Kera’s mom ghosts through the house, touching familiar objects, crying without sound.
She watches her mom make a cup of tea she never drinks.
She sees her wait for Kera’s dad to leave a room before entering it.
Kera’s dad drums his fingers when he reads.
He has hair on the back of his hands and sometimes misses a spot under his chin when he shaves.
He pops his neck when he watches television.
Being near him makes Kera’s heart beat fast and her palms sweat.
Kera’s parents no longer speak about the unimportant things that happened during the day.
Her dad pushes his food around his plate. He’s lost so much weight his wedding ring slides on his finger.
Kera thinks he’s going to dissolve right in front of them. Like Lily.
She likes to go into his home office when he stays late at work.
Kera’s dad teaches comparative religions. She thinks it strange. They only go to church on Christmas and Easter. And funerals.
His office smells like soap and coffee.
Kera leaves notes on his desk. They say, “Did it hurt?” and “Was she scared?” and “But where did she go?” She later finds them crumpled in his wastebasket.
Kera likes to look at the pictures in the same book that’s been open on his desk for months. Her favorite is a woman sitting in front of a small crowd. She sits cross-legged, a shawl around her shoulders, her eyes wide. One side of her head is bald. The caption says: Some women who choose to become Jain nuns participate in kaya klesh, the practice of having each strand of hair from their heads plucked out at the root to renounce attachment to the physical form.
Another woman holds strands of the half-bald woman’s hair in her hand. Kera studies her face and wonders what it’s like knowing you’re causing another person pain but doing it anyway.
She overheard her parents arguing after the doctor told them Lily didn’t have the flu.
“He said it’ll help her get better.”
“I know, Rick, I was right there.” Kera’s mom’s voice quivered, like she was trying not to scream.
“Then why are you resisting it?”
“I need to think it through before I let them pump poison into my baby.”
“Fuck off, Rick.”
Kera felt an anxious giggle bubble up and covered her mouth to keep it inside.
Sitting on the shadowy stairs, she felt dizzy.
Kera has the same feeling when looking at the nuns.
She carries the book to the bedroom she once shared with her sister.
She sits on Lily’s unused bed.
She lifts a strand of hair and pulls.
The first ones hurt the most.
When Kera finishes, she looks like the woman in the photo.
She carries her hair to her dad’s office, piles it in the center of his desk, and waits for him to return.
Lisa Heidle writes flash, short and long form fiction, travel and personal essays, articles, and book reviews. Her work has appeared in the Flash Fiction Magazine Anthology, Sabal Literary Journal, Second Hand Stories, the Chattahoochee Review, and other literary journals. She has been exploring the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia for over a year after two years of solo-travel in the US and overseas. Én•nēad is her first short story collection.