A week after our father’s memorial service, my sister and I leave town for our cousin’s wedding. A wordless clamp lodges at my temples. My sister turns me sideways in the bed, places her hands in my hair. Maybe I can make it go away, she says.
The women in our family are always the loudest. Our cousin Marsha, yellow hair, red dress, calls out steps: the wobble, the slide, two kinds of shuffle. We dance with her into the din. We’re following orders, we’re miming happiness until we (goddamnit) feel it, every movement prescribed.
It’s a relief not to think for a while.
Later, my sister and I lie side by side on the queen-sized bed because we’re too tired to go back down and request a double. My sister says: Nope. Not tonight. We’re not going there.
Don’t say it.
No tears allowed, no crying.
There’s a snake around my neck that used to be a lion.
Melissa Benton Barker’s work appears in Jellyfish Review, Peach Mag, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Elemental, was named semi-finalist in The Atlas Review’s semi-annual chapbook reading period and finalist in Eggtooth Editions annual chapbook contest. She is the former managing editor of Lunch Ticket and a first reader at Vestal Review.