Taylor puffs her bottom lip out. The strap of her purple backpack threatens to slide. She is clearly overloaded with elementary school junk: book bag, gym clothes, lunch, and a container with cupcakes for the class. Momma iced them this morning, embedding each with a plastic flower ring at the finish.
They stare at each other silently outside the school while Momma thinks. Taylor cannot carry everything by herself. It is clear almost immediately what Momma must do.
She will give Taylor her arm, of course.
Momma clenches her teeth, grabs firm, and unscrews her arm with a wet crunch. She smiles through eyes that do not betray the pain, except for one single tear that she wipes away with her remaining wrist.
She hands the arm to Taylor, who whisks it away down the sidewalk, leaving her alone to apply some pressure and drive home. Momma watches her blond ponytail swing up the steps and into the school.
It was necessary, and Momma is happy to have done the right thing. Mothers like to be helpful and giving. She is one of the good ones.
Besides, she has plenty of matchsticks at home and she is clever with crafts. She really thinks they should be more expensive—matchsticks—considering how versatile and sturdy they are. She is thinking of the fine wooden ones with fire-red tips.
This is not the first time, of course. She must be half matchsticks by now.
First was her right ear. The kids were camping, and it was darker and scarier than they anticipated. Momma couldn’t fit in the tent, but her ear could slide in and stay. It could keep guard while they slept peacefully in the woods. That’s just an owl, it could say.
So, she tore it from her head and gave the bloody thing over. The kids snatched it, laughing. Did they lose it? Of course, they did. Silly lovebugs.
That night, she went home and fashioned herself a new ear from matchsticks and glue and— not to brag—a heap of ingenuity, too. Hardly anyone can tell it from the old one and it never aches at all.
After that, it was a tooth. Then, an eye and a leg. It does not serve to dwell on material things, though. Who has time for that?
She pulls the sedan around their corner. A neighbor waves, but Momma can’t let go of the steering wheel to return the favor. She mouths, GOOD MORNING, and apologizes with her eyebrows. She smiles and hopes they can see that she is still polite.
She is behind schedule now with this arm business. It will take even more time to build than the leg, she knows. Tricky to hold the glue gun. She has a complicated dinner planned.
Still, she can’t help herself. “But doesn’t the sun feel good today,” she says, pausing on the lawn. The sprinklers next door hiss and taunt the grass outside their reach. Momma closes her eyes and puts her remaining hand over her matchstick heart.
She thinks about what a beautiful day it would be to ignite.
To become soft ashes on the ground.
Jessica Sarlin (she/her) is a freelance writer and artist from New Jersey. She takes her stories like her coffee: murky, heartwarming, and full of anxiety. In her spare time, she tortures plants and makes messes in the kitchen. Her work can be found in Door Is a Jar Literary Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Dark Recesses Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, and Gargantua. Find out more on her website, JessSarlinWriter, or on her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Threads.