Category Archives: flash fiction

blender


photo by meg greer.

***

“i put your pancreas in the blender,” oliver said. “it spurted red colors so dark, they almost seemed blueish brown.”

“how could you do something so important without me?” i asked. “you’re not an artist. you’re nearly color blind. you never see what i see.”

it was an impossible conversation. “you have to see it,” he said.

he walked me to the kitchen like you would walk someone who had only just learned to walk. each step was uncertain like i was carrying the weight of an elephant in my calf. wasn’t this how being with him felt — heavy, inescapable? i swayed against him in the doorway, afraid to look, gentle back and forth whispers against the wall of his chest. for a moment, i lost myself in the movement and imagined for a moment that i was a young tree flirting with the wind instead of a middle-aged woman in a hospital talking to her dead lover.

forget i told you that part. i don’t need your pity. you don’t want to hear about the cells in my pancreas. i know i don’t. the sneaky little creeps that keep growing and spreading so silently that you would think they were the perfect house guests. you would invite them over for tea and sit and laugh with them until you realized they never left. they were the ones you felt beside you at night who stole your sleep as they dug their heels into your stomach and back.

oliver died of cancer too. damnit. i said too. “you’re still alive,” i whisper to myself, wrapping my arms around my body in the biggest hug i can muster. despite the years and miles between our diagnoses, the doctors used the same words to describe our cancer: unexplainable and unfortunate. did they all meet in a conference once a year that taught them words to use to convey compassion? why didn’t the words reach the blank look in their eyes? why is a woman who treated her body like a temple in the same situation as a man who smoked for twenty years?

oliver smelled like bubble gum and tobacco. can you believe that there was a time when i used to try to drown myself in that smell? when i thought i wouldn’t be able to live without being able to bury my face into his chest so deep that i all i could breathe was him. every single part of me loved him so much. if my toes could have clung to him, they would have.

somehow though my life got better without him. having my own air to breathe, my own scent to create, my own days to plan, built steps towards an inner peace that blossomed into a warm fire inside me that made me whole.

why is it then that now when the end is almost near, oliver is back crowding my every thought? instead of hearing the man coughing in the room next to mine, i’m with oliver again and we’re in our tiny brick kitchen in brooklyn.

“here,” he says, showing me the blender with a boyish grin. his eyes look sunken, his cheeks so thin, and his teeth are a stained dark brown. do we die frozen in our essence? this was the way oliver would have looked if you had turned him inside out. why had i lost so much of myself in this lifeless man?

and what about you, pancreas, i thought, staring into the blender. it didn’t look like the indomitable villain i had imagined. it seemed harmless torn apart into tiny little shreds. i felt a crazy impulse to kiss each strip and spread forgiveness with the warmth of my lips.

my blood was just as disappointing as my pancreas. it didn’t look bluebrown. it was a very dull red. i expected vivid ketchup colors just yearning to be scattered onto a canvas. i expected to feel different, lighter. shouldn’t the voids have raced out of my body without the vampire organ there to chase away the moments of hope each deep breath in and out brought?

“aren’t you happy?” oliver asked, stirring me out of my thoughts.

“yes, baby. thank you,” i said and brushed a kiss against his temple. “i have to do this alone though.” slowly, i walk away and my steps don’t feel like elephants at all, more like breathless butterfly flutters. my bed doesn’t feel like a hospital bed but like a hammock swaying in each breath of life. i don’t feel unexplainable or unfortunate. i feel alive, even if it’s just for each moment and i’m okay with that because each moment is all we ever really have.

–lissa

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my dreams

***

my dreams want to fly across rooftops like superheroes. they’re tired of hiding underneath my bed, entangled in crumpled beginnings of new worlds scribbled on recycled paper. they want to conquer bad guys like sadness and fear rather than envision eating your lips off with extra strength bleach. i know it’s bad, momma, but i want to scrape you out of my life like wallpaper. i want to kill your words before they hit my insides like a hammer tap tapping hate.

momma, i made your favorite: chocolate cupcakes with pink frosting.
i got another masters degree for you.
i brought the ocean home with me so you could remember the way daddy used to smell.
i fit into my size two jeans from middle school you know the ones you saved for all those years to remind me of when i used to be good enough for you.

will you love me now?

my dreams want to find other dreams to join forces with and create world joy. they’ve given up on pleasing you, momma. you’re never happy. you’re sharp like a scissor and hungry like a tornado when you tear my dreams apart by their seams and swallow them whole.

don’t dream so big, i told my dreams. i don’t mean that. that’s something momma would say. i scratched under their chins and rested my cheek in their fur. i love you. i don’t want us to go out there and see that everyone is momma. they nodded. and we don’t want you to stay here and think that you are momma, they said.

we sank into my full size mattress and listened to the usual bed sores that caused the frame to groan in pain. we took ten breaths in, then ten breaths out until our senses became still and the mattress felt like a hammock floating back and forth in a breeze. we didn’t break the cycle. we didn’t ask to fly or soar or leave but when we woke up we were covered in sand and daddy was hugging us. maybe we never really woke. maybe we dreamed our dreams into reality. or maybe a father scooped his sleepy daughter into his arms and finally made good on his promise to come back for her.

momma, i’ve left you. will you love me now?

-lissa


make believe treehouse

***

animal’s strokefists cannot permeate the small treehouse in my mind where poppa’s smell of crushed sage and honey decorate the walls with warmth. i climb the heavy branches and press my feet against the grooves in the bark until i enter the soft cushion of his smell. it whispers love and i release my broken self and gently place it on the floor. i shrink into gingerbread size and enclose myself here.

soon i hear the sound of daddy coming home from work. i tip toe rush into his arms and he swings me around like a paper doll. he ruffles my hair and calls me sunshine. animal, daddy, and i sit at a tiny table stump. we eat banana nut bread together as daddy teaches animal the boundaries of touch. animal’s docile here and wags his head back and forth in awe of daddy. he helps me clear the table and then i put him in his pink cage. i give him a treat and pat his head and he smiles up at me.

we are only a family here — in the confines of these branches, the only place i can make sure daddy takes his lithium pills. daddy doesn’t beatbeatbeat animal (and animal, in turn, doesn’t beattouch me) because he can control the jazz in his mind before it becomes too frenzied, too intense, like it is about to ooze his brain cells out of his ear. he doesn’t slip so far below the bottom that he cannot get out of bed, loses his sixth job in the past three months, and leaves animal and i to find a way to keep the bill hunters away. he is our lion daddy here and finally he protects us.

–lissa

an extension of the characters in jasmine.


the hardest meal

***

Dinner was the hardest meal.

My dad would wait for me until late, seemingly incapable of eating alone. The two of us would sit at the kitchen table with the same white tablecloth that Momma had bought years ago although now it was faded rainbow because of all of the fruit punch, orange juice, and coffee spills.

I opened the door hoping he was in bed since it was already after ten o’clock. I peeked into the kitchen and saw him asleep in his chair.

The room smelled like tomato sauce. I lifted the pot and saw that he had made my favorite, spaghetti and vegan meatballs. The spaghetti had wrinkled and the sauce had dried. I quickly put some of the food onto a plate and sat down at the table. I twirled the spaghetti onto my fork and chewed as softly as possible.

He must have sensed I was there. He smiled faintly at me as he opened his eyes. His shirt engulfed his body, and his cheeks were thin as though he wasn’t eating enough. We went through our ritual conversation: How was your day, Mirabel? Good, Dad. What about yours? Good.

I never felt like he wanted to know more. His smile deepened when we had this conversation but his eyes looked down at the tablecloth, the wall, the darkness emanating from the window. This was all we usually said to each other.

Our conversations had been like this since Momma had left five years ago. I had been twelve then. The day she left he had stared out the window for hours, his breathing rushed as he held onto the edges of the table. Maybe when she left he had gone inside of himself and never come out.

There had been other women like the neighbor, his co-worker, but they hadn’t stayed for long. They could never make it through dinner. If you’re not used to it, the silence ate away at you.

It hadn’t always been like this. When Momma had been there, the conversations had been spirited and neverending. She would have to force us out of the kitchen so that she could clean up and we could go to sleep.

I loved to watch the two of them together. His eyes glowed soft charcoal colors for her. Her head slightly leaned towards him as she would smile at something he had said. Everything seemed perfect until the night before she left.

That night I slept on the sofa in the family room to escape them, crying softly into my teddy bear so they wouldn’t hear me. My chest shook like it would break. Did other kids have to go through this, I had wondered, staring at the television on mute. I watched Bill Cosby dancing with his TV children until sleep finally overtook me.

–lissa

 


hartley

Cecilia roamed barefoot through Hartley’s room, looking for it. Every few minutes she felt dizzy and had to sit down on the pink carpet.

She had eaten wheat crackers with blueberry jam and water with a teaspoon of sugar for three days straight. She liked the process of painting the crackers and soiling the water. She liked the repetition. She liked digging the crackers into the roof of her mouth and licking the small sores that formed.

After about seven attempts, she found it — the clay angel she had made for Hartley. The angel had asymmetrical pink wings, a red sun face, and blue and purple flower patterns in its center. Cecilia held the angel in the middle of her chest, inhaling sharp, staccato breaths. She remembered the way Hartley’s smile reached her eyes as she traced the patterns with her fingers. It was the first time Cecilia had seen Hartley happy since their parents had explained what metastasize meant.

Cecilia laid her head onto the pink carpet that still smelled like Hartley. She dug the three edges of the left wing into her hand. She watched the pale circles they traced onto her skin reappear and disappear.

She went to the kitchen hours later to have dinner. She heard her voice, soft and squeaky, respond to her parents’ questions. Yes, she would eat the chicken and yellow rice. No, she wanted to eat alone. No, she didn’t want to talk about it. No.

She stood in the doorway until she heard their bedroom door click shut. She put the chicken and rice into a ziplock bag. She opened the back door halfway, so that it wouldn’t creak. She untied the black plastic bag in the trash can outside and slid the food in the middle of it. She wiped her hands against her pants, and ashamed about what the angel had just witnessed, she whispered sorry before she went back inside.

She sat the clay angel on the leather kitchen chair and then sat in the chair across from it. She had to push her chair a foot away from the table to see the tiny angel. She made wheat crackers with blueberry jam and water with a teaspoon of sugar. She liked the repetition. She painted, soiled, and chewed, noting that if she tilted her head at a slight angle, tears crept in her mouth and dulled the metallic taste of blood the sores caused.

–lissa


imagine thick jasmine surrounding you

I love him. He smells like jasmine. Jasmine — that’s what I call him and he lets me; he smiles. I’m the only one he lets, even though all the other girls try. He said it’s okay if we never do that. I told animal thinking it might shame him, but he only touched me more. I’m quiet, and I don’t cry.

Right before animal hits me, I surround myself with jasmine. I see myself in a field of flowers, the petals tickling my cheeks, the smell reaching all the way into the very bottom tip of my lungs and propelling coughs thick with jasmine if I take too much in at once. It’s as beautiful coming in as coming out – a slow inhale and exhale, don’t cough, don’t cough, don’t lose any of it, whose entire duration I treasure. Jasmine loves me.

Get off of me, you animal, I say. Jasmine makes me strong. I lose all thoughts, all reason, and my mind clears of everything but hate. It makes me push animal into the wall, again and again. It makes me kick and scream and bite him, blood slipping down my throat. I bit off a large portion of the skin right under animal’s collarbone when I was eleven. I hid in the woods, but he found me and he — I didn’t cry. I don’t cry. If you don’t cry, if you’re quiet, people love you. They learn to love you even though your hair is kinky type 4b and will never have defined curls. More like a sponge, animal tells me. A dirty sponge. I’m beautiful, you ugly fuck, I say, to myself, not to animal. I’m quiet, and I don’t cry.

–lissa

p.s. part two of this story is here


family picture day

It was family picture day. The day when Momma chain smoked at the breakfast table ruining the scrambled eggs, French toast, and Poppa’s mood. The day when she forced me and my sister to wear frilly dresses and braid our hairs. The day when she paid more attention to us than to Poppa and talked to us and made us feel beautiful. The day when Poppa tried to hide in his office to avoid Momma’s insisting that he not wear his usual t-shirts and actually get dressed up today for the sake of the family.

The day when we would smile for so long that our cheeks hurt. I would pinch my sister’s cheeks and she would pinch mine and the pain only got worse. The photographer would yell encouraging words to us as though we were his fashion models.

We would go home from the photo place, tired and worn out, eating Italian Ices, unable to ignore the silence in the car. Momma would grab another cigarette from her bag and Poppa would tell her not to smoke in the car. We would finally reach home and me and my sister would run to our room, turning up the music so that we wouldn’t hear them arguing.

— lissa