It was comforting to remember what brought her here. When a person knew, it made the next step easier. Now, dangling in the throat of the eternal night waiting below, she gave herself permission to be swallowed, to fall into the abiding stomach of death. 

She let go. But she didn’t fall. To the contrary, and to her consternation, something pulled her back. It started as a faint buzz in her ears, the first physical sense she’d experienced since her plunge. Why had her ears come back? The buzzing grew louder, took shape, assumed a pattern. It was singing. A voice she knew. Serenading her. It was also the last voice she wanted to hear, piping along in a sing-song melody from her youth:

Philip and Kak

sitting in a tree,


First comes love,

then comes marriage,

then comes baby in a baby carriage!

The voice stuck itself down the throat of the abyss like a long finger. It gagged death, urging it to puke Kak out like a bad truffle. She fought to go deeper. She wanted to clap her hands over her ears to block out the uncharacteristically smooth delivery. But she didn’t have hands to raise to her ears. She wanted to scream but her mouth was gone. And the voice sang on—

That’s not it!

That’s not all!

The baby’s drinking alcohol!

Sucking his thumb,

peeing his pants,

doing a hula-hula dance!

Kak felt the words wrap around her in an endless loop, a net dropped down to snare her before she could sink further into the dark void she’d already begun to think of as home. To her dismay the words began to lift her from the depths. She was desperate for them to stop, for the net to fail and release her. But the singing went on. It tugged at her, raising her until she broke the surface of consciousness, waking in the intensive care unit eight floors below the examining room in which she’d stopped her own heart.

Stammer Wedgewood stood beside the bed, smoothing Kak’s hair, quietly singing the song. No sooner had she finished than she took it from the top. How long had she been doing this?

“Philip and Kak. Sitting in a tree—“

“Please,” Kak croaked.

Stammer leaned in much too close. “You’re awake! Momma’s here. Darling.”


“What. Is it, baby?”

“Please shut the fuck up.”


“No singing.”


Kak squinted into the cold light. She had a splitting headache and a needle in her arm. She traced the tube up to a suspended bag of clear liquid. A half dozen electrodes stuck to her torso. Another four were pasted to her wrists and ankles. The network of wires leading from each electrode wound their way like strands of spaghetti over and around her body, terminating in an electrocardiogram machine at the head of the hospital bed.

She let her head fall back to the pillow. “I’m a human meatball.”

“You look great,” Stammer said.

Kak wasted a quick glance at her mother. “Well. You look awful.”

The soles of her feet itched horribly. She dragged the sheet up to expose her feet. They were wrapped in gauze.

“Burns,” Stammer said. “Where the charge went. Through the bottoms of. Your feet into.” She paused, exhausted by her handicapped articulation.

Into the tile floor of the examining room. Of course. Kak gently rubbed the sole of her right foot over the top of her left, wincing as the scorched skin complained. She put her palms on the spots where she’d held the paddles against her ribs. Tender to the touch. 

“Lucky there’s no. Organ damage,” Stammer said.

“I may throw up.” 

Stammer brought the trash can close to the bed and lined it with paper towels from the bathroom. Kak rolled onto her side, her entire body complaining about the effort. Once situated there she carefully explored the knot on her forehead. A throbbing mountain. She’d hit the floor. Hard.

“Philip,” Kak said.

“He’s in. Trouble for what. Happened.”

She could hear the scolding now. You never think things through, Kak. You just leap and look later. He’d be right. It was one thing to screw herself up. This time it would cost Philip.

Stammer resumed stroking her hair in a way that was so intentionally soothing it infuriated Kak. She swatted her mother’s hand away.

“You’re mad. That I’m here,” Stammer said.

Kak was too drained to start a fight about her mother’s insecurities or to finish her mother’s halting sentences as she’d done almost since she could talk. Stammer’s speech had acquired the verbal shorthand of a person with her impediment. Her defense against a lifetime of stuttering was to say less. Fewer words spoken, fewer stutters. In the same way a blind person arranged a house to avoid stumbling blocks, Stammer arranged her thoughts to avoid extra syllables. She’d mastered it early. Her given name, Tammerlyn, became fodder for classmates as clever as they were brutal. Stammerlyn. Cruelty and efficiency combined to shorten it. Stammer. Even her family adopted it.

“You. Shouldn’t mess. With things like that,” Stammer managed in an unusually lengthy monologue. “Lucky Philip. Was there to give. You CPR.”

So that much had been decided while Kak drifted in the depths. The employment of the defibrillator would be considered an accident. An impulse. A Kak thing. The greater implication swept aside.    

“I’m engaged,” Kak said.

She felt Stammer’s arms encircle her from behind, wrapping her in the matriarchal straight jacket of her youth.

“So happy you. Said yes,” Stammer said.

Yes. There it was again.

“Goddamit,” Kak said. It was bad enough to recall the misstep in her unconscious state. Now she had to be reminded of it consciously.

“Please don’t,” Stammer began. “Take the—”

“Lord’s name in vain? Seriously, Stammer?” Kak fumbled with the wires coming from the electrodes pasted to her chest so she could flatten a palm there to feel the reassuring cadence of her restarted heart. “I’ve got bigger fish to, you know.”


“Shut up.” She shifted, fingers stretching for the beat. Pressing harder. Nothing. She lay her left fingers on the inside of her right wrist. Odd. She couldn’t feel her pulse. She moved her hand to her neck. Surely there. She clutched at her throat for the familiar echo. Not a trace.

She found Stammer’s hand and choked herself with it. “Can you feel it?” Kak asked.

“Feel what?”

Kak squirmed around to where she could see the heart monitor. All the lines were flat.

“Where’s my heartbeat?”

Stammer observed the monitor. “Don’t. Worry it will. Slow down.”

“Slow down? It’s at zero.”

Surely Stammer would see and call for help.

“You’ve been. Through a lot. Today,” Stammer said. “Just rest.”

Kak pinched the skin on the back of Stammer’s hand.

“Ouch!” Stammer protested.

“You’re real.”

“Of course I’m. Real.”

Kak pinched herself so hard she drew blood. Stammer pulled her hand away and held it tight. 

“Omigod,” Kak said. “This is real.”

“You’re scaring. Me, baby.”

Stammer couldn’t see what was already coming into focus for Kak. The gods had judged her after all. They’d condemned her to life without life. Never again to feel the quickening of her own heart as foreplay moved on to lovemaking. Or the gradual slowing of the beats to normal after a long run. The steady calmness of it while lying in bed after waking, waiting for the sun.

“I was supposed to start with denial,” she said. “Then anger. Bargaining. Depression. In that order. I wasn’t supposed to do acceptance. Not yet.”

Stammer shifted uncomfortably. “Are you. Still feeling sick?”

“What am I going to do?” Kak wrestled with the bed rail. She had to get out of here.

“Please don’t do,” Stammer said. “That.”

Hell with it. She’d climb over the damned rail. Stammer reached for something behind Kak’s head.

“What did you do?” Kak said, twisting around. The call button. “Did you call the nurse?”

“Please. Stay in bed. You’ll hurt your—“

The nurse pushed through the door. 

“Get the fuck out of here,” Kak said. 

The nurse plugged a syringe into the IV and pressed the plunger into the barrel.

“I know what that is,” Kak said. “That’s morphine.”

Stammer and the nurse held onto her to keep from getting out of bed. It didn’t take long. Her thinking grew thick and fuzzy. 

“Close your eyes,” Stammer said. “I’ll. Be here.”

That’s right, Kak thought. You’ll be here. You’ll always be here.

At least the nausea was easing. She didn’t know yet that this was the acceptance leaking from her system. Taking its place was a dead feeling she would recognize one month later as depression. It was the first sign that things were moving backwards.

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