After this embolism and stroke, Mary became a child in her forty-year-old body. She looked at the pictures of us together, all over the walls. I couldnt exactly tell her we were lesbian lovers, so I told her I was taking care of her. When she asked where her bed was, I unfurled the sofa for myself. She let me brush her hair until she went to sleep, and kiss her cheek.
I taught her. She loved addition and multiplication, numbers growing all over the place, like years. I wanted them to speed her aging. I refused subtraction and division. We covered walls with pink construction paper. I drew new tendrils of neurons too, reaching and touching one another, colored threads.
* * *
We went to the library for the kids books. I avoided the bookstore because Dave, the twenty-something neighbor who worked there, had a thing for Mary, because she was thin and beautiful and looked twenty-something herself.
I read to her. She learned so fast she was reading to me in a couple days. I lay on the floor with my eyes closed and listened to Pop being hopped on, and then the adventures of the big red dog. In a week we were up to Anne of Green Gables. She became the lively Anne, chatting around me. I wondered if she had done this with her mother, and if her mother could see this, what would she say, that I was as devoted a mother as a lover?
The doctor was pleased. He said she was progressing rapidly. I asked him if she would grow into the same person, but he said no one could predict.
* * *
One morning I found her behind the curtains, peeking out the front window. I like him, she said. I recognized the way she bit her lip, the sign of young teen fascination. I wanted to sink through the floor. I knew she was watching Dave doing his stretches in the grass. His shirt always rode up to show his hairless abs. Mary turned one knee into the other, like she had to pee.
He has lots of girlfriends, I said. Hes no good.
Maybe he hasnt found the right girl.
Mary, hes years older than you
I stopped there, because of the look she gave me. She looked down at her body, placed her hands over her breasts. Im going out there, she said, running a finger over her lips.
She stepped close, staring at my face. Who are you to tell me? Who are you, anyway?
I love you.
Well, of course. Who doesnt? She tossed her hair and went out the door.
I watched them for a minute, Dave laughing and tugging her sleeve, Mary bouncing on the balls of her sneakers. I couldnt even yell that she was underage.
I went back to the wall of numbers, up on my stepladder where I would reach the 8,477,648. I pounded my head there and said, Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I punished myself by dividing that number by two over and over.
When I went outside, they were gone. I pounded on Daves door. I heard Mary giggle.
Dave, come on. Shes not right. Do you understand?
Mary came out with books. Dave has a lot of books, she said, hopping down the sidewalk. And he doesnt have a girlfriend.
Dave opened the door a crack. I slammed it into his chest. Look, I said. She has a medical condition. In her head shes a girl. I dont want you fucking with her.
Hey, thats not what her body says.
Ill fucking kill you, I said.
* * *
She read the books from Dave, mysteries, and then Harry Potter. At two in the morning she turned the light on. Ive read this before, she said. It was the first Harry Potter. Of course, I said. We read it together. We read all of them together.
Have I always been here?
I showed her the photos shed come with, her dick of a husband. She didnt remember. I tried to kiss her but she pulled away.
* * *
She went with Dave to the bookstore. I hid across the street and watched them. They held hands, and Dave kissed her palm. She was a forty-year-old woman, or a fourteen-year-old.
I went home and divided. I used the red. I opened the wine and drank it down. I opened another. I scribbled through the numbers, stabbed them, tore down the paper and tumbled into a corner and saw where it all started: 1+1=2. 1x1=1.
* * *
She pulled me from the rubble, helped me to the sofa. Im so fucked up, I said. She wiped the drool from my face. She laughed, said there were numbers stuck to my face.
That Dave is a dick, too, she said.
She nuzzled in next to me and opened her Harry Potter. Now listen, she said, in that excited girls voice: Chapter One.
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