Flash Fiction by Kathryn Kulpa
Bodies in Motion
Back seat, family car, no air conditioning, blue fake leather. If that old Chevy Malibu still exists, retired in California where our mother said old cars went to die, does it hold some restless ghosts of our bodies still? That car taught us all the ways that bodies could rub and chafe and get in each other’s way, lessons about legs too long to stretch out comfortably without getting into another person’s space, let’s say an older sister’s, two unhappy preteen bodies stuck and sticky, legs in frayed cutoffs fused to hot synthetic seat, arms flopping and dangling, bodies trying every way possible for comfort that would not come: upside down, head hanging off the seat, legs propped on the seat back, bare feet stuffed into the hot and dusty back dashboard, home of dried carcasses of moths and bees. Get your feet out of the windshield! I can’t see behind me! Heaving them out with a rebellious half-whisper: Why do you need to see behind you if you’re going forward? Legs out the window instead, feet waving at passing cars, trying to catch a breeze, my head on the seat and my sister pushing it away from her leg until she gave up and lay the same way, both of us head to head, feet out the windows, You girls know if some car passes too close you could get your feet chopped off? Did we know? Did we care? Reading upside-down, holding books above our heads, paperbacks with spines stretched out, A Laurel-Leaf Book, pages soft and rounded from wear, never new books on these trips but the old ones we read over and over, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins. Too hot to fight, too tired to compete for out-of-state license plate sightings, all we wanted was to disappear into Book World while semis and pickups whooshed around us, a roar we could pretend was the ocean, while our bodies melted into fine Corinthian vinyl, a smooth and depthless blue like the lake we’d been promised, a destination chosen by our parents with inscrutable adult logic, a lake we’d almost lost faith in, knowing the answer would never be yes when we asked: Are we there yet?
Warm on the Vine
He didn’t ask me, we just went. I was walking and he passed me on his bike. It was a day that made you want to go anywhere. Puffball clouds and a sky so hydrangea blue it was like a kid colored it in with a crayon. He turned around, stopped on the side of the road, where gravel gave way to weeds. He looked back at me and I got on, pulling my hair up into a knot. My knees hugging his thighs, arms hooked around his waist. I felt that push of air and we were riding, just like we used to. Like it was all meant to happen that way, the way trees go dead in winter and bud again when it gets warm. Summer was back, and so was he.
I could have rested my head on his shoulder, but I didn’t. The back of his neck was pink and naked, hair so short it stood up like bristles. I guessed it was true what everybody said about military school.
He parked in the shade by Sweet Berry Farm. The back way in, where we used to sneak through bushes to take home baskets of raspberries for free. I never thought of it as stealing. Berries grew wild, and so did we. Pushing our way through thorns. Learning which berries were ready to pick, the ones so ripe they fell into your hand, dark pinky-red like the lipstick I wasn’t old enough to wear but still did. I was too young for anything that summer, and so I did everything. Like I knew it was the only chance I’d get.
“Your old man still hate me?” he asked. “He doesn’t talk about you much, to be honest,” I said. “My brother still says he’s going to kill you, but he’s got two months till parole. I wouldn’t worry yet.”
“I never meant to hurt you,” he said.
What could I say to that? People do harm all the time without meaning to. I thought of the raspberry stains left behind on our hands, our lips, when we used to ride home. How guilty I thought they made us look. How easily they faded. Thought of grass stains on white shorts. I could never wear those shorts again after that. Some stains don’t wash out.
I was breathing in the smell of coming rain at the fireworks in the park when I saw you lying on a blanket with Trish Mason. I could have told you that blanket would be soaked through soon enough. You could say it was a hot night, you could say rain wasn’t in the forecast, but I knew. The grass already looked chilly and damp.
I’ve always hated the Fourth of July. June smells like blooming things but July smells like petrichor. That damp-earth summer smell that meant rain had fallen, or rain was coming, and in our little town, rain always was.
* * *
How many times did we try to escape the Adirondacks? We planned getaway routes since we were old enough to walk, like that time we tied bandannas around tree limbs because I’d seen it in an old Charlie Brown cartoon. We took our hobo packs and headed off down the state highway.
Your mom brought us back. I was grounded for a week. We pinky swore that someday we’d see the wide world together. You threw notes across the fence to my yard, packs of Bubblicious. I promised myself I’d marry you when we grew up.
* * *
You told me you were working Fourth of July. Maybe Trish was your new job. I shouldn’t have come to the park anyway, because, like I said, I hate the Fourth of July. Even though it’s supposed to be the start of summer it already feels like the slide to the end. Like a cicada’s chainsaw buzz in the heat of August somehow tells you winter is on the way. Things get to be the height of themselves, like a peach so ripe you’ve got to eat it that day, and then they fall. When ripeness turns to rot. When ten years of pinky swears turn to lies in one night.
That’s when I knew. I wasn’t going to wait for you any longer. I wasn’t even going to wait for fall. I’d be going on, like I’d always wanted to. You’d be staying, like you wanted to now.
In the morning, everything was packed. Even my junk drawer, with its miniature golf scorecards and ticket stubs and arcade tokens. A pack of Bubblicious had lived there, scenting everything in that drawer with sweet, synthetic strawberry. Now it smelled faintly of dried paper and old dreams.
I left it in your mailbox on my way out of town.
Kathryn Kulpa has work published or forthcoming in Emrys Journal, Pithead Chapel, and No Contact magazine. She is a flash editor at Cleaver magazine and also teaches online writing workshops. She would stay up all night reading if you let her.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.