SHELLI CORNELISON: The Peculiar Little Girl

Flash Fiction by Shelli Cornelison

Poet Priest of Nothing 

The peculiar little girl’s father said poetry was like religion: some people didn’t get enough exposure so they lived wary of it, while others consumed it in frenzied furies until they became zealots, blind in their faith. 

She nodded along when her father spoke. He was the only poet she knew. A drunken poet, sure. She thought she’d heard her grandmother call him a false poet once. But she never questioned him, because she already understood that doubt could poke holes in love. 

The little girl hadn’t known she was peculiar until the word fell from the lips of her grandmother, and then her teacher, too. She thought it sounded poetic, which according to her father, was the way her mother had died. He said he might die poetically someday, too. The girl wondered a lot about death. Her father said that was okay, said most poets do. 

When she learned subtraction, the peculiar little girl envisioned the numbers taken away to be dead. They were gone now. Subtracted. That felt powerfully poetic. Her teacher said no, math was not like poetry. But her father told her it was okay to see poetry in numbers. Poetry was everywhere. 

The peculiar little girl’s father said all songs were poems, but she knew better. There was nothing poetic about cicada song. It was noise, that was all. But when her fingers crunched their paper-thin shells left clinging to the oak bark and the opaque bits fell to the ground, she wondered if that might be what was meant by poetry in motion. 

When she pulled the still wet wings off a new butterfly, she marveled at the way they glistened in the sun, the fleeting hint of a graceful flutter when they fell to the ground, before they realized they had been subtracted from the body, only a fraction now, not enough. Not enough. The girl whispered peculiar, and then, poetic

Something stirred within her, and then all at once blew apart—a pile of dry leaves shattered by a breeze, set free to dance in the wind. She’d always been afraid to test the strength of fragile things, but now she knew what lay on the other side: omnipotence.

Two wings minus one

Less one more

Equals zero

Borrowing is not an option

For a negative butterfly 

Her very first poem, recited over a flowerbed grave. 

The peculiar little girl’s father told her she could become anything she wanted, anything at all. What about you, she said. Why did you never think to become anything?   

Choking on Ice            

Our origin story would’ve made a great rom-com scene: he and I sitting across the table from each other in a vintage train car converted into a trendy hotspot diner at two a.m., rolling our eyes at our best friends who’d been drunkenly debating for at least twenty minutes already whether or not it was possible to choke to death on an ice cube. They’d been dating forever, but we weren’t yet. 

He reached for the salt shaker and his elbow toppled his almost empty glass, sending a small tributary of iced tea rushing toward my lap. We both frantically grabbed our napkins and slammed them to the table, stemming the flow at the same time, him leaning forward with his hand pressing down on mine, crushing what remained of his last ice cube against the starburst-patterned tabletop. We’d known each other for a while but we’d never had a moment, never made eye contact like that—my gaze begging him to keep coming across that table, keep pressing more and more of him against me, his heavy-lidded stare promising to hold me down for as long as it took for me to melt. 

When the sun came up, we promised to never share our opinions on the possibility of choking to death on ice, because a few hours earlier that topic had escalated from a debate to a breakup for our best friends. So, of course, it became an instant inside joke for us: “Whatever you do, do not tell me your thoughts about choking to death on ice.” 

He still says it when I get mad at him for ripping open the fifty-pound bag of dog food and leaving the torn away strip on the counter. 

I say it when he tells me if I stopped letting our daughter know that it bothered me when she called me by my first name, maybe she’d start calling me Mom again. 

Standing in the kitchen after dinner I announce I’ve taken a quiz and it turns out my love languages are touch and quality time. I search his eyes for any signs of guilt or shame about where his touch and quality time are going these days. He recites our joke out of habit, his tone too sharp to be funny, but he laughs anyway. 

The retro cocktail shaker in his hands is shaped like a rocket and it gleams under the new pendant lights over the island while he jounces it, to-and-fro, his rhythm progressing from vigorous to violent until the lid flies off and half-ablated bullets of ice ricochet off my chest as cold gin splashes the bananas, runs down onto the mandarins beneath them. Behind him the ice maker dumps fresh cubes into the bin. Water rushes through the thin line to refill the tray, a mundane hum rising to a piercing whine. 

Shelli Cornelison lives in Austin where is she is mostly, sort of, almost coping just fine in this weird timeline. She is pretty sure if she said it was impossible to choke to death on ice, that’s exactly how she would die. Her short fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, The Forge Literary Magazine, and New World Writing. 

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.

Published by poetrybay

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