This was a flash fiction piece I wrote for the 2014 Stella Kupferberg prize which – as completely expected – I did not win. The theme was “Things that Happen at Night” and it had to be 750 words or less. It’s a very sad piece, but I learned a lot while writing it.
The voices of her friends spun a hollow cloud of murmurs. Wendy’s desire to feign gratitude at supportive intentions was spent.
Hanging up the worn winter coat, she mistakenly glanced in the hallway mirror. Auburn hair stuck together in tiny bales. Dark roots sprouted unkempt. Makeup merely tinted the gray complexion, and could not erase deep circles that gathered beneath dim eyes.
Too many people at the funeral home. They had been bringing food all week. Stews of consolation. Casseroles of comfort. She couldn’t eat, though she was through much of the box wine. She poured herself a glass now, a sturdy cabernet. She kicked her shoes under the kitchen table and slid out a chair. Standing was hardly possible.
The power went out. She sat in the dark. The clouded moon threw light on a small kerosene lamp which stood, mostly decoratively, on her kitchen window sill. It was old and had never been used. She lit it anyway.
The light flickered in indiscriminate drafts. She lost herself in the dancing flame.
Dancing. She remembered dancing. She remembered ponytails spinning in that very kitchen, little feet on hers. Little striped shirts with too-long sleeves, covering small hands that clutched hers. She recalled giggling and jumping. She could almost hear it.
But then there was a fall, and solid objects that did not give way. And fragility. And an ambulance.
The bad memories were in the kitchen tonight. She took her glass in one hand and the lamp in the other, and her feet guided her to Her Room.
Sirens in the background engulfed the regular evening traffic noise. There was likely an accident. With so many sirens, it was probably bad. She set the little lamp down on the white dresser, illuminating a child-sized chair draped with a hand-crocheted blanket. Wendy spread the blanket on the floor and crumpled on it.
Time twisted in long black ribbons, tying together the silence of sirens and the return of hallway light. Half-conscious, she lifted her head off the blanket, and a half moment later, she remembered it all. Eyes focusing, she saw each beautiful, terrible thing. She stood and browsed in muddled numbness. There was a tube-pasta bracelet which had been painted. She slid a piece along the yarn, and remembered. There was a brush stroke; then paint-stained hands; a green smudge on a happy chin. A hair hanging along the face.
She couldn’t hold it any longer; she tossed it onto the middle of the blanket.
She stared at the bracelet’s perfect roundness. But it was completely absent of a wrist to put it on. The wrist was gone.
How could a wrist just be gone?
Abruptly rummaging the dresser, she produced a shirt (the one that was worn for Valentine’s Day) and pants (which were torn, but there was a Very Important Puppy on them). She found some socks that had the little lace bits around the ankles, and boots which were pull-ons, because the zipper boots were too hard sometimes. A pink bonnet which was always for tea parties finished the job, and everything was assembled, exactly right, on the blanket.
Wendy navigated to the foot of the blanket and stood. But then her hands went to her stomach, and then to the blanket. And even though she could inhale her girl, the shirt refused to hug her back. The whole world was rife with denial, so much that it ran through her veins and nested in her heart. It would end her. She would let it.
By allowing the nothing to come, she reasoned, she would produce the together she longed for. And it was possible. All the ingredients were here. She stood up and finished her glass of wine. Taking the kerosene lamp, she settled back onto the blanket. She tossed the lamp’s chimney on the floor and detached the wick. She poured the kerosene along the crocheted blanket, the boots, the pants, the shirt, the hat. She grabbed the edge of the blanket and rolled inside. She lit it.
She wailed. She could not tell which pain was which.
And then, there were sirens again.