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Symphony No. 7

Aunt Sylvia says it’s nothing, but she coughs wicked and that’s when I know it’s coming.
Death. We never talk about anything but Judge Judy and how dumb those people are,
airing out their nasty shit on television when they could be your neighbors, and then how
do they ever go home?

Aren’t you ever goin’ home?

Aunt Sylvia says this like she wants me o-u-t and I know it’s cause she wants
to hack in peace, but I’ve got too many aunts in the grave now, and I don’t like thinking
about what’s happening to them down below.

Where’s your water glass, Aunt Syl?

She’s off and at it again, covering her purpled face with a KFC napkin, and I can’t
be the one who watches her die. I pick up the remote and crank up the volume—it’s some
jazzy Beethoven tune that the Judge Judy show bastardized—but Aunt Sylvia’s cough
out-blasts the theme song. Where is her—Ack, her teeth are sunk to the bottom of her
water glass. Now I’m gagging. Aunt Sylvia grabs my water bottle; she knows I hate to
share and there’s Aunt Tuna, Sylvia’s oldest sister, glaring at me from a black and white
portrait of all seven sisters, the one I never look at because Momma’s in there looking
young and pretty and hopeful—and Aunt Tuna with her I’m a survivor wrinkles even
though she’s maybe 25 in that photo yells at me with her gymnasium voice —Get her to
the hospital you big never-had-to-survive-anything dope.


Aunt Sylvia’s so light it’s like she’s made of cheese puffs and her mouth’s leaking
like a slit milk carton and Aunt Tuna bellows—Good boy, good boy.

I sit in the green waiting room surrounded by closed-captioned TVs, but I swear I
hear Momma and she’s crying for Sylvia. Come home. Momma in her yellow Sunday
dress buttoned all the way up, the way she never wore it, the way she’ll wear it for
eternity. I grab the seat of my plastic chair and try not to go underground.

Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared in the Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Booth, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019, won an AWP Intro Journals Award in nonfiction, and has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Microfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at and on twitter at @m_finn_johnson.

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