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´╗┐If Only By a Thread

Your mother grabbed your hands away from your head, forcing you to stop hitting yourself. You shot her a look that made my skin tingle, and screeched your banshee war-cry. With one hand, she grasped both your wrists together above your head to prevent you from inflicting further harm on yourself. With her other hand, she seized the handle of your wheelchair and shoved you toward the elevator.

“I'll call you later,” she said, over her shoulder as she strode away from us, her flat shoes smacking the linoleum angrily as she pushed you ahead of her.

The mall's halogen lighting cast the impression of a halo around your blonde curls.


Years later, your mother would
tell me what happened…


The door to the mall banged shut
flew across the street
Your wheelchair jiggling. Your teeth rattled with the rhythm of the potholes.
Over stones.


With one fluid motion,
Your mother opened the car door,
Lifted you, and plunked you
down on the seat.


You smacked her.
She reached across you, wrenching your hand down, buckling you in.
Slammed the door.


The hateful wheelchair was so heavy.
Too heavy.
It had always been too fucking heavy.


She smacked the trunk down.
So hard
she was hoping to break the wheels off
that goddamned hateful chair.


She was outside.
You were inside.
You were safe inside the car.
Tucked in.
Your chair stowed.
She could have walked away and left you there, hitting yourself and screaming…


She could have walked away.


Walked away from you.
Left you there.


And she almost did.

It's not her fault.
No. But it's not my fault either.


Instead, she just waited. Put her hand to her head and waited.
Not crying. Just breathing.
Just waiting for something to happen.


Nothing happened.


Nothing happened.


Someone drove by.
Looked at her—oddly.
She smiled, tightly.
No, that's not a toddler having a tantrum;
that's my eighteen-year-old daughter.


She got in the car with you.


You screamed. Hit yourself in the temple.


She grabbed your hands away from your face
crimson from shrieking–your vein popping, throbbing,
Exploding on your forehead.


“Stop it! For Christ's sake, just SHUT UP!”


You were shocked dumb.



She never yelled at you.



“Ess,” you whispered.


I'm sorry.


Finger drumming and sulking.




I'm sorry.
I'm sorry.


When you died, and these were the memories she took to bed with her every night, it almost finished your mother. If not for her fabulous sense of humour, I truly think we might have lost her for good.

But luckily, she's still hanging on.

If only by a thread.


Stephanie Kain is a professional writer and editor. She spent the first part of her career working with children with special needs before taking an M.A. in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. There, she wrote her creative nonfiction novel, Letters to Catherine, from which this is an excerpt. Stephanie's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Beltane Papers, The Ottawa Citizen, and Stone Highway Review. She can be reached via her website at Her debut novel is currently under review.