Tag: #flashfiction

When We Had Wings

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.

Shenandoah

            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.

Hot Flash

Hot Flash

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 .

NAIAD

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.

Make Peace With My Bones

            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.

When She Talks About The Broken Window

In truth, it is not about a broken window. She’ll never fix it. If you ask her about it, she will tell you about Bobby.

If you ask her about it, which I don’t suggest you do, she might start off with a laugh. She might shake her head, maybe hug her midriff. She’ll say it was an accident. If she’s even a little honest with herself, which she probably will not be, she may blush when she tells you he was just horsing around. Don’t interrupt her. She’ll let you know he was a star basketball player. She’ll tell you, without a hint of humility, how he was homecoming king, had a 4.2 GPA, was kind to stray animals and awkward girls. You may think you are not hearing the story of the window; keep quiet, keep quiet. 

You’ll hear about how many college acceptances Bobby received -12 – and how he turned down Notre Dame – Notre Dame for God’s sake – to go in state on a full ride. Bobby boy, Bobby brother. You might think that now is the moment you should gently ask again, but what about the window? Don’t.

She will probably turn her back to you, might even excuse herself. Look past all the framed photos of a shining star, a boy forever golden at 21, and you will see that broken window in the garage. You’ll think to yourself that she never did tell you that story, but you’d be wrong.

A version of this flash can be found at http://www.glitteryliterary.com. The following is from their site:

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Last Damsel

Our men were gone; the last one, Uncle Chick, left six months after my birth. I was the firstborn of a third daughter, who bled out as I entered the world. Growing up, I ran wild in a female pack with my aunts and cousins.

“Tell me a story.” To hear my aunts, you’d think those were my first words. “Tell me about Pawpaw. Tell me about Red Boy. Tell me about the time Uncle Chick wanted to marry Little Lady.” I’d sit at the hearth with Aunt Ang and Aunt Diddy, the two closest to my age, stretching skins on the fleshing beam. There had to be more, I would think.

We all belonged to each other yet each to no one. I longed to be an Other, a somebody’s someone.

“Diddy, tell me about PawPaw. Did he love Mam? Did she love him? How did they love? Did they hug and tickle? Did they wrestle on the floor? Did he kiss her nose?”

“Where you get such notions, Maisie? You seen Mam. She ain’t any differn now than she was when the mens were here, asides the hair. Her hair was reddern then, I guess. You think anyone be fool enough to plant a kiss on Mam’s nose? Not while she’s breathin’, I reckon.”

I couldn’t see no one ever putting their arms around Mam. How had we all come to be though? We had to have been born out of something softer than red rocks and dusty wind. All these hard women around me, I came to think men had to make the world gentler.

“Ang, how was it between us and the menfolk?”

Ang wasn’t so hard as the othern. I’d seen her once with a fledgling that had fallen from an eaves nest. Any day in the season, there’d be five or so fledglings outside the large house. Mam made use of all things, fledglings no differn, so we’d offentimes have Baby Birdie Stew when the snows weren’t high. I saw Ang though and she built that fledgling its own nest from scraps of otter pelts. She didn’t know I watched but I seen her fetching worms and meal bugs for it. I seen her too on the third day, crying, when she found the bird dead and I watched her bury it, nest and all.

Ang fixed with me with a hard stare and I started to thinking I best not ask such questions of any of us. 

“Men do things for reasons we won’t ever have no answers for. I seen Chick and kill a cat just cause he could. It was Chick’s own cat. He’d had it since he was done suckling. I heard him crying for it later but he’d done it hisself. That’s when Mam said it’d be best if he was out off to fighting with the rest of ‘em and we ain’t heard nothing from any of ‘em since. There’s not much accounting for what’s in men’s hearts.”

So I am standing in the creek swollen with fresh snowmelt, scrubbing the rusty iron-smelling stains from my britches. I don’t reckon I have heard the sound of horses hooves in quite a stretch so at first I am looking at the sky, blue as kittens’ eyes, searching for thunderheads. Then I see ‘em. I know these aren’t womenfolk. Three people big as bears, with fur on their faces, ride their snorting beasts to the edge of the creek. I see foam on their animals’ necks, steam coming out their nostrils. I shield my eyes from the sunlight and peer up into the hairy faces of weathered skin and bloodshot eyes. Men, I think. These must be men.

Gone. My notions of softness coming from menfolk leave me the minute I see their twisted ugly smiles. I don’t even smile back. The red bearded one spits a stream of brown and rubs the back of his hand over his tobacco-stained lips.

“Well don’t this look like a picnic?” I know he is speaking of me and not to me. I feel hot piss running down my legs and I can taste something sharp and salty in my mouth. Fear. Before I can think of anything to say, anything that might be friendly, I have tilted back my head and howled. It is not a cry like the wolf, hungry and alone, would send out into the cold night, looking for companionship. It is the scream of the rabbit as my arrow pierces its’ hindquarters. It is Ang holding a dead baby bird in her hands. Run. Run, I think, and I am off.

“Hot DAMN! We got us a chase!”

“Get her, Chick!”

Panic. They are on me like vultures on a carcass, rending clothing from limb, flesh from flesh, pieces of me torn and scattered in the short dry grass of the riverbank, which is just beginning to green.

I am above them now, watching as they push and shove one another off of my tattered self. There is blood and spittle, tears which were mine, and a mess I cannot name over all of us. 

Gone. I am no one’s Other.

A version of this story was first published by Tatterhood Review in December 2020. Also, many thanks to @TatterhoodRev for nominating this work for @SundressPub 2021 Best of the Net.http://www.tatterhoodreview.com http://www.sundresspublications.com