FAYE BRINSMEAD: Forty Teaspoons of Salt


Flash Fiction by Faye Brinsmead

Crushed

The professor I have a crush on invites me in. His office has grown narrower. There’s a mattress on the floor between ceiling-high bookshelves. Let’s get cozy. He plomps down beside me, pulls a heavy doona over our bodies. It’s sprinkled with wilting daisies, cornflowers, anemones. I imagined being this close. I didn’t think it would be stifling. I turn away, scanning the shelves. Death: A Continental Philosophy Reader. The Hermeneutics of Inherited Trauma. Toward Radical Hospitality. Our upper arms touch, meld. I didn’t think his would be so fleshy. His breathing is heavy and red. It’s too hot under the doona. If I stay, my cell walls will break down. You should get a lighter doona, I say. I grope for the door, which isn’t where it was. Don’t forget your shoes, he says. Now I see he has a whole collection. Stilettos, flats, patent, buckled. They’re lined up under his desk, all pointing toward his empty chair. I leave mine where they are. Creep away barefoot, down a corridor with rows and rows of names on doors. Names that sound nothing like mine.     

Looking-Glass Mangrove

We didn’t quarrel. She withdrew. Built a hut, up on stilts, entangled in looking-glass trees. No idea where the name comes from. They stagger toward sunlight, torqued as ravers. I drop my pack. Towel my sweating face on my sweating elbow. Mom was at the bottom of it, of course. Liana arms entwining her granddaughter. Potter’s rejects, my sister and I. Lumpy, broken-handled cups. Better to start over. Better to wheedle my niece into neediness. After the battle, which she lost, my sister retreated to this northernmost finger of land. Revegetating the mangrove, Dad calls it. Shirking responsibility, Mom calls it. She has a PO box in a flyspeck town, seven hours away by trail and river. Replies to cards with cards. Thank you for the birthday card. I hope you’re well and happy. How many years? I finger-count on sweaty khaki shorts. Nineteen, I think. Above me, the beaded door curtain clinks. All this time I haven’t dared to imagine her face. Hollowed: so much taken, surrendered. But she’s mother to the mangrove now. Age is tugging our features into belated likeness. And beneath it all, our knotty buttress roots. My throat rips, letting in a rush of air. Blood-warm, heavy with rot and birth. We meet in the middle of the ladder. Looking-glass trees lean in.       

Forty Teaspoons of Salt

She knows the stormwater routes by heart, how billions of gallons sluice off roofs, roads, sidewalks, her body in flight, how the surge invades the city’s veins, picking up nitrogen as it goes, zinc copper lead as it goes, brake linings as it goes, stripped Christmas trees as it goes, unmourned cats as it goes, mosaic of scars as it goes, you were warned as it goes, bypassing treatment as it goes, it’s only runoff as it goes, the wetlands will cope as it goes, you know I hate crying as it goes, until the whole mass foams full tilt into brine, seasoned with forty teaspoons of salt, every last grain her body has, and the ocean, despite having no need of her gift, swims hundreds of miles down her ear canals to sing as she wrestles her drowned raincoat, as she shunts her puddled shoes under a bed that isn’t hers, as she goes, wary, to sleep.     

What Fills Felicity

Smiling.

Always smiling.

All her life.

Dead, she smiles still. The curve of her mouth. Sentences her to frozen felicity.

“Felicity,” they christened the smiling motherless child. The first, the only dugong to go viral. In the video, she hugged the marine rescue volunteer. Two bodies wrapped in underwater calm, a rippled jade eternity. Again, again! cried little mouths around the world. Mommies and daddies happily complied. Donations poured in, rescuing her rescuers, keeping the ark afloat. Rocking between dwindling seagrass and dun paddocks, it was hardly a tourist trap. But Felicity put the flipper-shaped strip of land, the one-servo town, the dingy aquarium on the map. Hundreds lined her tank to watch her suckle the bottle, nuzzle into a milk-drooling cuddle.

It couldn’t last. Peg teeth pushed through her gums. Seagrass desires swirled behind her pinhole eyes. She moped, whiffled her muzzle in thin sand, smilingly refused lettuce, wheatgrass, alfalfa.

They set her free, watched her bomble away. Smiling farewell until sun-stippled shallows swallowed her pale nurdle.

Felicity, I didn’t want us to meet like this, I say. Tracing her smile with my surgical glove.

Hello, neither did I, don’t be sad, do what you need to do, I forgive you, her smile says.

I pick up the scalpel, slit her from liver to anus, open her stomach, pull out: shopping bags, picnic cutlery, polystyrene cups, goggles, swimming caps, snorkels, flippers (the human kind), inflatable beach balls, buckets and spades, a cool box, a rubber dinghy, a thirty-mile oil slick, hundreds of miles of seagrassless once-were-meadows where flickering dugong ghosts smile their permanent smiles.

Faye Brinsmead’s writing appears in journals including X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, MoonPark Review, New Flash Fiction Review and Twin Pies Literary. One of her pieces was selected for inclusion in Best Microfiction 2021; another was nominated for a Pushcart. She lives in Canberra, Australia, and tweets @ContesdeFaye.

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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