Flash Fiction by MICHAEL MINASSIAN
UP ON THE ROOF
Raphael spent his nights on the roof of his apartment watching the lights of the city. From that height, he could see into the windows of the block of flats across the street. Many nights, he saw a young woman sitting in an open window. Once he waved to her although she seemed not to see him.
On the pavement below the apartment was a ragged patch of green, mostly brown in the summer, and, in the winter, a grayish mound of snow pocked with fast food wrappers and empty beer bottles.
One day when Raphael was coming home from school late, he heard a commotion as he was crossing the street. Looking up, he saw a girl, seeming to fly, her white skirt billowing like a parachute, as she plummeted towards Raphael. Without thinking, he ran and opened his arms wide, catching the girl, both of them tumbling to the pavement, bruised but otherwise unhurt.
“Why weren’t you on the roof?” she asked, “I grew so sad. Then when I saw you below, I couldn’t wait, so I jumped.”
“I’m glad,” said Raphael and took her in his arms again. “We don’t ever have to be apart again.”
“Thanks for catching me,” Maria whispered in his ear.
“Just one thing,” Rafael whispered back, “teach me how to fly.”
A week later, Rafael and Maria launched themselves off the roof of the apartment. On the sidewalk below, startled passers-by watched as they rose higher and higher until they were mere specks in the sky.
Rose was born in a small village in Armenia in 1896. She was the youngest child and was named Zahig, which means flower, but her name was unpronounceable to the officials at Ellis Island, so she was called Rose after she came to America. In the old country, she had twice escaped death by hiding in the hills near her home, and it was she who taught me to love two things in nature: wolves and water.
When Rose was only a few months old, the Turks wiped out a neighboring village. Fearing the worst, her mother wrapped her in a woven blanket and carried her in a basket up into the hills just as the sun was rising. From up above the village, she could see a cloud of dust approaching from the west. She reached a stand of pine trees on the crest of the hill and left the basket behind a large rock. A bottle of milk and another bottle of water lay within easy reach inside the basket.
That night a wolf found Rose and slept curled around the basket. In the morning, she brought her cubs to see Rose, and all day they played near the basket, returning to their den only after the sun had set. But the wolf remained with the girl-child for she knew that bears and lions and other creatures would eat this baby. When Rose’s mother climbed the hill the next day she saw the wolf standing over the basket and spoke to the wolf in its own language, thanking it for protecting her baby.
Below in the village, the Turks had come and gone, burning the farmers’ fields and stealing two babies, one a neighbor of Rose’s family. As Rose grew, she would often climb the hill and play with the wolf cubs. When she was ten, the wolves gave her a fine coat of fur that kept her warm in the winter and seemed to grow longer as she grew taller.
A few years later, Rose married a young man from her village and became pregnant. Her husband was taken away by the Turks and was never seen again. The child was born dead. Rose took the tiny corpse to the hilltop and buried it with her wedding ring as the wolves watched and howled their mourning.
In 1915, the Turks returned, this time slaughtering whole families: Rose’s mother and father, four grandparents, three brothers, one sister, an infant child. Their names are known only to me and the descendants of the wolves to whom they were told.
Rose and her cousin, George. escaped to the hills; wrapped in the wolf cloak, they marched hundreds of miles through the desert. Others were killed and raped along the way, but the soldiers were afraid of the wolf skin, and so left the two alone.
The trek lasted forty days and forty nights; the only water available what they could buy or beg from passing Bedouins. Arriving finally in Deir-Ez-Zor on the banks of the Euphrates, Rose was taken in by a French doctor and his family. George lived in one of the refugee camps until Rose saved enough money to pay for both their passages to America. Wrapped in her wolf’s cloak, she spent almost the entire voyage on deck gazing at the ocean and sipping glass after glass of water.
At Ellis Island the cousins were separated again, and George was placed in the care of distant relatives who had lost their son on the purple plains of Asia Minor. Rose went to live with an uncle who had immigrated to Boston before the massacres began. There she met my grandfather who had lost his own wife and son to the genocide.
Together they walked in the moonlight, holding hands and whispering of wolves and water and the dead. Forty years later when I slept tucked between them, Rose would wake up in the middle of the night and drink glass after glass of water. Grandfather and I would also awake then and watch her wash away the thirst of the desert and time.
“Sleep,” she said, and I would dream the dreams of wolves.
Michael Minassian is a Contributing Editor for Verse-Virtual, an online magazine. His chapbooks include poetry: The Arboriculturist and photography: Around the Bend. His poetry collections Time is Not a River, Morning Calm, and A Matter of Timing are all available on Amazon. For more information: https://michaelminassian.com
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.