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Father

Happy (belated) Father’s day, everyone! This week I’ve got a companion piece to the flash story “Mother” that I published in honor of Mother’s day. Enjoy!
–Jessica


Father.

The word spills from her lips and my gaze falls to the pregnancy test held in her hand like a weapon. She repeats the word but it falls on deaf ears as my stomach drops down into my shoes. It’s everything I thought I wanted and yet now I’m not so sure.

She stands before me, barefoot in her PJs, and she looks so rumpled and uncertain that she might as well be naked. And I — I am uselessly and incomprehensibly at a loss for words.

Father.

The word crawls its way hoarsely from my throat. My voice sounds breathless, restless, choked. I feel trapped in this moment as the silence just keeps expanding around us until we are two — alone and lost in a bubble of deafening quiet.

I don’t know what to say and I attempt to marshal my courage even as I feel my knees melting beneath me.

Father.

My eyes reach for hers and her whole body is trembling now in some kind of time-delayed reaction. I reach out, almost without thought, and haul her rattling bones into my own. And we lean in to steady ourselves a moment.

Father.

The word trips unsteadily from my tongue once more and I’m waiting for the arrival of joy.

I expected joy. I’ve always wanted kids. And yet here I stand, dumb, trembling and panicked — and joy is nowhere to be found.

My arms wrap around her and I catch us both in the silence.

I catch my breath.

“Hey,” I say. “Hey, it’s going to be alright.”

Her eyes turn to look at me and I can see moisture trembling in her lashes.

“We were planning this, remember? We were hoping for this.”

I can feel my voice picking up confidence with every sentence — slowly gaining strength.

“We’re going to be parents.” Warmth is creeping it’s way back into my bloodstream now, back into my tone.

“We’re going to be wonderful parents.”

I can see her expression lightening a bit now, I can feel her trembling begin to slow as she nods and buries her face unsteadily in my shoulder.

“I’m going to be a Dad.” The words fall from my lips unexpectedly. (Didn’t I already know?)

And there it is: the joy I’d been expecting.

Father.

I think I could get used to that.

 

Now it’s your turn! Let me know what you thought of this piece in the comments below.

 

Mother

A short piece of fiction I wrote as a character study a few weeks back and am now dedicating to all the mothers out there (and most especially to my own mother). You’re each more courageous than I can dare to imagine. Happy (belated) Mother’s Day.

-Jessica


Mother.

The word echoes in my head and I almost forget what it means.

Suddenly that word to which I had dedicated so much consideration trembles on the tip of my tongue — just another confused collection of consonants and vowels.

I’m supposed to be happy. After all, we’d decided it was time to start trying.

But as I stare at the pregnancy test quivering in my fingers I can’t seem to move past the word.

Mother.

I realize that I’ve no idea how to be one. Or how I got to here: alone in my bathroom, clutching the test and all I can think is that I’m not ready to be a mother — that I might never be ready.

And how is it possible that I would only discover this now — in the moment when life has already been planted, seed sprouting into embryo — a tiny clump of cells dividing and differentiating.

Becoming not-me. Becoming other.

I smooth my palm over the flat planes of my belly. It seems unimaginable that soon I will swell with new life.

“Gravid” — from the Latin “gravis” meaning “heavy”.

I have never felt so grave, so heavy, as I feel now, in this moment in which my life seems to be pouring from between my fingertips, even as life is re-born of a single flickering spark — poised on the brink of bursting into flames.

I fear that there will be nothing left of me but ashes when that flame has burned its way into the world — borne out from between my blooded thighs.

Mother.

The word rattles around inside my head and I can feel my atomic structures reassembling to make room for some newer, bigger person I must be becoming.

My hand presses firmly into the flesh of my belly, knowing that there is nothing to feel. The baby (baby!) is not yet bigger than a grain of rice — hardly larger than a dream.

Mother.

I roll the word across my tongue, stretch it out over my skin and am surprised to find that it threatens to fit — just barely — around the size and shape of what it already means to be me.

 

As always, I’d love to hear from you! What did you think of this piece? Leave your comments below.

 

The shooter says goodbye to her love

Just a bit of fun this week — I’m participating in Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge again. You can check out my previous challenge contributions here.

This week’s challenge was to use one of the following ten sentences in a 1,000 word story — but I went for the promised “bonus points” (and extra challenge) of using all ten!

Here are the list of challenge sentences, for reference:

  • “The mysterious diary records the voice.”
  • “The stranger officiates the meal.”
  • “The shooter says goodbye to his love.”
  • “A glittering gem is not enough.”
  • “The memory we used to share is no longer coherent.”
  • “The old apple revels in its authority.”
  • “Rock music approaches at high velocity.”
  • “Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.”
  • “Abstraction is often one floor above you.”
  • “The river stole the gods.”

I had to stretch just a bit to get them all in, but on the whole I think the story works surprisingly well!


 

The memory we used to share is no longer coherent. The thought echoes in my mind.

Nothing makes sense anymore — it hasn’t since our last big mission, the one in which we failed to prevent the River from stealing the Gods and I woke up battered and bruised and still reeling in the aftermath of machine gun fire that had sounded like nothing so much as rock music approaching at high velocity.

I’ve never entirely made peace with the way machine guns sound so much like drums — and the beat goes on, and on, and on like a nightmare I’ve forgotten to wake up from.

I woke up aching, and for blissful moments I remained unaware — entirely free of the memories of that mission and the way it had tipped my world over onto its head, spilling the pieces of my life across the floor like so many marbles.

Back in training the General used to say, abstraction is often one floor above you. Over and over he would repeat this — at every briefing, on every training mission. Abstraction is often one floor above you.

We never knew what he meant and he never explained himself, just peered dangerously over the rims of his glasses and spoke the words as though they were the most important message in the world.

Perhaps they were. Perhaps they were some kind of secret code passed down from him to us, from trainer, from teacher (we called him “the old apple” when no one could hear) to us, the pupils. If so, we didn’t get it. Every time he’d trot out his adage, we’d snicker nervously amongst ourselves.

Later we’d shrug off our incomprehension and murmur to one another behind closed doors, the old apple revels in his authority. But our glibness would taste hollow in our mouths, like false comfort.

Now, suddenly and terrifyingly, I think I know what the General was talking about. I used to think he meant for us to keep in mind the bigger picture, to always be playing the larger game. I used to think it meant, You’re a spy and you must think like one. Never forget.

Now I think he meant this: waking up feeling battered and awfully alone — unsure if the game you’ve been playing looks anything like the game you thought you’d been playing.

Suddenly nothing seems certain. Not this. Not you and me. Not our mission. I don’t know what I’m supposed to believe in any more.

None of it feels real. Not even the warmth of your body stretched out beside me in our bed.

You propose after that. Not immediately after, it’s weeks after and we’re out to eat — waiting for the signal, you said (Sixty-Four comes asking for bread). And so I’m shifting in my chair and picking at the roll on my plate, peeling off little pieces of the crust, snipping them up with my fingernails.

I’m anxious. It’s our first real mission since that one — the one that felt like the ground was falling out from underneath my feet and plunging me into some new and mysterious upside-down reality in which nothing makes sense and the memory we used to share is no longer coherent.

And then you pull out a ring and I realize the mission is a ruse and I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say because just a handful of weeks ago I would have said yes, but now the only thing I can think is that a glittering gem is not enough.

Except I can’t say that because you’re not just my partner, you’re my partner, and we have to keep working together and so I nod awkwardly and you slip the diamond onto my finger.

I cannot think that anything has ever felt heavier than the weight of that gemstone, dragging at my heart.

Which is how we’ve come to where we are now. You’ve gone out to dinner for “business”. I’m perched aloft, watching the meal unfold from an empty office building across the street.

A stranger officiates the meal. I don’t recognize him. He’s not one of our regular contacts. I would have remembered that face — grizzled and unpleasant. I would have remembered the way you lean back from his presence, as if in distaste.

I’m not sure if your discomfort means something good or bad. I’m not sure what anything means anymore.

Who are we really working for?

Abstraction is often one floor above you, the General used to say. Now I believe he meant that one day this day would come — the day when I finally saw the sum of our actions from such a great height that everything we’d done and everything we’d become all began to seem, not like a collection of random duties, but a purposeful progression animated by unseen hands. A masterpiece of puppetry on a scale that I find can hardly be comprehended.

I had no idea they might have this much power.

But now that I’ve seen and suspected, the only thing left to do is act.

I have to end the game. I have to put a stop to the madness.

I wonder if you know. I wonder if you saw it too. You were unusually sentimental when you left for this meeting — you’d whispered our old code phrase, the one we’d used back in training.

The mysterious diary records the voice. The syllables had brushed up against my ear, warm and familiar, and my heart had thrilled once more to the nearness of you, to the way you whispered I love you.

And love you, I do. But the time has come to do what must be done.

My finger tightens on the trigger and even as I blink back tears I’m already whispering goodbye.

 

Did you like this piece? Let me know in the comments!

(And if you did, please share!)

 

God’s own rats

Author’s note: I decided to participate in this weeks flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. The challenge was to write based on a randomly generated title and I drew “God’s own” + “Rats”. Enjoy!

 

The rats come at midnight. Why always at midnight? I wonder.

They come in the darkness, their claws skittering across wooden floorboards and the sound of their terrible squeaking chattering from the walls of my bedroom where I lie in bed and try very hard to sleep.

The sounds of the rats echo in the darkness and I can feel their presence in the room with me. I can feel the rats almost as if their wriggling bodies and wiry fur were pressed right up against me.

My skin crawls.

I feel for the first time in decades like a small child once again — afraid of the monster under the bed. Except the rats are real and my fear of their sharp claws and sharper teeth is not so unfounded. They’ve bitten me before. Ferocious little wounds that first festered and oozed and then scarred.

I’ve learned my lesson now — I’ve learned to cower in my bed, safe on my floating island, safe atop these tall wooden posts that no rat has yet managed to climb.

I tried everything possible to control the rat problem.

The war began gently with the sound of scurrying in the walls some nights, when I lay awake in bed and tried very hard not to listen.

I bought ultrasonic deterrents and catch and release traps. But still the rats rummaged in the walls, undeterred, and I caught not a single rat in my traps.

I tried all manner of bait: cheese, peanut butter, bacon.

I tried everything.

I switched the humane traps for snap traps and then for the sticky glue kind.

Still, I caught not a single rat.

Finally, in desperation following the night on which a rat had skittered across tops of my bare feet and then bit me —  finally, I found I was reduced to poison.

I poisoned my house nearly myself and for the first time thanked God for my lack of children.

And still the rats came at midnight — always they came at midnight.

I hired exterminators and when they too had failed to put an end to the vermin, I quit. I quit my house and packed up my things and walked out the front door.

I refused to look back.

I refused to look back at the home that had been mine for the better part of 10 years, the home in which I had first been alone and then married and then alone again when she passed so unexpectedly.

I quit the house and refused to look back because those were the memories I didn’t like to think about.

I moved to a small apartment on the other side of town. A nice, new building with a sleek, modern look.

I moved to an apartment whose aspect seemed itself to be a powerful rat deterrent. Surely nothing so uncouth as a rat would be found in a place like this.

I tried not think about how it was my wife’s life insurance money that was paying for the expensive new apartment. I shrugged the thoughts off brusquely: she was gone, life was sometimes unexpectedly short, and — in light of that — why not enjoy the finer things now?

And besides, any price was worth being rid of those damned rats.

The new apartment was a definite improvement — smaller and quieter and most importantly rat-free. The space felt better too, less cavernous and echoing.

I didn’t rattle in the new apartment the way I had in the old house — as though I was dancing about to the lingering tune of my dead wife’s ghost. Tiptoeing from room to room, sashaying about the obstruction of her chair, dodging trinkets and knick-knacks left to linger on shelves.

I left all that behind. The constant reminders of her aching absence — I left behind everything except a few mementos.

Our wedding picture. Her favorite necklace. The photo album I hadn’t dared to crack open.

I found the pieces of her — lying in tatters about the wreck of what had been our life together — and I assembled them, packed them up, brought them with me, and set them up anew.

No longer shattered and shambled but ordered — an incomprehensible tragedy made tidy.

A tortured memory made whole.

The rats didn’t come back after that. I never again heard them in the walls of my home.

The money from the life insurance ran out and I was forced to relocate once again to a more modest apartment in a different part of town.

Still, the rats didn’t come back.

And then one night, just when I thought I might never spy another rat again, a particularly large and lumbering one skitters out into the city street and clambers right across my shoes.

I froze — my skin crawling with revulsion, a kind of visceral shudder I found myself unable to repress.

The rat froze too and so we stood — the rat mere inches from my boot.

We stared — paralyzed in a shared moment.

A car starts farther down the block and the moment breaks — the sound sends the rat chattering down the storm drain and into the sewer.

Thrice-damned rats, I grumble to myself. But then I feel just the tiniest flutter of a chuckle on my lips, knowing how far I’ve come, how distant those tormented memories now lie.

God’s own thrice-damned rats.

Wanted: Two legs, possibly stocky.

I’ve got something a bit different to share this week: Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge using these hilarious and bizarre stock photos as prompts.

Since I’m a naturally indecisive person, I used a random number generator and drew this image:

Getty Images/iStockphoto dreamerve via buzzfeed.com

And here is my resulting fiction.

Wanted: Two legs, possibly stocky

The problem was that it is nearly impossible to find a pair of legs divorced from their associated brains. For one thing, such legs are naturally found only rarely — most legs being rather firmly affixed to their proper brains by way of a torso and spine. And, even in such rare cases of leg-brain separation, it is particularly difficult to track the brainless pair.

After all, without brains, the legs are forced to wander — mindlessly.

And frankly, she was fed up with the search. Her missing legs were worse than a two-year-old.

She resented her legs for wandering off so spitefully after a particularly disdainful comment she’d made about the proportions of their thighs and the build of their calves.

She resented the bruising of her elbows from where she had been forced to drag herself about — reduced to something less than a crawl in the absence of her recalcitrant legs.

And most of all, she resented the absence of her seat.

She longed once more to stand tall — to look others in the eye as equals. She longed never again to hear someone jokingly refer to her as a shoegazer.

She longed, once again, to roam free.

Free once more to wander, free to run and chase, free to feel the tug of the wind in her mousey brown hair.

And for this she was willing at last to pay the price of two legs, imperfectly muscled and stocky.

A week went by, a month, and then two. She enlisted the help of friends and social media. She made phone calls to the local police department and placed wanted ads. She even called around to local department stores to see if anyone had found an extra pair of legs, perhaps discovered standing in the window display.

It was all to no avail.

The police informed her that as legs were not a whole person, no missing persons report could be filed for an absent set of bipedal appendages. The department stores assured her that all legs were present and accounted for and that no extra pairs were to be found.

Her friends set out and scoured the city — but always returned empty-handed.

And her pleas on social media had made her temporarily Twitter-famous — but still it was for naught.

Her legs were utterly vanished.

It was a Tuesday.

It was a Tuesday in November and her friends had demanded she quit moping about the house and get on with her life. They had insisted she join them after work for a drink.

And so she had dragged her self on weary elbows down the block to the local bar and she had looked about grudgingly for her friends’ familiar sneakers.

She didn’t see them. She couldn’t see them through the forest of feet that filled the bar and she knew instinctively that this had been a mistake.

Any moment now she would be tripped upon or stumbled over and then she would be trampled like so much dirt beneath an unfriendly shoe.

Sighing in resignation she made her way reluctantly toward the bar, unsure how she might ever hope to mount a stool and be seen by the bartender – perhaps she would just hide in the shadows beneath its dark paneled surface, safe from the general hubbub and ever so many feet.

She reached the bar at last and found her self eye-to-foot with a pair of handsome ankle boots, brown leather and with a three-inch heel. How she longed to wear such shoes once more and she found her thoughts wandering to her own favorite pair, now reduced to languishing forlornly in the back of her closet.

Her gaze traveled further upward… past shapely calves and well-toned thighs and lingered with envy upon the elegant swell of derriere…

And it was then she realized that these legs were missing their torso and brain–

“Legs!” she exclaimed, “I’ve found you! You’re mine!”