LAUREL BENJAMIN: Barnacles of the Divine

Flash Fiction by Laurel Benjamin

Instruction Book for Working at A&W

At 6 a.m. I leave to catch the N-Judah. We call it “The Worm” because its belly snakes along the tracks as if it needs no nourishment, taking a full hour to arrive at Union Square. I serve the masses at A&W, including a rock promoter in a shiny tan leather jacket with epaulets, eyes glazed mornings when he orders our version of an Egg McMuffin. Like a sacrament, he takes the tray from my hands, touches my fingertips. Promises me a seat at the next show. The managers make us wear stockings and a skirt that falls just below the knee. I’m empty to the bone making sugar free root beer floats just for myself. And by the time I hop out the front door into the touristed street my fields are bare, stockings torn– no community, just belly full sounds of cable car ding, the flowerman hawking blooms, and the business crowd on their afternoon break. I’ll be home by 4, even if I dive into the Chinese bakery on 24th and Irving. No book could instruct me on how to fill my hunger with egg custard. 

Barnacles of the Divine

Washed to shore, my arms are unidentifiable from wood once tree branches. I crane my neck erosion of limestone cliffs laid out horizontally, a likeness of my father’s square lips, square glasses, and the way he talked while clearing his throat. After he died, my mother stuffed his clothing in boxes and I took his robe—synthetic, creased, red and black checked, flattened the arms to compress. They warned me I couldn’t make it arm lengths across the ocean computed by a mathematician and printed in the local paper. And as I stroked, my arms cutting like oars into the sharp crests, I knew the math was wrong. And here I am. This sand of crushed rock burning my sores, while spurs of anemones cover my swimsuit. If not for the swim cap, if not for silt sandbagged in my armpits, I’d be pummeled. Out there one night, I swear I saw a tortoise, where in my grief, it became miniature horse. In the middle of the ocean. The undertow called my name, showed me the place where my father and I would meet, somewhere between. Yet now, I can’t taste anything but salt on my lips, and if I had to, I couldn’t tow a lowly eel who feeds on fish from the inside. Yes, I’ll survive, I tell myself. Even as the sun yellows my knuckles and my shoulders snake into a place built around me— It doesn’t require closed eyes. I can’t picture my father’s death because I didn’t see it happen. Those ripples and what held the family together. I keep saying goodbye on this shore, I need divination to be found yet hear no one above. I talk to the dead, warm in this sand room as my knees erupt and I wonder about edema as my knees swell as hope diminishes of a boat arriving and even then, will they cast my bones or will they crack first. Rain obscures the horizon. I through clenched teeth see the solid wall of dark green rise up. Could I walk into the sea again to find the place between. Could I push through bright yellow green algae with its glowing skirts.

The Sun Did Not Offer Refreshments

No one knew the sun intimately, did not expect a rocking chair and mint juleps when calling impromptu at the flashy lemon multi-story house. And after all, our stomachs already bulged from the fried eggs we’d eaten for breakfast along with black-hole pudding and biscuits brushed with milk before baking, all washed down with black tea, residue left on the china, so we didn’t hunger for any repast, and anyhow, the sun did not install ceiling fans to ward away the heat. Then we read in the papers she peeled off like a decal and pasted herself on the earth. Yet we couldn’t see the ablation of wheat fields, nor dust and gas becoming stars and planets. Photographers saw it all as through a pinhole camera, accustomed to the infinite. We must have been in disbelief at the sun’s inhospitality, her sudden change in appearance, or we would have thought more of these events. Like farmers and shop keepers we too were less accustomed to calderas than climbers and scientists and West Coast-ers of our continent, who read the seasons by the cepheid variable whose light pulsates in a regular cycle, a recipe where brightness relates to fluctuating ions. We knew chaos meant what’s broken, as we tried to hold hands, standing in a circle, but we never heard of chasma so couldn’t describe a planetary canyon, not like a regular dip in the earth. It would take a conjunction to convince us but even witnessing the two objects together in 2020 in a celestial act didn’t make the baker get up before the sun.

Laurel Benjamin is a San Francisco Bay Area native, where she invented a secret language with her brother. She has work forthcoming or published in Lily Poetry Review, South Florida Poetry Journal, Burningword, Eunoia, Trouvaille Review, One Art, Ekphrastic Review, Fourth River, Black Fox, Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry, among others. Affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and Ekphrastic Writers, she holds an MFA from Mills College. She is a reader for Common Ground Review and has been featured in the Lily Poetry Review Salon.

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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