FICTION February 3, 2023

My Mother Coming Apart

[1] At dinner, I remove my mother's wig and shout that she looks like Michael Jordan. The doctor says she has two weeks to live. I'm five. I spin spaghetti like an animal, my mouth a swamp of baby teeth and seizures. To stop the cancer from spreading, my mother has parts of her body removed. "They're taking me away, bit by bit," she says. I am too young, I don't respond, I twist her Rubik’s cube from perfect back to wrong.

[2] My mother cheats death but then her legs become infected. The doctors have to remove both knees. They blame the chemo, say it makes bones as hollow as a dove's. Before the procedure, one doctor describes it as simple, like removing a box from a closet and filling that closet with gel.

“Is my leg the closet?” my mother asks the doctor. The doctor nods, Yes. "All of our legs are closets,” he says.

[3] The kneecaps remain out of my mother's body for a month. We keep them in a jar. We take them with us to church. We buy two bearded lizards and two bags of sand. We turn the jars into terrariums, turn my mother's kneecaps into homes.

[4] My mother's knee eventually heals but now she needs new hips. Plural. They grind together when she walks. Calcium into chalk. I hide in the trees and watch her saunter with a walker. I sprinkle the sidewalk with flower petals and try to boost morale. For her birthday, I buy my mother a cane made out of periwinkle chrysalis. Her favorite stone. One year later, I buy her a walker made of dog bones and tennis balls. Domesticated teeth follow her down the street. You've never seen a brighter smile. She sang to them, honest.

[5] I buy my mother a wheelchair that listens, does what she says. One year later, I offer to buy her new legs, but she doesn't want new legs. She says she's feeling better. She's full of metal. Factory parts that weren't around when she was as old as me.

[6] I put on my mother's dated hospital slippers, faded at the toe. I try on her surgery robe. I remove her wig from her shadow box. She's watching television downstairs. Eyes heavy, breaths slow. I shave my head. I try on the wig. It fits just right.

Benjamin Niespodziany is the author of the chapbooks The Northerners (above/ground press, 2021) and Pickpocket the Big Top (Dark Hour Books, 2022). His work has been featured in Fence, Crazyhorse, Fairy Tale Review, Salt Hill, and other journals. His debut full-length poetry collection is out now through Okay Donkey Press. More can be found at