For this week’s Friday Fiction, I am posting my story that semi-finaled and received an Honorable Mention in the WOW! Fall Flash Fiction Contest.
Three Inches Closer
Micah awoke in the dining room. The house hummed loudly of a hundred murmured conversations all bleeding together. It made her ears buzz and her head feel cloudy.
Though she couldn’t recall where she had been in the moments before, she found herself staring at the deep pink freckles of a Stargazer lily bouquet displayed on the buffet server. The obnoxious fragrance exploded in Micah’s face, clinging to her like a plastic bag held over her head. Her heart quickened and she became fearful of the blooms; their orange pistils seemed to reach out as if to strike her. They wanted to steal her breath—punish her for something. She imagined smashing the vase to the floor and crushing the lilies under her feet.
Instead, Micah opened the top drawer that held Mama’s silver set. Her knuckles brushed against the velvet lining as she removed a serving spoon. She stood captivated by her inverted reflection in its shiny bowl, stretching her face like a melting monster. Finally, she slid the spoon into her pocket and disappeared out the back door.
The steady rain pelted her back as she pried up the corner of lattice board on the wraparound porch, her secret entrance to her private oasis. As Micah squeezed through the opening, the black tulle that lined her dress tore, its scrappy ribbon dragging behind her in the dirt. She didn’t notice.
Ironically, in the dim and dank crawlspace, Micah was finally able to breathe. She sat cross-legged next to her box of prized possessions: a parrot feather, a robin’s vacated egg shell, a fossil she found in the creek bed. Inconsequential things to anyone else, but the familiarity of them in her hands calmed her.
She flinched as the screen door above her screeched open, and its weathered spring drew it violently back into the doorframe. And then again. The creaking footfalls above her caused small puffs of dust to rain down on Micah. She heard them settle into the porch swing where Mama always sat, followed by the gritty sound of a match being struck.
“Thanks for the light,” a woman said.
“No problem,” an equally unfamiliar man replied.
Disappointed, Micah returned to inventorying her memory box.
“Did you know her well?” he asked.
“Vaguely. I’ve worked with her husband, Jack, for a few years now. She tried this last fall, too.”
Absently, Micah crushed the delicate, speckled shell in her hand.
“Mmm,” Micah heard the extended exhale of smoke, “and a couple years before that. It was really just a matter of time.”
Micah drew the spoon from her pocket and began to scoop the dirt floor.
“Jeez, poor guy.”
“Yeah, but I think my heart breaks most for their kids,” she paused, “especially the girl. Ya know…she found her.”
Her hands began to tremble, but Micah dug more furiously.
“For the love of…”
“Oh, yeah. Came home from school and found her in bed. Poor kid lost her mind and climbed under the covers next to her mom…Jack came home and found em’ both covered in blood.”
Micah thought she could smell the lilies again, suffocating her.
“I heard the blood soaked all the way through the mattress. At first he thought they were both dead, but the little girl was just catatonic from the shock.”
She began to hum and rock on her knees; Micah stabbed the spoon as deep as she could with her left hand, and paddled the dirt away with her right.
“Well, that’s why they’re having the funeral ten days later—Jack had to have her hospitalized and medicated. She’s still not really talkin’.” Exhale.
A sheen of sweat covered Micah’s face. Her heart pounded against her eardrums.
“Gosh, I can’t even imagine the shrink bills for this family.”
“Amen to that.” The woman flicked her cigarette butt over the rail. Micah watched it smolder in the wet mulch next to the hydrangeas. Part of her wanted to reach through the lattice and clutch it in her fist. The swing groaned in relief as they stood, “Worse yet, someday that kid’s gonna realize that her mama’s burning in hell for killin’ herself…”
Micah crumpled to her side, squirming to fit in the excavated hole that was not much bigger than her memory box. It was too shallow to swallow her up, unlike the earth that devoured the mahogany casket just a few hours before. But she was three inches closer to Mama.
Which was where she desperately needed to be.