Flash Fiction by Mary Rohrer-Dann
A Foot in the Door
Typing has nothing to do writing, and farming has nothing to do with what Cassie wants to write about, but the employment agency woman tells her that the job at Farm Wife Journal will give her a “a foot in the door,” and Cassie envisions a huge hairy foot inching open a massive castle-keep door. She signs the contract stipulating she’ll owe the agency a year’s salary if she quits early, which she can’t afford to do because she has hospital bills to pay and tuition money to make so she can finish her degree and get a real job where she’s working with words and ideas or which at least provides some satisfaction and maybe even pays. Cassie is a typing whiz, her fingers fly, but at Farm Wife she’s not typing sentences or words or even letters, she’s typing numbers, and numbers give her hives, they are fire ants crawling down her blouse, roaches skittering across the insides of her eyeballs. But numbers are everything to her boss’s boss, whose impeccable goatee contradicts his wild eyebrows and who wears a black shirt and narrow black tie when he’s about to fire someone. Cassie makes way too many mistakes, uses gallons of Wite-Out on 6-carbon invoices, and Wite-Out, her boss reminds her, isn’t cheap. And then Patrick calls on his lunch hour and says I don’t know if I love you anymore, I don’t know who you are, you’ve changed. He’s changed, not her. (But what does it mean that when he proposed she said, well, I guess so, okay, sure, and wouldn’t let him kiss her? Was it just the new mustache?) And just as the adrenaline surge finally fades, and the numbers stop rioting, he calls back on his afternoon coffee break, sobbing. I’m crazy about you, I can’t live without you. She whispers-screams, Don’t call me anymore at work! and he gets all huffy and hurt-feelings and accuses her of not wanting to work on their relationship, and then the office door opens and there’s the goatee and black tie heading her way and Cassie realizes that being booted out of the castle-keep means a job at McDonald’s for a while, but from now on, she’s choosing the door and she’ll be doing the kicking.
Coming to Terms with the Maere
Old English: mære. . . a malicious entity in . . . folkore that rides on people’s chests while they sleep. (Wikipedia)
Sleep paralysis. . .occurs cross-culturally and includes hallucinations of an evil presence. (NIH)
Today, she plans to clean the apartment or at least straighten it, change the kitty litter, do some laundry, make a few crockpot meals for the week, work a little on Tuesday’s virtual presentation to clients she deplores. Her ex picked up the kids yesterday. They won’t be back until Sunday evening. Maybe later she’ll have a wine-and-movie-zoom date with a friend who is also child-free on Saturday nights. But she is so tired, and what if the boys’ dad decides to drop them off early? He does this more and more, without checking with her, just buzzing the apartment in midafternoon, leaving her to oversee their homework for Monday, not to mention feed and bathe them. It’s barely 11, and already, she is exhausted by the few hours she’s been awake, the stumble to the kitchen to feed the cat, the struggle to make coffee, stir in sugar and cream, hold the mug in her hand, drink. She shuffles to the boys’ room, lugs their hamper to the washing machine, the pinched nerve in her neck flaring. She dumps grass-stained jeans, juice-sticky tee shirts, underwear, and school khakis in together, wishes again that her husband–her ex-husband– would, just once, send the boys home with clean clothes and bellies full of something other than Chuck E. Cheese or McDonald’s. If he’s fed them. He’s moved on, has a new girlfriend who prefers to pretend he doesn’t have kids. He’s starting to pretend, too. The boys know it. The other day she caught the older one kicking at the cat. The little one falters over words he once read easily. Her grief for them, her rage at her ex, at herself for still missing him, sap her. She returns to the bedroom, pulls the curtains against the sharp April sunlight, burrows into covers redolent solely with her own yeasty smell.
A malign, invisible presence shocks her awake. It moves inexorably towards her. This presence has stalked her off and on since childhood, a freaky but harmless genetic quirk. Still, the paralysis and dread it always brings make her feel she is dying. It has taken the form of her mother, her husband, a neighbor she barely knows. Once, even her youngest boy. This time, it is a faceless, shifting figure, a thick malevolence. Murky cold fetters her every muscle. She can’t open her mouth to scream, can barely breathe, can’t even close her eyes against it as it looms closer, closer, crushing her lungs. She fights to breathe, to break the iron weight pinning her down, to throw off suffocation and fully awaken. But, always, she is a shallow bundle of sticks beneath an anvil.
If only she could close her eyes. Please, she thinks, the pressure intensifying, foulness drowning her. Let it be over.
She feels the bed shake, vaguely understands that the cat has leapt beside her, then onto the windowsill above. The curtain flutters, lets in a beam of afternoon light that stripes the pale green walls.
Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the pressure on her chest eases. Like a slow, slow dawn, the chill spools into a gossamer skein of warmth. The menace dissolves, disappears. But this time, something new manifests, something at first more breath than touch. It moves along the nape of her neck, the shells of her ears. It cups her skull, kneads her sore neck, skims forehead, brows, eyelids, cheeks, the underside of her chin. She curls within a luxurious lap, stretches slowly, fingers and toes flexing as the touch travels the insides of her elbows, the hollows of her armpits, backs of her knees. It strokes her palms, her insteps, skates along her shoulders, her throat until she is almost purring.
Later, when she wakens fully, she will feel a resolve, a sense, even, of possibility, which vanished when her marriage broke apart. Maybe, instead of Netflix tonight, she’ll go to the museum, which just resumed its free Saturday evening concerts. She’ll go with or without her friend. First, she’ll finish the boys’ laundry and change the cat’s litter. That will be enough for the housework. She’ll pick up some ready-made meatballs and sauce at the market and put it on simmer Sunday afternoon for the boys while she works on the presentation.
But for now, the world beyond her eyelids glows golden. The warm air is her body, her body is the warm air, a depthless pool of sunlight.
Mary Rohrer-Dann is author of Taking the Long Way Home, (Kelsay Books 2021), and La Scaffetta: Poems from the Foundling Drawer (Tempest Productions, Inc., 2011). Recent work appears in Ekphrastic Review, Potato Soup Journal, Indiana Review, Raven’s Perch, Orca, Clackamas Review, Philadelphia Stories, Panoply, & elsewhere. A “graduated” educator, she paints, hikes, and volunteers with Rising Hope Therapeutic Stables, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Ridgelines Language Arts. She is past writing a sexy bio.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.