Flash Fiction by Ron Burch
Grief Swaggers into Your House
Grief swaggers into my disheveled house and kicks over my bookcase. It beats up the pillows and whispers terrible things in my ear to wake me in the dark. It grabs at my insides, long, hard fingers clawing them out. It crashes on our sagging couch and eats his large television. It teases me with redemptive books and quickly flings them across the room. It eases its hazy arm around me when that one sad song plays, playing it over and over and over until I bury my ears. Grief sits and weeps for a reason even it doesn’t know.
The chair is empty.
The chair is empty.
I look at it.
It is still empty.
The clock ticks on my screen. I don’t hear it.
Grief, or G, as I refer to it, had been lingering in the kitchen, staring into the pantry, waiting for me. We eyed each other but then it vanished. I don’t know why it even considers the pantry. It doesn’t eat food. Now, to my surprise, it’s gone.
Someone knocks on my door. Must have left it open after I took out the trash. Through the crack I see my downstairs neighbor. The only time he ever spoke to me in the lobby he mentioned that he owned seven blue tracksuits in the same color. He’s wearing one now. I see him and raise my hand. Hey.
He tentatively pushes open my apartment door.
I’m only glad to have it away from me.
Hey, he replies. He stands in the doorway, the door against his right shoulder.
Sometimes it won’t leave me alone, curling itself around me like a hot blanket.
He glances down at the floor as if he’d just lost his keys.
Your eyes are red.
Time of the year, I reply. He nods but he doesn’t get it.
He looks around, feeling it, feeling that something seems to be missing although he can’t quite place what.
When I first met G, it punched me in the face, really walloped me, sending me gasping, to my knees, aching for breath. I hadn’t been hit that hard since high school. I hadn’t been ready for it. I had answered the phone and it sucker punched me. It danced around me, pummeling me on the back of my head, my lower back.
The neighbor nods at me. I nod back. I don’t think either of us remembers the other’s name.
G moved in, an unwanted roommate. I couldn’t get it to leave. I’m not the cleanest individual, but it wrecked the house. That’s why I ventured out finally. It’d been a few weeks. The garbage had been piling up in the kitchen, the sour smell swirling around the apartment, a rank mix of sauerkraut, eggs, and something I couldn’t identify, something that had gotten away.
House is looking good, my neighbor says, nodding at the living room. I had managed to get the dirty plates off the floor, the soiled red blanket thrown behind the couch.
Even though it wasn’t here right now, my neighbor could feel it. Or the lack of it. I could tell. His forehead was sweaty, his face, red and meaty, from climbing the stairs of our walk-up. I don’t really know him. See him around the building. Smile, say hi. He’s married and has two kids and a bull terrier. They’ve lived below us for the last several years. I always worried that we were too noisy for them.
You okay? he asks.
Last night had been a bad night. I broke some glasses and fell over a chair.
Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks. Clumsy.
Yeah, he replies, nodding, me too.
I open the door and offer him a beer.
No, he says. He shakes his head. I should get back home. We’re making dinner.
Oh right, I say. Without thinking, I look over to the kitchen. From where we stand in the doorway, we both can see the pile of dishes staggered across the counter, filling the sink.
I turn back to him and smile. No glasses, but I have two cold ones in the fridge.
He nods. You know, you should come over some time for dinner.
Yeah, I’ll, uh, talk to my wife and we’ll figure out a night.
Great! I nod. Thanks.
He walks to the stairs and descends, stopping a few steps later, his lower half cut off. You know, I could take a beer. He smiles nervously.
I pause and tell him that I forgot that I had a friend coming over.
Okay. I’ll talk to my wife, and we’ll settle on a date for dinner. As he descends, the last thing I see is his waving hand. I close the door, locking it twice behind me.
The pantry, its door flung open, a sideways mouth, empty, and then the other chair, empty. It’s gone and I know it’s gone. I didn’t know it could hurt even more.
It’s left a hole within a hole, and I regret knowing that. I sit down in my chair and try not to wait for it.
Sometimes They Come in Three, Sometimes More
I don’t know what to do. They just stand around. Always in the way. I turn and one of them’s in the pantry. I understand. It’s been a bad couple months. But more came. They’re filling up my place. I’m squeezing past them in my hallway. Every time I do laundry, ten of them gather around the dryer. They spend the day, riding each other around the apartment, following me as a group. I can’t tell if they like each other or not. The worst part are the group hugs. Grief howls. Sometimes you can get lost in its cries.
Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, Mississippi Review, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His new novel, JDP, comes out in 2021 from BlazeVox books. He lives in Los Angeles.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.