Flash Fiction by Sara Fetherolf
This is the season girls go missing, sleeping in beds not their own.
One bolts awake, speaking a dead language. One is drinking bad wine from the bottle in a floodwater parking lot. She raises her collar like wolf hackles against the cold.
The band paid one to lie in a beautiful coffin all Halloween night as they played their show, red-nailed hands crossed neat over the heart. She is bleeding on schedule, & she is silent. Her black lace dress won’t show a stain.
One is the moon, who travels the sorcery road this time of year. One is a heart, & one is a red nail. One is the key to her mother’s old house. She will bleed when she’s set in a lock without permission. She is on schedule, silent.
One is taking a shortcut between towns when the radio cuts out—then in the after-hiss, her own voice wobbles through, asking a question she can’t pick up. The freaked flare of a fox splits the road—she swerves too fast & catches a skid—the high school’s lit sign whips by (TIME MANAGEMENT CLASSES).
This is the way—snow bends into star—the road unfolds, opens, becomes, suddenly, full of girls. Their eyes, multiplicitous in the dark windshield, are flames/ keys/ hers, suspended mid-swerve.
Then just as quick, the wheel is back in her control; the road beneath her; animal safe on the other side. The static cuts in, spangled & talismanic: her own heart, thrumming.
The voice is gone. She waits to hear it again.
A woman is cleaning out her closet. She has read articles about this task, which advise making piles and sorting into categories. Finally, you will see it all clearly, the articles have told her. You will keep only what you love.
I say a woman when what I mean is me. In fact, I am a little resentful at myself for saying woman at all, when I have no reason I should be gendered like that—except for the pile of old dresses I am moving from the rack, and how all the advice about cleaning and sorting is written with women in mind.
Will there ever be a version of me who keeps only what I love? I am saving too much, the way I always have, since the beginning—which is to say, since sometime in the late 1980s, when words started forming in my brain, attaching like water molecules to other water molecules to make a liquid, a river, a string of this and this and this rushing toward the sea. Since then, I have always been cleaning out this closet, which I box and carry whenever I move homes, shoving to the back my small church shoes & the coin purse my grandmother gave me, rearranging my first earrings for pierced ears, the red skirt I lost my virginity in, and my wedding dress with the sweat stains impossible to get out of white silk.
It is spilling out into the room: the dresses, the shoes, the grandmother-gifts, the things I have kept as a record, as proof I am whatever it is I am, ill-fitting and thrifted as the signifiers may be. And I am thinking, now, about how when I was twelve & lonely & a girl who was more adventurous than girls were supposed to be, I told my mother I needed space to myself—meaning the world, I needed the world, the whole entire thing, and permission to go out into it alone.
How all that day, in the long low-ceilinged storage closet, she cleaned, and she sorted, and she brought in little chairs & milkcrates & her own old record player, and she made me a space at the back, to be my own. How I crouched and went inside, clenching the misunderstanding between my teeth.
It is spilling out into the room: all the material, empty, shaped like pieces of my body. All it carries: skin cells, smoke particles, sunblock streaks. The smell of detergent or old perfume. How it all feels, somehow, like part of the same misunderstanding, as I hold the pieces against me in the mirror, deciding what to keep.
It is spilling out; it spills: clothes, shoes, lipstick, milkcrates, coin purse—and then I am at the back of it, with the radiator pipes hissing hissing this this this like a river on its way to the sea. How it is always and never arriving.
Body made of doll eyes, blinking and opening. Body made of pretty green flies. Wings eaten away, and a face like the FeeJee Mermaid—that how-could-this-have-happened yawp.
Today the park is full of noisy mortals: stoners & lovers & kids off for the summer. It’s enough to make you want to lie down on the pavement and wait for them to leave.
One day last spring, I asked aloud how long robins live. I wanted to know if it was the same birds that came back, year in & out, & J was sweet enough to whip out his phone & google it for me: “But it’s a sad answer.”
What a quick-thinking machine July is: pushing its weedroots into cracks in the sidewalk, opening, gnawing, going obsolete. The world is laid out like an enchanted supper, spiced with briars & sunlight falling as if through misshapen windowglass. July has all the answers, & I am among the unfortunates, who cannot stay still long enough to hear them. Robin Half-Skull makes the song of a hundred flywings bumping against each other. A baby cries in their stroller, & in the direction of the zoo, something that used to be wild is gnashing its teeth. Someone should be cataloging this.
Today the park is full of us noisy reliquaries, us mortals, who carry the atoms of ancient sacrifice, the necks that were slit & hands that were set tidy over sternums, the bead strands made to adorn the burial boats. Is this the way the robins know how to come back—how an egg knows to crack, or flies figure out where to congregate? The same way we might know how to get here from a great distance, even though we’ll only live long enough to do it once?
This rotpatch on the sidewalk knew it. He came here the way we all came to this summer day, crossing over great distances by instinct. By will. By the atoms of those who were turned to blood, poured into the ground to satisfy the harvest.
Do they know it worked, that we’re still arriving?
July knows. It salivates for the next bite.
Sara Fetherolf (she/they) is the author of Via Combusta, winner of the 2021 New American Press Poetry Prize, forthcoming October 2022. Their story, “The Place” was the 2021 Iron Horse Long Story award winner. She has an MFA from Hunter College, and is currently a PhD candidate at USC.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.