Flash Fiction by Meg Pokrass
After the SIDS Tragedy on the Eight Floor
The baby is standing. They call it orthostasis, I remind Stan. This boy is our pole. Stan, his large nose and floppy smile—agrees and tries not to yell. He squeezes us for a while, then squeezes petite glasses of fresh orange juice. We sip, sip, sip and we watch our son grow.
Since the SIDS tragedy on the eighth floor, we are like half-bitten apples, but sometimes we were whole. There are his large thriving legs, Stan says, and there are his bounteous arms. There is wholeness here every day when we feed the boy, the boy who asks nosy questions now that his words can parachute out of his round pink lips. How will I die? he wants to know, this is his favorite question. He can see how it makes us do tricks.
The boy asks it every night. He weans on it. Or maybe he asks it in the recurring dream. The large son never features in these dreams. We have a house at the beach, Stan and I, left to us by dead relatives. There are jellyfish all over the sand, blue-green and purple, my favorite colors. At first it’s like Christmas, like a stocking-gift species from the other side of the world.
Our large little boy always feels fragile and new, just like when he could only gurgle and move his eyes back and forth.
How dark his eyes are, Stan said.
Not their final color, I reminded him. This was before SIDS came to the eight floor.
The sagittal plane bisects our son’s body. We can watch him from many angles. His wholeness, his Adam’s apple, the poles of his arms.
Lie, I tell Stan. Tell him anything.
I’m always thinking about SIDS. It ignites my days, makes them glow too hot— the feeling that we are the captain of our own minutes. We feed the large boy, we watch him grow in many directions. We see the man he will be. Like the parenting books suggest, we lie to him about everything.
When he asks us how he will die, we say that he will be a ninety-five-year-old great-grandfather. When he asks us why we don’t go to church anymore, we tell him that God lives inside us. We are a small family of legs and arms and souls, my husband says, with the frenzy of a dying man who has been churching his fingers into steeples and finding them empty.
Back on the Chain Gang
A charming worry
Don’t worry about me, I say. I say this to people who don’t. Ten thousand dreams away and lots of quick-serve Yorkshire puddings, and there’s nothing to worry about. Stuck in a house with a silent human and a silent dog and nothing to fret over.
I have a friend nearby, likewise stuck in a house. Stuck in a house with a dog and no woman. She was the break in his battle, he’s back on the chain gang.
If I walked over to his house, unlocked his door and freed him, would it help? Hello, I might say, I have a spare key. I might even tell him that the real him is locked inside the other him.
Today my attempts at conversation have festered. Okay. Or we’re sitting on a train going nowhere, silent. These are the circumstances.
Pictures of Men Like You
There’s a picture of you after you made me feel like a pigeon from hell, but I’ve thrown you out.
Thirty years ago means nothing to me now, I’m back on the chain gang. And there was that day, early in our marriage, when I looked in the mirror and saw my old face. Saw me old, way back then.
There are these powers that be, that bring me to my knees. This is the sad mask I live with now.
Stains and distrust
We met my mother over dinner. As if we’d been poring over a Chinese menu of potential sons-in-law until we found the one she could sample forever. How she smiled into your eyes. How she doted on you.
I owned hardly any dresses and blouses without stains, and I knew how your parents distrusted me—Jewish, funny and poor. But in bed with you I had everything, your face on mine feeling like the kind of animal no scientist has cut open and studied.
Changing pictures of you
I find these pictures of you and they keep changing. First a picture of you, and then a picture of the other you, and now it’s a picture of you again but it’s the one who stopped loving me.
Way back then my friends got worried: me cooking East Indian lentil stew, you saying it needed more ginger or garlic or salt, or tasted too dry or chewy. That’s how it began. They stopped coming over.
The you who stopped loving me had these interesting ideas about spicing things. All I needed to do was to wake up and float through the house, descend into some frivolous outfit like a fruit fly.
Insects and Now
There’s this place in the past that reminds me of why I feel sick when I see what the world did to us. I die standing here today staring at the bright leafy day, knowing that nothing I see here will bring back those days when I had the original picture of you in my life, the you that’s stuck in my camera.
I’m on the train with the gang, and the living room is full of encyclopedias. I open one up, and it brings me to my knees.
Under “Control Measures” there’s a description of noxious insects, but nothing about how I could never do things the way you wanted. Nothing about how you and I were an ‘episode’, that is, “an incident occurring before or after a previous one”. You were never my break in the battle, but part of a prescribed order of events.
Meg Pokrass is the author of eight flash fiction collections, an award-winning collection of prose poetry, Light Book Award in 2020. Her work has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Electric Literature, Washington Square Review, Waxwing, Smokelong Quarterly, McSweeney’s and her work has been included in many international anthologies of the form including New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018), Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015), Nothing Short Of, Fog and Light, Flash Fiction Funny, the Wigleaf Top 50, and The Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019. She serves as Founding Co-Editor, along with Gary Fincke, of Best Microfiction. Find out more at megpokrass.com.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.