1. “So I’m sure you’re alive,” she tells the children, nicking them on the neck with her butterfly knife. Blood wells up on their pale necks and trickles down onto the collars of their pressed white shirts. The children do not wipe the blood away or press down on their necks to stop the bleeding. They glance at each other’s necks, sure they are alive because their mother says so.
2. She creeps into their bedroom, barefoot and holding her knife partway behind her back. Light slants in from a room at the other end of the hallway and she steps carefully around their books and toys. They pretend to be asleep, eyes shut, but relaxed, breathing deep and even, chest rising, full of air and then deflating. She slides her knife along the creases between one toe and another and another. Neither child flinches or whimpers, just breathes through clenched teeth. The blood leaks out from between their toes and spreads into a circle around their feet.
3. The children are given their own butterfly knives on their tenth birthday. They cut each other at breakfast, lunch and dinner, bleeding into creamed corn and onto blueberry pancakes. They set an alarm clock so it’ll go off twice while they’re sleeping, so they can wake groggy and cut each other along the jaw line or across the abdomen.
4. As adolescents they cut themselves. They do it behind locked bathroom doors and wear long sleeve shirts to hide the cuts that are sowed up and down their arms. “Come here,” their mother says, but they snatch away, snatch their bodies from her.
5. When they graduate from high school, they don’t move out of the house, go to college or get jobs. Instead they begin to sleep in the living room or on the front porch and they follow their mother from room to room. They begin nicking the back of her legs while she’s cooking dinner, boiling tea water or washing dishes. They draw blood spider webs on her face while she sleeps. “Hush,” they tell her when she throws her arms over her face.
6. They find their mother already dead when they go into her bedroom for a 3:00 A.M. cutting. Two knives are dug into her stomach and her eyes are open, aimed at the ceiling. Blood is soaked through her night gown and the bed sheets.
7. Each child, not children anymore, turns to face the other. They advance, not advancing.
8. “I’m not sure I know her,” one says. The other shrugs. They pull out their butterfly knives and cut each other’s faces, chests and arms, carving everything they know about their mother. After a few sentences, it is only cutting in great swirling designs, lives branching off in long curved lines, twisting and curling until nothing is apparent beneath the blood.