The tablecloth comes first, a sheet snatched the moment the dryer tumbled to a halt. White worn to gray because she still forgets to separate the laundry.
She hopes her mother won’t mind.
A vase of wildflowers, mostly violets, plucked from the woods. Day was safe, time to gather flowers and berries, fingers red from berry juice and blood drops—battle scars. If the last bit of sun dripped below the horizon, though, the trees would close in on her, making her breathe as they did. She can still remember the way her lungs burned green as she ran home.
Paper plates and cups. The only ones at home these days, but she doesn’t really care. No dishes to wash.
The sandwiches are kind of cheating. Store-bought bread. Blank—like a person without a face. She has toasted each piece and spread butter to the edges, but only the thinnest layer.
Heart attack, her mind whispered.
The lettuce and tomato have more to say, even though they are from Mrs. Tiggit’s garden and not her own. Neighbors are better than grocery stores.
The meat is the rotisserie chicken she still begs her father to buy every weekend. A little vein near his right eye twitches sometimes when she asks, but he knows how much she likes to pull the flesh from the carcass.
Her father got nervous when she asked him to define that word, carcass. She found it in a book she was reading. He gave her an illustrated book about elephants who lived like people and told her that the word was too morbid for a six-year-old, so she only says it to herself when she is alone with the chicken, over and over, as she tears off strips. Carcass, carcass, carcass.
A drizzle of olive oil. She inherited her mother’s hatred for mayonnaise.
A thermos of water. It is her father’s coffee thermos, the one he takes to work every day, but this is Saturday. If he even notices that she is gone, he will probably look first in the woods. Maybe he will look until after sunset. Maybe he will stay on purpose and let the forest take him.
Now that she is older, she thinks being taken by the forest might be nice. Maybe being a tree is less scary than becoming one.
She washed out the thermos ten times, watching the soap bubbles rise like wishes as the faucet filled the vessel. The water still tastes bitter, though. Some things can’t be undone.
She trickles coffeewater into the vase, careful not to drown the blossoms. Some people might not think flowers can drown in vases, but some people don’t think people can drown in bathtubs.
Everything is ready. She takes a bite, chewing slowly, looking at her mother’s sandwich, which is really just the other half of her own.
She likes it here, reading her mother’s name while eating off the solid stone structure, more table than tomb in the sunshine.
Johanna Wright is a writer and personal trainer with an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. She lives in San Francisco.