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by Katie Venit

Mama feels hot! Your baby girl calls her brother to the couch where you lie, volcanic in loose clothes. They flutter their cool hands over your skin as you exhale flames. Turn your head so as not to scorch them. Soon your husband will return. Soon, when he opens the door, the breeze will stir the miasma around your body, but soon is too vague for comfort. Soon is the same as later.

Mama, the children say as they touch you, pretend to be burned. You need to sleep, but they have questions. Mama, why are you hot? Mama, will you melt? Will you erupt, Mama, with hot lava?

Mama they say and do not stop. Mama, Mama, Mama, calling for your attention even as you smolder, even though you call yourself Mom. Mom, as you now call your own mother. As a child, remember, you never called her Mama but rather Mommy. Mommy, when you hurt. Mommy, at night. Mommy, when you were sick and needed her care, even though she was sick, too. Mommy, you pleaded when she snapped the thermometer in one hand, screamed, and left. You soothed yourself by nudging the cool mercury around the counter.

Why is someone who often loses her temper said to have a temper?

You want a fresh washcloth but cannot rise under the weight of your children’s fingertips. You yearn to shake them off and use the fiery words you inherited but instead spread your molten arms wide to vent heat as the children temper your fever with their hands. They absorb your energy and run away, leaving constellations of cool fingerprints on your face.

Katie Venit lives in Wisconsin. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Cabinet of Heed, and Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life. She sits on the advisory board for the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. She posts the occasional sentence diagram at www.katievenit.wordpress.com.