You know it’s gonna happen before it actually does, in the bedroom, her breathing gone sticky and slow. Robbie calls 911 even though you tell him not to, snot sliding down his face.
(In her everywhere, inoperable, nothing to be done. You think of Lady MacBeth, who you always sort of liked in school: out, damn spot.)
“You take care of your brothers,” she instructs, pissed off right until the end. “I swear to God, Danny — ”
“Shh, Ma.” You smell metal and sweat, sheets that need washing. Bryan is out with his girlfriend. You’re the oldest, but not by much. You can hear the ambulance screaming closer. “Shh.”
Irish girls have a sixth sense for suffering, so Maggie shows up at the hospital. You’re waiting. There are forms to fill out.
“I called you,” you tell her, like it even matters anymore. Your brother Robbie sits beside you, his eyes fixed on some imaginary point in space. Robbie is ten. Three nights ago you and Maggie had sex on the couch in her basement, the laugh track of a rerun in the background. You’re not even dating, you don’t think. “Not about this. About the other thing.”
“I know,” she says, like penance. Ma practically raised her along with the rest of you: Maggie’s mother is a mess. “I was out.”
You’ve loved this girl since you were eleven.
(She’s always had someplace else to be.)
“We gotta call Pop,” you say, not to anybody in particular although you’re already thinking: not it.
“Fuck Pop,” Bryan says.
“Don’t be an asshole.” It comes out like begging, which is useless. “Just… please.”
“Fuck you, too.” He’s almost cheerful. “You’re not in charge.”
Your mother is dead. You wonder if they’ll take your brothers. Above you, a fluorescent buzz.
A nurse hands you a clipboard. Your penmanship is terrible. Your hand shakes. “How old are you, sweetheart?”
“Eighteen,” you lie.
“Danny,” Maggie says, quiet. “Let’s go.”
“This is messed up,” you mumble later, fumbling at the clasps on her bra. Robbie is curled on the sofa in the living room, passed out, sweating like a puppy. Bryan is who the holy fuck knows where.
“No shit,” she says. It’s possible you’re both crying, silent.
“Maggie.” There are bruises on her arms that look like fingers, purple, new. You’re so tired of feeling afraid. “Mag. What the hell hap — ”
“We could go someplace,” she says. “Anywhere, really. Florida.”
“I can’t — ”
“Danny,” she says. Her hands are on your stomach, at the cross around your neck (inoperable, you think, nothing to be done). You think of palm trees. Your glass heart beats against her palm.
You wonder if she might stay but she’s gone before midnight, slipping her sneakers back on in the dark. You watch the light turn gray, listening.
Your mother is dead.
Take care of your brothers.
Downstairs, a siren calls.
Katie Cotugno is a graduate of Emerson College with a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing; she was the Emerson Review’s 2007 Spotlight Fiction Writer and has since been featured in Argestes, The Broadkill Review, The Apalachee Review, and J Journal, as well as on nerve.com. She also blogs at kitchendoor.wordpress.com, where she offers her (many) opinions on homemade Oreos, the small indignities of office work, and John Mayer’s inability to quit running his mouth. She lives in Boston.