On our Honeymoon, I never even noticed an acrid smell. The langoustines, the salade gourmand, the tatare de boeuf, the shimmering, perspiring glasses of sublime rosé, all served with the efficient careless attention which is inherently French. All the while, French woods that had escaped bombings and marauding, splintered, and hissed, seemingly spontaneously combusting.
If I had taken off my shoes, pressed flesh to earth, would I have felt the stampede, the hooves, and claws, frantically searching for safer soil? If I had strolled from the glorious auberge, would I have noticed the townsfolk buying hoses and pitchforks, the Peugeots queueing for petrol?
I let you pour me another glass of La Chapelle Godonne.
Secretly, I seethed when you couldn’t put the rental car in reverse in Marseille. As you pounded the wheel, your face a proper Provencal rouge, I calmly left the vehicle and using my rusty schoolgirl French beseeched the fire truck driver – s’il vous plaît aider! Aider! – until his partner patted my hand. A steep hill – a road that should only run one way, but France, n’est-ce pas, and so he left his hulking vehicle facing our car—Oui Madame! I practically yanked a trembling you from the driver seat, let the virile Jean-Luc back our ridiculous SUV down the hill, so his hulking fire truck could pass. Infirm, on the corner, you clutched your back, coughed phlegm into the street.
Later in Arles, you howled—I took it for indignation—No parking! No parking! My back, my back! Only a wavering haze, like an oil slick smudged across the morning clouds, indicated suffering on the horizon.
Finally, asleep in our ark— the Corsica Linea ferry—we left the mainland and I thought perhaps you might be OK.
I preened in Corte, the rugged little mountain town, as the shopgirl insisted, Mais non! Tu parles bien! But when I looked for your admiration, I saw heat and ruin. We could not outrun it.
The doctor back in Maryland wants to run more tests. It might be fluid, perhaps pus in the right lung. It could be a tumor. Bien sûr, this would explain the back pain.
In your hospital room, horror stricken we watch Toulon in flames. I hold your grey hand; how did we not know?
I was elated when Meg Pokrass gave this work an Honorable Mention in Cleaver Magazine’s Microflash competition. Additionally, Cleaver then nominated this work for Best Microfiction. Please check out all of the great work in Cleaver Magazine’s 10th Anthology.
Years later, when the village was no longer a village, when being left-handed or redheaded or homosexual was no longer a crime, people who knew about Gretchen Schwartz referred to her as the girl with heterochromia. When Gretchen met Johan Scherer, he called her a witch.
Before Gretchen Schwartz had been born, no one in the village of Zweifel thought much about the color of eyes. Blue eyed, green eyed, brown eyed alike all worked and harvested, toiled, and praised. No one was wealthy but no one was poor. The day before Gretchen was born, Gunther Schwartz found gold in the stream behind his house. The day after she was born, Marta, mother of his child, died. Perhaps, if Gretchen’s eyes had both been blue, or both been brown, no one would have worried about the good luck or the grave misfortune. Gold in the hills was not unusual and death after childbirth was not unusual either. In a different age, the eyes of Gretchen Schwartz might have been celebrated or at least treated with mild curiosity instead of revilement but as is the case with a many a spectacular thing, Gretchen’s eyes inspired jealousy and fear.
Because Marta had died, Gunther sent for his mother Fee to help with the baby. Fee was apple-round, warm-scented like cinnamon, a quintessential grandmotherly type long before the birth of her first grandchild. She loved wholly and fiercely and knew the instant she gazed upon Gretchen that the child would need to be protected. Fee and Gunther told the villagers the babe was slight, would need to be closely kept, sheltered to survive. Fee strapped the raven-haired, snow-skinned child to her back and went about the business of the household. Gretchen’s earliest memories were of pies bubbling and baking, birdsong underneath thick boughs, meadows full of feverfew. Fee sang songs and recited stories of lovers and warlocks. Gretchen learned to darn socks, spice a stew, skin a rabbit, and churn butter before she was three.
Gunther and Fee knew the days of solitude would one day end. Villagers, by nature, are curious. A huntsman would report hearing a voice to rival an angel’s singing. A dairy farmer would tell how his prize heifer had come back to the barn bedecked in garlands. A maid would catch her beau spying on a beauty tending the garden behind the Schwartz house.
And so it happened that this maid, the daughter of the Bürgermeister, became compelled to meet Gretchen Schwartz. Inga was betrothed but it was a marriage of arrangement. Her intended, the young man spying upon Gretchen, was the son of the Bürgermeister of the neighboring village. Thus, one day, when Fee had gone to market and Gunther was on the hunt, Inga stole into the garden of the Schwartz house. Fee was much beloved but there was village chatter about how her garden grew so well. Some neighbors with less successful gardens secretly harbored beliefs that magic was afoot. Indeed, Inga had never seen chard so large nor so many different colors of zinnias. She was marveling at the wondrous size of the melons and squash when she heard a melodic voice. She took cover beneath elephantine leaves of spinach. She listened raptly to the beautiful rendition of a childhood song she knew well. She was enchanted. When the song ended, she peered out and was met with a gaze that astonished her. A face, round and pure, like alabaster, with a nose straight and small, two black firmly arched eyebrows, full lips which looked berry-ripe and most astonishing of all, an eye the color of the sky and one of warm molasses. Inga fell back upon a cucumber, which loudly squished beneath her. Surely, she had seen the face of fairy or an angel. Could a human have ever been made so beautiful? A delicate laugh, like the tinkling of bells, and then a snow-white hand with long, lovely, tapered fingers extended to her through the tangle of vines and leaves. Gretchen’s touch sounded song through Inga’s body. Her skin was warm, softer than down. Her grasp was firm but gentle. Gretchen pulled Inga up from the garden patch and the two young women stood scant inches apart. Inga could smell peaches and roses and a scent she would never be able to fully identify. And when words failed to find her, Inga felt hot tears forming as the other girl embraced her and whispered, “Hello. I’m Gretchen.”
Gretchen Schwartz had never met another person besides Fee and Gunther. She had never shaken a hand or introduced herself. She did what she always did when she encountered her grandmother or father. She had only known love.
Inga felt her body tighten like a thread pulled fast before tying the knot, and then she felt a flood of warmth, an attraction to another like she had never known possible. She turned her face slightly, finding the girl’s pink seashell of an ear and whispered her own name.
It is said that Love cannot be concealed. Unfortunately, for Inga, but most especially for Gretchen, this was true. Johan, Inga’s intended, recognized immediately the passion she felt for Gretchen, as he too had such feelings for the mysterious girl. He felt shocked and betrayed watching the two girls embrace, as well as aroused and angry. The boy stood up from behind the boulder past the garden gate and denounced Gretchen.
“Witch! Harlot! You have bewitched my beloved!”
Inga, recognizing the wrathful voice, freed herself from Gretchen and ran past her, out the garden, down the lane, back to her house and the safety her father would afford her. Gretchen, scared and confused but assured of her own goodness, began to approach Johan. She opened her arms to him, to embrace him and he let fly the arrow which pierced her heart.
In that patch of garden, upon one side blue Forget-Me-Nots bloom year-round; the other side is always fallow, mud-brown and hardened.
Sow seeds carefully.
My first written stories were fairy tales so I was very happy to discover that the celebrated Ellipsis Zine in the UK was calling for myths, legends and fairy tales for their 12th anthology WADE. If you enjoyed my maudlin little story, I highly encourage you to seek out Ellipsis Zine and read all of the beautiful work in this newest anthology.
I open my eyes very slowly, as if emerging from a storm cellar after the tornado. A cluster of people peers down at me. A young woman carefully tucks her purse beneath my head. I see her lips are moving and am reminded of the adult voices in a Peanuts cartoon. I try to laugh but this alarms the crowd gathered around me. The young woman shakes her head and gently pushes my chest to keep me supine. With closed eyes, the deprivation of sight enhances my hearing. Children laughing, rhythmic chanting from the Hari Krishnas, the chug of a small train. Central Park.
I remember now, standing in line to buy a lemonade. A handsome young man talking. Flattered. It’s been so long since a man talked to me. Stupid. Stupid cow. I flirted. I preened. Stupid. He snatched my bag! Why hadn’t I just let go? What a hideous scene. How I flapped about, screeching; like an old hen protesting the axe. He shoved me with such force. The fall. I shudder from the humility of it all.
The young woman mistakes my embarrassment; I hear her now telling the others I might be having a stroke. Stupid, I’m so stupid. Open your eyes so they won’t think you’re dying. Open your eyes; don’t replay that odious incident in your mind again and again. The graceless fall. Your glasses flying off. The thud of your head upon the cement.
Stupid. You were a mark. The man, boy really, sensed your loneliness, smelled it like a cheap cologne. Pathetic. How carefully you had chosen your outfit, applied your lipstick for a stroll in the park on this first sparkling summer day. For what, for what, you silly old woman? If anyone notices you these days, it’s not for a good reason. God, the embarrassment. I could die from it! I had giggled, so flattered by his attention. Open your eyes, the poor girl thinks you’re dying! She’s begging the EMTs to hurry!
I wish I was dead. Open your eyes; let them know that regrettably your raggedy old hide is still alive! Open your eyes, openyour, op, op, o…
Very grateful to The Bookends Review for selecting this flash for publication August 2022. This piece began in a winter Flash workshop with Retreat West and I cannot recommend their courses highly enough.
Millard Fillmore loved the butterflies. He was confused at first, having never seen one. I struggled to explain that they used to be common; ordinary like birds, I said. That was a mistake since he’d never seen a bird. It took me a while, but I told him all I knew about hummingbirds and roseate spoonbills, cardinals and woodpeckers, robins, eagles, and bluebirds. I waxed a little poetic on the bluebirds, I guess. Birds of happiness. Anyway, I started singing a snippet of some old song, a bluebird on my shoulder. At that point, Millard got bored and fell asleep.
That was months ago. Most of the butterflies are gone now, which is a bad sign and indicates we need to move along as well.
As I am packing our few remaining things, I say to Millard it’s time to fly away. He eyes me warily and I admit it is a figure of speech but that also once people could fly. When water covered more of the planet than dust, when trees donned resplendent coats of many-colored leaves, when rain fell like tears and sometimes when it was cold, yes cold such a concept, and snow fell. At that time, so many years gone, we people, we were so clever, and greedy, we climbed into machines and dared to fly.
Millard does not think much of this story. He likes the stories about companions. I have shared with him tales I was told long ago, but by whom I can’t even remember. A guardian? I would like to think I had a gran. Maybe I sat in a comforting, wide lap, listened raptly to a sonorous voice. Anyway, I like sharing the buddy stories with Millard. I tell him about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I tell him about Pooh and Piglet. He likes Bert and Ernie the best because he thinks it’s funny that I don’t know what they are. Once I said they were bears but last time I called them critters. So yes, I don’t know how to explain to Millard what Bert and Ernie are, but I know they were close friends and I think that should be good enough. Sometimes he just misses the point.
I have packed up everything we want to take with us. After I have made sure we are leaving the place tidy, I realize Millard is not with me. I spy his fluffy ginger striped tail on the porch railing. This is unnerving and I feel a hot anxiety bubbling within me. I want to scream but at the same time a cautious voice is heeding me to approach quietly.
Millard, I practically whisper. He is vexed. I can tell from the twitching of his tail and the angry spitting noises he is making.
Millard, I manage it a little louder now. We no longer have wings, please, Millard. Please come back down.
When I am certain he will jump, when he has hinged up upon his back feet, I lunge. I have not moved with this kind of alacrity in months. I have not been chased or afeared for so long, but my muscle has memory and my body hurls me toward Millard whom I grasp tightly round his midsection as we both hit the floor of the porch.
And then a thing so miraculous, I cannot believe my own eyes. At first, I think we are watching a dust devil; the air seems yellow. Then the thrum of hundreds of wings. Goldfinches! I say, Millard, I never mentioned goldfinches!
How can this be, I think. There is a veritable cloud of goldfinches hovering, swarming, surfing the breeze. They alight in the anemic branches of an old linden tree. They perch upon the ratty tatters of an elderberry bush. Their birdsong swells upon the break of the hazy dawn.
I sit on the porch with Millard in my lap. I think the warbling of the birds is moving through me before I realize that Millard is purring. There is a warmth, spreading over me, the way I imagined I would have felt in a gran’s lap. I remember, if blue birds bring happiness, goldfinches bring luck. Millard nuzzles my chin. Yes, I tell him; we will stay.
I chose Shen Chen Hsieh’s stunning artwork on the cover of Moon City Review for this piece because I am eternally grateful to be included in this journal with so many talented writers.
A southwest corner of Virginia, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the home to a military college and an elite university. Around the erudite little town, farmland undulates and dense woods are a hunter’s delight.
We grew up there. We were every girl in the 1980s. We watched Oprah and listened to The Talking Heads on our Walkmans. We complained how our youth yawned in those baby-oil days, as we sunbathed, bikini-clad on a tin roof, drinking diet cokes and spritzing Sun-In. We lamented our sheltered lives as we lathered each other’s backs, impervious to the country boys honking the horns of their dirty pickup trucks or the frat boys calling “Townie girls” from their BMWs. We barely glanced over the pages of our V.C. Andrews and Danielle Steeles as the cadets, awkward, profusely sweating in their summer pants and winter jackets, shyly saluted us as they marched past.
We left those days, not as quickly as I should have, and that town, mired in its strange duality, a little bastion of liberalism isolated in a conservative county.
You went your way, the way we all knew you would, up north, to a fine Ivy League institution. I meandered. Sometimes, I marvel how we started from the same point. Of course, it was never really the same. Our collective experience, the crushes, the dances, the Saturday night Trivial Pursuit marathons – somehow, I never perceived there was more. You knew differently. You left on a raft of accolades and expectations. I barely escaped.
The roads we took were never on the same map again. You were undeterred, cruising through undergrad, first tier medical school. I struggled to find footing, a few hours only from home. I bounced from one ridiculous vocation to another. Curiously, as you moved through your structured paces, I too eventually found the right path. Mine just doesn’t bring me “home” much. Just as well, I suppose; I can’t abide the confederate flags and the ghosts of my indiscretions. How funny that I am in the north now and you are further south than where we began.
And yet, on humid nights, when my potted gardenia is blooming and the fireflies wink in the soupy air, I stand in my backyard, staring at stars in a sky that will look the same to you, and I run my hands over my arms, remembering the slick, oil tickle of your fingers upon my skin.
Again, I am grateful to Sky Island Journal for picking up this CNF Flash of mine. Thank you for reading. Recently, I have started to tackle my struggle with being (American) southern, what that means and my moral obligation, as someone who writes, to accurately represent the South.
I lie in our bed, on the left-hand side, as I have for 17 years. I hope the valerian or the half bottle of scotch will soon put me to sleep. My husband’s chest rises and falls simpatico with the snoring cat. Both are fat and happy. The mattress is uneven; my side a good inch or two above his. I am slight, barely perceptible underneath the bed coverings. My husband’s belly balloons, a blanketed summit.
Just as I am beginning to believe that I might nod off, a glimmer catches my eye. A rosy glow peeks from underneath the window shade. It is far too early yet for dawn so I tiptoe over to take a look. I can feel the radiant heat before I lift the shade. The backyard is afire. It is a sea of flame, undulating and ebbing ever closer. The smallest waves of crimson and orange, flicker across the lawn licking at wicker lawn furniture and potted plants before the blue flames engulf it all, an infernal tsunami rushing toward me. Entranced, I feel something akin to envy as I watch the flames take what they will. I have not felt such desire, such longing, in years. I glance briefly back at my husband and the cat, oblivious to the lusty blaze beckoning me.
Once, I was a barefoot vagabond lover. I took what I wanted but never more than I needed. That man in the bed wove his fingers through my hair, and his lies through my heartstrings. He wanted to hold me, not hold me down, he said. He wanted to put a diamond on my finger, not a ring through my nose, he promised. He wanted to put fine shoes upon my feet, not shackles around my ankles, he lied.
I watch my husband pull the blankets ever tighter; he is chilled without me in the bed. Lie next to him to keep him warm, lie underneath him to keep him happy, lie to myself to keep from going insane. I turn back to the blaze. My husband and his cat, that battleground of a bed, the very walls of the room disappear.
Ah, Desire, my old friend, I thought you had abandoned me forever but here you are, resplendent in the finery of flames! My heart threatens to break free from my chest. I hear my whispered name, hot, honeyed tongues at my earlobes. In the window, my image is haloed, my head ablaze. I look back, just once more, at the false prince, the man who promised me a kingdom and made me a servant. My shadow stands resolute as the fire illuminates the room. Enough, I will no longer keep my yearning at bay. The smallest ember deep within me, the one I fanned with freedom and frivolity, has sparked back. I put my palms to the window, press my weight upon it; my hands are seared. And then the glass shatters and I am seized. Such rapture…
I was fortunate enough to have two speculative works selected for publication in Sky Island Journal’s Summer 2022 issue. Thank you for reading .
Inside me there is a river. Perhaps my mother swallowed too much sadness; perhaps there were two of us swimming within her and after one drowned, the water swelled, slithering into me. Who knows how these things happen?
Recently, a coughing fit dredged up silt and muck, bones, and teeth. There is always so much more in a river than what you think. I have tried to mitigate it in some way, swallow enough bread or sand, but the water only rises. I no longer sleep upon my back; I would drown.
August is the worst month. Around me, the air becomes waterlogged. I do not perspire but even the slightest touch leaves a dimple of wetness, like when you push upon a sponge forgotten in the sink. I cannot live within plaster walls. Too soon, the black crawls up, etching and fanning like coral, like brachia. Wood is not much better, too porous. Brick mosses and ferns.
Winter can be cruel. The occasional cold snap will wreak havoc throughout me; my veins are icy splinters and moving takes herculean effort.
It is too tiring being altered by the moon and the seasons. Once, I thought I could leave this place and stifle the source. I nearly died in a drier climate, my skin paper to the touch.
A short while back, I met a man who told me he could see all that was dammed within me. I took his hands and pressed them to my eyes. So much spilled out from me then, he fled, terrified that I would inundate him.
I long to complete, to belong, the way the Mississippi barrels with all her strength to meet the Gulf. She is being called home.
I stand now by the retention pond, my whole being seeping, yearning when a blush blossom catches my eye. I summon up my height, and bend from my waist, wavering like a heron, poised to strike; I take the lotus whole. I feel the green of it as I take it down into my watery depth, the vegetal tang as its fibrous parts soak within me. As I hover over the water, baited like a fish upon the lotus, this is when I hear the song; tadpoles and newts thrumming, newly sprouted legs whisking through water; fish gliding, silver scales sluicing ripples; all the aquatic plants dancing upon the surface while below their tentacled roots ebb and flow. All these in chorus, beckoning me, let down your load. At last, as I plunge into my new home, everything is so much clearer beneath the surface.
I am grateful to Sky Island Journal for giving Naiad a home in its’ Summer 2022 edition. While not a retention pond, the photo taken in Villeneuve-les-Avignon is too pretty not to share. As always, all photos are mine. Thank you for reading.
A piece of chocolate, broken from a bar of Hershey’s. I smear peanut butter upon it, sprinkle sea salt and savor each slow bite as I read, and reread, my first text from you.
Six slices of Claussen sandwich stackers, greedily eaten over the kitchen sink before I vomit on the floor. You google abortion clinics, make an appointment for the next morning.
Cherries, summer sweet, staining my fingertips. I spit the pits at you in the backyard before nearly choking on one as you get down upon one knee and take my left hand.
Tacos in the back of an Uber on our way to the airport for our honeymoon. My mother invited too many people to the wedding she thought would never happen so we barely ate at our own reception. Too busy meeting and greeting.
Pepto bismol, saltines and ginger ale for three months after our honeymoon until we wake one morning, our sheets soaked in blood.
Chinese takeout. Pizza. Platters from the Lebanese place down the street. McDonald’s. Burger King. Wendy’s. You gain 8 pounds. I have lost twenty. While you play Xbox or jam with the guys in the garage or work late, I bury what I should have eaten underneath newspapers in the trash.
Bell’s Oberon. Dewars. Robert Mondavi Merlot. Jack and ginger. Then vodka. Straight. After you tell me to stop. After you tell me I am killing myself. After you tell me I am killing us. Straight vodka looks like water in the Picardie glasses you bought for me for our fifth anniversary.
Frosting, straight from the store-bought tub because I don’t like cake but I love frosting and we are celebrating my first year of sobriety.
Extra strength Tylenol. Water. No, I do not want the soup your mother keeps begging me to eat. No. Water. Extra strength Tylenol. Water. I have not changed the sheets in two weeks. First, it was because I could still smell your scent, vetiver, and something, something else, something uniquely you. I pretend it’s still there but I know it isn’t. It is forever gone from this world as are you.
A piece of chocolate, smeared with peanut butter. Sprinkled with sea salt. It tastes like love. I miss you.
This flash was selected for The Flash Feast Anthology by The Molotov Cocktail Summer 2022.
A town begins its slow demise. All its’ young, bright hopefuls are leaving in droves. My street is without sidewalks as the municipality falters. Our house, a squat, low ranch, sits behind a Magnolia. In a kitchen, knotty pine cabinets and tired linoleum, I, six, at the table, sobbing; my young parents already falling out of love, quarreling.
From this, things take root. My mother and I aligned; Daddy’s casual cruelty; a divorce. Gardens give blossoms and fruit. Also, thorns, weeds, and noxious things that will leave you wounded. Fresh soil so fertile yields such painful bounty.
I am pleased to share that these 100 words earned me a Josie Rubio Scholarship from the Gotham Writers Workshop.
The last leaves of late autumn cling to skeletal trees. They rustle in a bitter wind and I know it is you.
This time of year, the merriment of the holidays cannot stave off the end-of- days darkness. It is you, rattling your chains, keeping me from sleep.
I could sense you last night, as I lay in your bed with someone else. I had the ceiling painted haint blue but still I smell tobacco and bourbon in a house where neither of these can be found in the daylight. Burnt matches in the sink. Ice cubes rattle in a glass in a room no one is in.
I have thrown away your clothes, your shoes, your wedding ring. I did not give any of these to charity. What charity would it be to me to find your shoes on another man’s feet walking down the street? Still, I see you. That coat in front of me at the Post Office. That mustache on the barista. That thumbprint of a bruise on my neck.
Your letters, I have burnt. I do not need to see your pledges of love, your apologies, your threats; they ring enough in my battered head.
All these things, I purged from the little house we once shared. It does not matter. Like a leviathan unmoored from some sepulchral trench, you summon the pieces of you I forgot or couldn’t find, the fingernail clippings, the hairs in the razor in the medicine cabinet, the blood beneath the floorboards. All these on the harshest December night meet and mingle, rising and converging upon me.
When my love awakens tomorrow morning, in your bed, I will be as cold as this season’s first snow.
A version of this flash first appeared in Second Chance Lit April 2022.