KISS IT BETTER

P.A. Cornell is a Chilean-Canadian speculative fiction writer who works from the Ontario home she shares with her husband, children and a cat with anger issues. Her most recent short fiction publications include Frozen Wavelets and the anthology, A Punk Rock Future. She also has a story forthcoming in The Bronzeville Bee. This is her first appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

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I was five years old when I realized my mother had the ability to make any injury better with just a kiss. I know what you’re thinking, all moms say they can do that, but hear me out a minute, because in her case it was true.

She must’ve used her ability many times when I was even younger, but my memory of it starts at five when I was running through my neighborhood with a bunch of other kids. I remember slipping on a gravel driveway and down I went. My whole right forearm was scraped, bloody, and crusted with tiny pebbles. Naturally, I cried, which brought my mom out to see what was wrong.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I can fix that.”

She brought me inside, cleaned me up, and then said, “Mommy will kiss it better.” And so, she did. Within minutes the scrapes were gone, and with them any pain. All that remained was the faintest touch of pink to my skin, and even that faded after a little while. I went back to playing with my friends like nothing had happened.

Later that night I noticed Mom was wearing a bandage around her right forearm.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said with a smile, and went back to emptying the dishwasher.

As the years went on, she continued to use her ability. There was the time I pulled the cat’s tail over and over until he finally had enough and took a swipe at me, leaving a long claw mark across my left cheek. Mom kissed it better and just like that, it was gone. But later, I noticed she was wearing much more makeup on her face than she normally did.

Or the time I jumped a fence with my friend Kelly because we were too lazy to walk around. That time I wound up with a bad ankle sprain. Kelly had to all but carry me home. But I knew Mom would fix it. She was on crutches for weeks.

It wasn’t just physical wounds she could heal either. When Tommy Wilson broke my heart in eighth grade, Mom kissed that better too. I was left feeling fine and wondering why I’d even cared so much about getting dumped in the first place. Mom, on the other hand, was teary for a while after that. She listened to a lot of sad songs and even made a mixed tape. I felt bad for her and used my allowance to buy her some ice cream, which at least made her smile a little.

Of course, as with most magic, there were some rules. For one, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now—as I eventually did—when Mom kissed things better, what she really did was take on the hurt herself. It was an incredible sacrifice to make, and I both loved and admired her for it.

The other rule was that the magic only worked on me. Mom was a nurse and I’m sure she would’ve loved to be able to take the pain, sickness, and injuries from her patients, but she couldn’t fix them. Just me. Though that seemed to be enough for her and she continued to work toward healing others in the old-fashioned way.

I credit Mom’s selflessness for how I turned out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, but I became a paramedic to help people like she did. I guess since I couldn’t repay her for all she’d done for me, I figured I could at least pay it forward.

It was during a shift that we were called to pick up a man who’d been in a fight and was in bad shape. We’d just gotten him settled in to the rig when his attacker returned, this time wielding a knife. I did what I had to do and got between him and the patient. Next thing I knew the guy was running away, and there was a lot of blood coming from my stomach.

I don’t remember the details after that. I’m told my partner rushed me to the hospital. The same one my mom worked at. I remember seeing her face, strangely calm next to the tense expressions of her colleagues. I don’t know if she spoke to me or I dreamed it, but I remember her smiling and saying, “Don’t worry. I can fix that,” just like when I was a kid.

Some time after that I came to. I was surrounded by doctors who were telling me I was a miracle case and asking me all kinds of questions I had no answers for. I looked down at my stomach to find nothing there. It looked just the same as it always had, and for a moment I was confused. But then I understood.

Ignoring their questions, I asked for Mom. One of the other nurses went to find her, and then there was a scream.

The doctors and I rushed down the hall to one of the other rooms where we found the nurse looking pale and holding a hand to her mouth. On the room’s lone hospital bed lay my mom, a peaceful look on her face and blood on her scrubs at the exact location where I’d been stabbed.

My mom didn’t make it. She had time to save me but not to get the help she needed afterward. For a long time, I carried that. The guilt had always been rough, seeing her hurt because of my injuries. But this was worse. She was gone, and I felt like I’d erased her.

I lived with that guilt until the day my daughter was born premature. I’ll never forget the way she looked. Blueish-gray. Not crying. Not moving. The terrified look on my husband’s face.

“This can’t be happening,” he said.

Doctors and nurses rushed to and fro. They started CPR, but she wasn’t breathing. Her little heart was barely pumping.

A nurse explained the situation to my husband and me. “Her immature lungs and heart are struggling,” she said. “We’re doing all we can, but a fully-developed body would recover more easily.”

I don’t know what made me do it, but I raised myself up on my elbows, looking toward my newborn child.

“Give her to me,” I said. “I think I can help.”

There must’ve been something in my expression that made them listen, or maybe they’d just given up hope and thought I should be allowed a final moment with my baby, but whatever it was they brought her to me and placed her in my arms. I leaned over and kissed her on her forehead, whispering so only she could hear: “There. All better.”

I immediately felt weak but fought through it. I looked down at my daughter, and suddenly she gasped, taking in air in one big gulp. Her skin turned from gray to pink. She grew warmer in my arms and started to wiggle and gradually she opened her eyes and smiled at me. She had my mother’s smile.

Copyright © 2020 by P.A. Cornell