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  • Writer's pictureLammergeier Staff

Hold Still | Melissa Benton Barker

Updated: Mar 10

Misha was the first woman I knew to have the procedure. Before that, it had never crossed my mind. But once Misha went through with it, I knew that for me, it was only a matter of time. I told her I wished she hadn’t done it. Still, I would trip after her, a leashed if unwilling dog. 

Years ago, she married first. Mid-January, early but dark, Misha held onto me, steering me by the elbow, our cheeks slapped with cold as we wove down the sidewalk between strollers and shopping carts. Misha broke the news of her engagement in the vestibule to the restaurant. She couldn’t even wait for our table. Then, later, over wine, she asked if I was sad that she was leaving me behind. 

But it wasn’t much longer before I, too, was engaged. My husband and I relocated to the opposite coast. Misha had a baby. My phone rang with the news just as I pulled into the parking lot at my new job. Misha was still in the hospital. Her daughter wailed through the static, somewhere beyond. 

I was newly pregnant myself, but I let her have her moment. My child was still a hard, fast nut tucked inside of me. Now, our children are almost gone. We’re still on opposite coasts, but tethered by text and time.

On the porch in my winter coat, phone to ear, I talk with her in the dark. Misha tells me that our worth is a non-renewable resource. Every day that passes a little shot glass, drained. 

I tell her she’s talking crazy. Or maybe she’s a little bit drunk.

A week later, she says she feels much better. She says the procedure was easy. She sends a smiling selfie. She doesn’t look much different, at least not from how I remember her, although truth be told, we haven’t seen each other in years, so I might not be the best judge.

I don’t want to have the procedure done, I tell my family that night at dinner. They’re sympathetic — my husband, my two sons. They say: We love you, just as you are. But their words don’t mean much. Her collar, above all, is also mine. 

Soon I am draped in a lead cloak to localize the poison. The doctor says I will feel very little when this is over. His assistant stands next to him, her fingertips cold at my temples. From below, I see the shifting plates of their expressions, the tectonics of jawbone, while the numbness creeps through me like a tide. The longer I hold still, the more their voices hollow, and I tell myself I will be better when this is done.

The procedure: We will be less ourselves, and thus more acceptable. Rather than the crag of history, we will present with the assurance of renewed time. Paused. Erased. Rewound. Unwritten. Soon, I will be rendered harmless, even my smile.

Melissa Benton Barker's writing appears in Five South, Tiny Molecules, Best Small Fictions, and other publications. She co-edits the flash fiction section at CRAFT. Melissa lives in Ohio with her family. 



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