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Beetle Mercy

by Kat Beyer

My mother was Suzanne Miller, the woman who used to win prizes for her vegetables at our county fair every single year, even the years she didn't enter.

"How do you do that?" Asked Maureen next door. "It must be witchcraft."

Of course this was true. But if every magic has a signature, my mother's was in loopy, if exact, handwriting, the kind of handwriting that tells the reader that here is a person who used to put hearts instead of dots over her "i's."

She used to turn beetles into birds for the day, then turn them back in the evening. When we saw her doing it she would say to us, "I think they need a change of scene."

"Suzanne," our father would say, and somehow fit whole ranges of reproach and love and weariness and desire into her name, notes which I can only hear now, when I'm grown up, and remember the exact sound of his voice.

When they took her up to the hospital and we followed in the car, our father saying softly, "Suzanne," to himself and the wheel every now and then, we knew something would happen, even if we only felt the knowledge under a blanket of tears.

When we saw her sitting up in the the hospital bed we knew but we didn't want to know. Our father looked at her and took her hand, and she said, "not long now," terribly sad for his sake, and he said, "I know." She took us each in her arms and tried hard to squeeze the breath out of us the way she used to when we came home from long trips, but she was already too weak. And she kissed our father the same way he said her name.

"Suzanne," he said once more.

"A change of scene," she said seriously, and then she wasn't there. I guess we must've all blinked at once, not to see her go. The sheets settled back where she'd been.

When we got home the house finches over the door had finished building their nest, and my brother crawled out on the roof and counted three eggs.

"One of them will be her," he said, very sure.

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