by rachel linn

The bed bug we found under the powder blue velveteen seat cushion of the recliner six months ago (now sealed in a ziploc pinned to the bulletin board) crawls determinedly from one clear plastic corner to the other.  Pinned next to it: a bill for carpet steaming, a prescription for Vancomycin, an unidentified receipt. Near at hand: fire extinguishers, replacement light bulbs, candles, matches. Thickener, noodle soup, paper towels, saltine crackers. We are prepared.

I sit in my office in the basement of the adult home, ready for whatever will come.

Ellen descends the stairs, her hair damp from showering, bringing both feet together cautiously on each step before proceeding down to the next.

She speaks with the voice of a carpet folded over and frictioning against itself, in words like these:

“Come closer.  I don’t want the others to hear. Take the snow shakers off the table, shovel the sidewalks clear, and dry in the dryer. Not my white sweater with cables braiding, growing, branching. The heart tree has no leaves—lay it flat and reshape.”

She reaches out a hand to touch mine.

“Cold. Yes, my hands are frigid, like refrigerator and four sizes too small—machine washed and lub dubbed. Check tags and sugar. Do not spin high, or on hot.  Wool shrinks, snow rises and covers.”

She frowns, moving her right hand from collar bone to sternum in a loose fist—her fingertips needle-scarred and nearly frictionless.

She continues: “I don’t want to say it out loud. Cold. The cold. A cold. Lungs and basements flood in spring. Not in winter. With the thaw, with the S-I-C-K. Can I whisper it in your ear?”

I look beyond her, at the narrow horizontal views through the basement windows. There is no winter, no snow—no spring. The yellowing leaves have not yet fallen.Ellen feels warm to the touch.

We prepare, but will forget to use the delicate cycle.


Rachel Linn has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she received the Eugene Van Buren prize for her thesis project. Her writing and illustrations have appeared or are forthcoming in Pacifica, Sun Star, Vines Leaves, and elsewhere. You can find her here at