What We Know About Broken Things by Kristin Kozlowski

Dad cooks Thanksgiving dinner and Mom handles cleanup. She cries while loading the dishwasher, but nobody says anything, not even Dad. This is when I learn about broken things — people, marriages.

Grandma is psychic. She works in a tent by the DuPage River nine months out of the year. How do you know what to tell people? I ask her once on a rainy day. It’s not about what you tell people, she says, it’s about what you don’t tell them.

When Mom’s breasts grow heavy with tumors, she grows more and more tired. She naps on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, yawning through our errands, yawning through church. At first we don’t think cancer; we think work, we think stress. Mom takes hot baths and tries yoga.

When ancestors visit from beyond, they like to leave signs. Guidance. Affirmations. Earthly objects are difficult to move, so they usually stick to things that are lightweight. Coins are popular since they are abundant and luminous. Easy for your ancestors to move and easy for you to spot. If you’re finding loose change, someone is trying to get your attention.

Mom buys our Christmas gifts in June. She wraps them and leaves them in her closet for Dad to place under the tree, stacking them like angels. Mom dies two days before Christmas. I hold her hand, morphine pumping through her, a pulse I can’t feel even skin to skin. Her head falls towards me and she tries to speak. A whisper escapes her lips. I lean closer and say what, Mom? what? but she doesn’t repeat it.

Mom’s favorite coffee mug breaks first, falling from the kitchen counter. The thin vase that sits in the foyer breaks next, shattering into a hundred small shards against the tile floor. No one is ever around and still things tumble to the floor. The votive holder in the bathroom. Mom and Dad’s framed wedding photo from the mantle.

We bury Mom the week after Christmas. People line up like coins to hug us and tell us how sorry they are. Soft wordless music is pumped into the room where Mom is laid out, her scarred chest buttoned up beneath the blue blouse she bought for my cousin’s wedding in February. The first big event she’ll miss.

I place the ceramic Christmas tree cookie jar in the middle of the kitchen island. I preheat the oven and run out to the garage to grab extra flour for the sugar cookies. Mom’s old recipe sits on the stove. The sound of the ceramic cookie jar shattering against the butcher block is unmistakable. So many things have smashed over the years, so many things are broken.

KRISTIN KOZLOWSKI — Kristin lives and works in the Midwest US. Some of her work is available online at Lost Balloon, Longleaf Review, Pidgeonholes, Cease Cows, and Nightingale and Sparrow, among others. In 2019, she was awarded Editor’s Choice from Arkana for her CNF piece, A POCKET OF AIR. She was also named a finalist in Forge Literary Magazine’s Forge Flash Competition 2019 for her CNF piece, RELATIONSTASIS. If you tweet: @kriskozlowski

Art by LINDA HAWKINS — Linda is a recently retired paralegal, living on California’s beautiful central coast with her husband. She is a self-taught watercolorist, and now with her freedom from a work schedule she has time to pursue her painting passion. In between brush strokes, she and her husband enjoy the great outdoors and traveling to far off places. Linda loves to capture their adventures on camera, and as a result has plenty of resource material from which to paint. You can find her on Twitter @lindamayhawkins.