Blazes

The day the radiator caught the apartment complex on fire was the day Janet lost her virginity, doing breathing exercises under a dirty comforter six blocks west. It was the striped sweater, the one her mom had bought her on sale at Walmart last fall, that’d done it–that’d turned the dresses and blouses scattered across the floor into kindling.

“Are you all right?” Brian said, pulling on a clean pair of boxers.

Janet nodded, hands shaking as she fixed the clasps on her bra. She said she needed to get home before it got too dark, that walking through this neighborhood at night always made her a little uncomfortable, that she needed to make dinner, that one of her roommates would be worrying after her. It hadn’t been what she’d expected.

Standing in front of 84 Fuller Street, gripping the underwear she’d stuffed into her coat pocket as she put her feet into her shoes, her arms into her dress, she found her bedroom window. She noted how the red brick surrounding it had turned black and soft. She wondered if it would taste like the burnt toast she made in the oven every morning, if spreading peanut butter on it would make it better. She cried and her face was salt.

The former residents of 84 Fuller fell asleep at the Holiday Inn down the street that night. They kissed each other’s faces in the dark and had dreams of white sheets and soft hands. Janet, lying in the middle of a starched queen mattress, stared at the ceiling and remembered the sound those woolen stripes had made as they landed atop the warm metal, how one sleeve had fluttered with the machine’s vigor and slipped, dangling to the floor.

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on June 18, 2013.

Speech

Marianne always wished she was bilingual. The bilingual kids in the neighborhood always clustered beneath the streetlamps and laughed in response to such a human way to such inhuman, foreign sounds. It wasn’t that Marianne was the only monolingual kid on the block, but everyone whose tongues were restricted to English were so boring to her, much like everything else in her town. And really everything in her state.

She imagined them having conversations about food covered in spices and sautéed in colorful pots and pans. She imagined their mothers wearing orange skirts and their fathers singing them to sleep. Her own parents wore sky blue and steel gray and shut the door to the computer room when they talked on the phone. There were times when she thought she could share a cultural moment with her mother, who’d be baking cookies on Sunday mornings, but then she’d be told to pick up her toys and stay away from the oven. No Polish lessons or instructions on how to make sauerkraut or marinating lamb flanks and getting hands covered in oil. No hidden photographs of Holocaust-era Paris to emerge from the attic while macarons baked. Marianne just sat on the edge of her bed and flipped from Cartoon Network to Nickelodeon and back again.

When she turned fifteen, she started taking Spanish class. Fluency seemed easy to achieve, at the beginning, and she often tried to weave basic phrases into her everyday speech, even encouraging her parents to join in with what they could remember from thirty years prior.

“I’d like uno piece of chicken, por favor.”

“What? Speak in English. This is getting annoying, Marianne,” her father would say, his eyes glued to the screen of his cell phone.

“You’re putting down my dreams and inhibiting my creativity!” The discussion would not be resumed, as the dinner table would return to its normal silence.

She tried Russian and French and Dutch and Farsi, absorbing the content of online lessons on her walk to school. By graduation, she felt comfortable holding a conversation in eight different languages and had vowed to leave the country for a place where her skills would be useful, valued. She collected the graduation money she’d solicited from great aunts and uncles, bought a plane ticket to Geneva.

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on August 3, 2012.

Love and Money

He held an orange slice between the pads of my fingers and cringed as a butterfly landed atop it. The thing had antennae like mascara wands and reflective eyes, so he dropped the orange and walked out.

“Where are you going?” Morgan asked. She moved slowly toward the door to catch me, trying not to jostle the bugs scurrying across the fruit.

“I can’t do this. They have eyes, Morgan. Did you see their eyes?”

The air outside of the greenhouse was arid. Sweat evaporated off his cheeks as he hyperventilated in the parking lot, bending forward to hold his shins. All he could see was furry eyeballs dangling from every tree branch and every untied shoelace.

“I have to shut the door so they don’t get out, Cal. Come back inside. You’ll get hit by a car out there.”

They were crawling up his arms, tugging at the blond hairs, using them as little stepladders leading to his earholes, where they’d wriggle themselves in and have a go at his brain. It’d been Morgan’s idea to drive across the river to see the famous Monarch butterflies that suffocated inside the moldy glass walls of the conservatory, and he’d followed like the sad, hungry puppy that he was, hoping to see her giggle at being tickled by filmy wings.

But this was not what he’d signed up for. He’d paid five bucks for a piece of overripe fruit and was expected to just hold it as the creatures tried to use him as a breeding ground or whatever it is they did. And now she was giggling within the glass confines of that humid room alone, and he was out here thinking about how he wanted nothing more than his money back.

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on August 1, 2012.

Fame

There comes a time in life where you step into a mound of crunchy peanut butter and know that’s it, you’ve made it, you can come no further. There is peanut butter stuck to the heel of your bare foot and you couldn’t be happier.

An epiphany you had last year has been fully realized because all of your furniture is covered in it, and it may have taken 2,000 jars to finish the job, but it’s finally done and it’s a masterpiece.

Imagine my horror when I returned home from a long day at the office to find my floors and chairs and end tables wiped clean. I’d forgotten the day of the week, simple as that, and one of those traveling maid services had come on our agreed date to pick up after a month of accumulated messes. I’d thought I had another twenty-four hours before I had to cancel the appointment. I could have dealt with it in twenty-four hours. Preserved it or something. Wrapped it in tin foil and stuck Post-Its all over. Submitted my house to the Historical Society.

But now all I have is a clean house and a space for a new mattress, which I guess I probably should have bought a few years ago anyway, when I felt the springs of the old ones collapse under the weight of the industrial espresso machine that got too heavy to carry across the room.

I can only hope that one of the cleaning ladies took a picture and uploaded it to the internet. I’ll settle for viral fame.

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on July 30, 2012.

Heat Wave

Cracked seashells lined the path to the garden shed. Shards lodged themselves between Abby’s toes as she walked back to the house, shovel in hand and ready to make some improvements. She opened the gate to the porch and soaked the warmth of the sun-bleached floor into her feet.

“Abby, is that you?” Husband had been napping just inside; summer heat rushed through the open door as she walked in and walked past him. She walked straight for the kitchen and struck the wall with the tip of her shovel. She got it wedged in there, twisting it around to open up the hole, let it breathe, then extracted the tool and stabbed again. Air poured from the broken drywall like it was a deflating balloon.

Husband came running at the noise, saw the puncture wounds dripping jagged plaster. By the time he’d fought through the shock that paralyzed him, she’d carved a massive bird and was on her way to demolishing that, too. She didn’t stop until her arm followed the shovel through the other side, into the bedroom. It got lodged in there and Husband didn’t feel inclined to move it.

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on July 26, 2012.

Baby Face

Everyone called me Baby Face until I was sixty-five years old and mapped in wrinkles and spider veins. I could trace valleys down my neck and marvel at the canyons that widened at my collar bone. I still had the Baby Eyes, they said, but they were hooded, now.

It started when I was eight and the grownups that filled our kitchen every Friday night with their deviled eggs and flaky biscuits would say, “Now, where’s your oldest one at? The one with those rosy cheeks and pretty, pretty eyelashes.”

“She’s the oldest?” someone’s husband would ask, setting down his glass of wine because it was a serious question, and he wanted the answer.

“Eight-years-old.” My parents would blush. “She’s just taking a little long to grow out of her baby face.”

But it wasn’t a phase, so I was left with bloated cheeks until all the life drained out of my body through the tips of my fingers.

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on July 24, 2012.

Mrs. Stevenson’s Seventh Grade Class, St. Christopher’s School for Boys, October 19, 2:14 AM

A group of twelve sat around the embers of a bonfire, each looking first at his hands, then up to the glowing triangle of logs before him.

“What do we do know?” Dalton said, his voice crackling into the dead air.

They were tucked into a pocket of forest behind a new development. The fire ring, the kindling, the matches, the lawn chairs—all were stolen from their neighbors’ garages, from the tool sheds in the backyards across the street.

Dalton looked across the fading glow to Parker. They maintained eye contact for three seconds before Parker stood, his hands planted on his hips, surveyed the group, and sprinted deep into the darkness.

The boys stared at Dalton, their default leader. He was expected to give them instructions, to make the big decisions, to outline a plan for their journey to anonymity.

“Run,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re not getting caught.”

A crowd blinking with terror is not apt to move without prodding, like chipmunks discovered picking through a stranger’s pile of nuts.

“We’re the first one’s they’re gonna think did it. We left DNA, a motive—hell, we even left the murder weapon right next to him with Guthrie’s fingerprints all over it. Get out of here. Spread out.”

“Where do we go?” several boys murmured, Guthrie among them with teeth chattering.

“Not here.”

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on July 12, 2012.