Best of Flash Fiction, April 2011

Flash fiction, like any genre (blurred or not), works well as an homage. Or as a reworking. In fact this week’s story is a flash “remix” of original material from Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas. The lovely juxtapositions that Roth comes up with here make for jarring and stunning reading — a perfect short-form work.

Have something you’ve cut up? Been dying to share your work? Send it to [email protected] and I’ll get back to you (whether I accept your work or not) with a few comments. — Lyle Rosdahl


“Only If We Had Lived Here” by Forrest Roth

That time I’d caught Dad standing in the hearth so mad with an iron poker he’d be shrieking later in my sleep. It was a bird he couldn’t scare free. Mom began groaning lamentations and he snapped at her, both already balding. Daylight fell down the chimney. Chirrups raining like curses. I remember this since it was the first body I knew was coming.

Dad made me watch while he struck fire. He stood the burn. The bird flew smacking its beak against his feet on the floor. For a couple hours, I called it Peepsy. It had a sty over its right eye — bright yellow, swollen, bloated flush-shut. Imagining.

With time still for atonement, Mom quoted scripture. She always found Leviticus for us all.

No one could say who started the makeshift graveyard. Swear it wasn’t me. I’d see it through my bedroom window until I realized what it was. Then Dad put my dog and lizards in. Peepsy. No ferrets. A kid went there to bury his goldfish. He didn’t come back for hours and they found him in the reservoir, long abandoned, miring for endless escape.

In the evenings I’d want an ocean approaching, but it was six hours of manhole sludge after a downpour. Dirt got soft and loamy, fat with earthworms. I made a boy eat one. Told him to shut up because there wasn’t any playground.

Street number 624. The last square. Dim cul-de-sac few pretty cousins ever visited. Initials in cement — great for skinning knees. One kidney bean-shaped pool drowning: Deveraux. Four heart attacks and two-and-a-half strokes. Greer Carson Prentice Kurtzweiler Henderson McMichael in this order. Beasley survived his thing. The telephone wires were working that day. And the in-ground sprinklers.

On weekends I avoided communion. Dad in his only Sunday suit saw me come home and spat. He threw my baseball into the sewer.

The cold flutter stayed in my lungs, spread out.

I’d given a neighbor’s kid a piece of my birthday cake, then when he took a bite I told him he was going to die from poison. Yellow batter, orange frosting. My favorite. Dad confiscated my videotape collection, deluxe Swiss Army knife, my hamster Godzilla. A 1982 Topps Don Mattingly Rookie. Near-mint. I climbed up into my bunk bed with some cold metal bauble in hand.

Brown August days were for watching Dad try working the Volvo in our driveway. No amount of wrench fixed it. He came inside to Mom and fastened the knob. But the damp drywall didn’t stop anything. Those, I thought, were their wet heads.

My best pencil drawing of me on top of a girl.

Dad coughed emphysema. So Mom had to warn me about spreading diseases.

No, not really. If she was there with me she was malformed, a phantom pre-teen. Some name carved into the boy’s bathroom stall marble at Catholic school. Tan in her underwear. A thousand thin blonde fingers, now diving, now undersea, now sneaking up my back, now with the waters. I swam to kiss her face. I forgot her.

Crawling into bed between Mom and Dad.

That was once how quieter evenings had started, but I wouldn’t be sure we were nowhere talking to each other in our sleep.

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