GARY FINCKE: I was posted like a crate of nails

Flash Fiction by Gary Fincke

                              Where Boys Waited for His Daughter

Just inside the front door, standing mute and still and looking anywhere but at his face.

On the porch, like a delivery boy, like what he was carrying was light but awkward.

In his driveway, inside a car, the window rolled down, the motor running, speaker bass vibrating.

Across the street, shadowed until he cupped his hands to light a cigarette.

A block away, the car radio muted, headlights extinguished.

Outside of town, in a public park she drove to in his car

In a dorm room at the local college

Inside an apartment walking distance from campus.

Where lurking unseen was possible.

Where he might be deciding, if she was alone, whether to act or only imagine.

Where there was a boy who thought he had waited long enough for what he wanted.

Wherever the father wished himself, but could not be.

[FW1] 

 Hansel

Drainage pipes had been set in place to accommodate the demands of sixty new families in the housing plan being built behind Terry’s street. Hardly any houses were finished, and none of them were occupied, so those huge pipes, not yet in use, looked to him like adventure.

The model home that had been built before any of the lots were sold was unlocked from nine to five. “That’s for the wives of men who wear suits to work,” his father said. “In a few years, those women will want a bigger house, and then they’ll be gone and people like us will live in what they leave behind.” When Terry said nothing, his father added, “You’ll stay out of those pipes if you know what’s good for you.”

What Terry did, at first, was crawl only until one pipe connected to another larger one. He knew that the pipes would intersect and grow wider until there were only the two he could see from the narrow back road his father used as a short cut home. They gaped high up on the hillside above the Flats, where houses were neither new nor nice. “Those folks in the Flats, they’ll barely notice. That creek down there floods every house come March. Some unlucky day, a few will get swept away.”

Soon, Terry crabwalked through the larger storm drains, pretending to be following a tunnel to where treasure had been hidden centuries ago. “One of those old mine shafts down there by the Flats is going to swallow a boy someday,” his father said the next time they took the short cut. As if he was Hansel’s smarter cousin, Terry started to drop small stones while he crawled. Now he would never get lost.

One afternoon, as if his mother were taking a tour, Terry sat on the black-and-white zigzag-patterned couch inside the model home. He watched two women brush their fingertips over the slick Braille of appliances before they parted the gold and green patterned drapes as if they loved the view of construction and rain. When the house, at last, stood empty, he opened the refrigerator, but all the packages and boxes inside were empty.

Afterward, he crabwalked far enough to nearly stand. There was light ahead, hazy with heavy rain lit up repeatedly by lightning. He felt water swirling past and over his shoes and made sure to stop a few feet before the pipe ended. He wanted to sit, but the water ran ankle high now. For what seemed like a long time, he kept his arms spread, each hand pressing against a rounded wall.

When, at last, the rain stopped, Terry took two small steps, just far enough to see the Flats below him, a few back yards full of old tires, abandoned cars, and a scattering of swing sets and slides. He wasn’t close enough to the pipe’s end to see the hill drop so steeply beneath him he thought he would fall almost to the Flats, landing on the narrow road unless the undergrowth of scrubby trees and bushes caught him, all that thorny, jagged crap that he couldn’t name, stuff that seemed like it would never grow high enough to block the mouth of the pipe.

Terry turned, ready to retrace his path, and there was enough light for him to notice how a patch of small stones had collected where he’d been standing, enough that he knew the geography of the buried pipes must have been scrubbed by the rushing water. He remembered that the last turn had been an angled left. The next Y might have split in either direction.

He began to sweat and swear his mild, fourth-grade oaths like “damn” and “hell” and “shit” until he could hear his father saying, “Shut up and think for a minute,” and he did, listening as if the world in the dark ahead of him was a house larger than any he’d ever been inside. “This way,” he said to himself when he came to each choice. All he had to do was make sure the pipes grew smaller until he needed to crawl.

                    Years Later, the Once-Famous Mailed Girl Tells her Story

For sure, not many children have been mailed, but, true story, I was posted like a crate of nails.

Listen, it’s not that hard to imagine. Parcel post, that year, had a limit of fifty pounds, plenty of room for fitting a small child. Of course, I had to be weighed while the postmaster watched. My mother held her breath until the scale balanced at forty-eight and a half even with my shoes on.

After I was dressed to ship, my mother held me still as the stamps were stuck to my coat. “Only fifty-three cents,” she said, her voice sounding the way it did when she brought me along to shop for bargains.

The boxcar clamped its jaws around me. Five years-old, arranged among the baggage, everything inside me seemed tightly gift-wrapped. Soon, I felt the folds in my heart set like wrinkles in laundry too long untended. Right then, I wished I was bagged, my shame travelling like a toothbrush, underwear, and a change of clothes.

At last, I remembered to breathe, nobody in that windowless, rolling house but me and the quiet clerk. Fear changed the large trunk I sat upon into a coffin, but I mastered the art of screaming to myself. Parcel post, I repeated for miles, trying to match the rhythm of anything I could hear until it slowed and stopped.

When I was handed down from the train, my lips were so tightly creased my grandfather ran one finger over them as if he was feeling for stitches. My grandmother murmured her breath upon my face to unlock me.

Take my word for it, I was the last, not the first child to be mailed. Go ahead. Look it up. There were babies posted in Ohio and Pennsylvania, both delivered safely, too. The weight limit, then, was twenty pounds. Understand now? When it was raised, my mother requested the price, comparing it to sending me as a passenger.

Like me, those babies have grown old, but they don’t recall anything but what they’ve been told. I’m the only one who remembers being stamped to prove I belonged among the packages, the only one whose journey forced a law forbidding her mother’s thrift.

Two men wrestled that trunk to the station platform, the weight of it bringing their breath to a boil of grunts. When my grandfather carried me past its bulk, I didn’t say a word about imagining it a coffin because I was sure I could hear the terrified, muffled cry of someone large and smuggled.

Gary Fincke’s short fiction collections have won the Flannery O’Connor Prize (Sorry I Worried You) and the Elixir Press Fiction Prize (The Killer’s Dog). His flash fiction has appeared recently in Wigleaf, Craft, Pithead Chapel, Atticus Review, Ghost Parachute, and Best Small Fictions 2020.

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

Published by poetrybay

Flash Boulevard is a product of Poetrybay.com, since 2000 a flagship online poetry publication.

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