peace into the room,
flooding his body and drowning his thoughts.
This euphoric stillness, which he can only ever seem to find hiding inside half of a moment,
swallows him whole and lulls him to sleep.
Their mother returns underneath the shadows of night,
the darkness of the world and the pitter-patter of rain rushing her in
to an unfamiliar chill and an amplified quiet in her home.
Drowning in the waves of exhaustion that crash on her as the door creaks shut,
she pushes herself up the worn stairs,
grateful to see her son deep in sleep against the door frame-
his hair tousled, shoulders slouched, and eyes sunken-
and her daughter asleep under the warmth of her blanket-
her head tucked, mouth ajar, and body still.
She tiptoes over her son, gently kissing his forehead-
careful not to disturb his soft breath.
She bends down to brush her daughter’s cheek,
but it is cold, and there is no breath to protect,
and the mother feels the anguish climb her throat
as fast as the lightning strikes the ground
outside the cracked windowpane