Sometime after I died, I came back as a button. An ordinary, four-holed flat from one of my well-worn sweaters, buried inside the pickle jar of buttons my daughter kept on her bedside table. Co-mingled with so many elbowy fluteds, fleshy cloths, cold-skinned celluloids. My new purpose unknown to me except to wait. Sometimes my daughter dug a finger deep and grazed me. Sometimes she turned the jar in such a way we all tumbled like the innards of a kaleidoscope. Many times, she let the jar drop in anger and land with a thud on the carpet. Why did none of my fellow castoffs squirm or shift at the sound of her crying? Were there no souls in here but mine? Today, she shook the pickle jar like a can of whipped cream before plonking it down on the nightstand, leaving me splayed against the glass, my eyes and lips in damsel Os. I could see her, finally, in full.
And she could see me back.
My daughter had always made the world into faces. Appliance knobs, wall sockets, river rocks, sewer grates, water-stained plaster, rust marks on a bicycle, urine bubbles in a toilet bowl. The thread-hole buttons she snipped and horded were the most expressive of all things. They returned an infinitude of gazes. More than I could ever match or mimic, for all my trying. I’d catch her in animated conversation with her specimens arranged in small families on the ledge of the bathtub. And when I’d enter the bathroom, she’d look up at me and go silent. Still smiling, but distantly, as if she were mirroring what I couldn’t express. As if I were faceless.
One snowy night, I stayed with her anyway, filling the tub with warm water as it cooled, as she shivered from waiting for her father who wouldn’t be home for hours. Or days. I don’t remember. She let me watch her kissing games with buttons stuck to puckered fingers and thumbs. Her pretend car wrecks and ambulance runs on slick ceramic roads. Her tsunami waves pinwheeling the buttons to the depths. But at my time for bed, she pounded the water with her fists, dashing the mothers, daughters, fathers. She fought me as I raised the drain stopper, screamed as the tiniest collar buttons were drawn down and left juddering at the trap by the suction, dozens of tiny cries for help bubbling up into her ears and mine. She saw that I could hear them. She saw my terror. I lowered the stopper and together we scooped up the babes, toweled them dry—their eyelashes beaded, cheeks flushed—whispering there, there.
On Kleenex beds beside her own, the buttons slept and slept. My daughter shushed my goodnight with a finger to my lips. They had earaches from all the water, she whispered. They needed quiet. Her finger stayed, tracing my features. The face that was there, a little less faceless. I watch her now through the thick glass. Her lids damp with sleep. Does she recognize her mother? I think tomorrow will be my rescue. She’ll reach in and scoop me out, or dump the jar and pick through the ocean of scowls till she finds my smile. She’ll feel a hint of warm blood, a human heartbeat. She’ll pull away the faint ghost threads still looped tight through my holes, like scales falling from my eyes. She’ll bring me to her ear so she can hear me whisper there, there.
Eileen Frankel Tomarchio works as a librarian in a small New Jersey town. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Forge, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon, Maudlin House, trampset, and elsewhere.