Two Flash Pieces
I came to lying face down in the salty chalk of a receding sea. I had been chasing something or someone, something spectral, a shade. I had been throwing stones at it, but not stones, the shadows of stones. And there was a tree, a sprawling cottonwood, and a sun bleached path had revealed itself, unfurling toward the tree as I moved along it. I glimpsed the shade and chased after it as a child chases a butterfly. But it was no butterfly. It was the lepidopterist and he lit on a low hanging branch. I wound up to throw a stone when a breeze blew through the cottonwood, releasing a snow storm of floss. That’s when the blow was struck.
I stood, leaving a comma of blood in the chalk. The lepidopterist’s wife stood beside me on formidable calves. She said that the butterfly’s journey was difficult enough without an idiot throwing rocks at it. She said the butterfly was exhausted, that it had flown thousands of miles with nothing but ruderal growing in the disturbance of its passage. Here they had found the first milkweed. Didn’t I know the Monarch must have milkweed to survive? I told her it was a cottonwood tree. That’s no argument, she said.
Then she asked if I knew how to tie a slip knot. I admitted I was lazy. She told me that because the Monarch had no inheritance to leave she would have to hand spin a chrysalis. So you’re the benefactor? I asked. She told me she was in the first order of the angelic hierarchy and began knitting a silk shroud around me. I asked her if metamorphosis was transcendence. She said that a convincing argument might be made but not by me. I told her that I’d been throwing shadows, not stones. And she said, you see?
The wine was rust colored, so much so that it looked rusty, which was ridiculous, serving rusty wine on such an occasion: the celebration of the life of the lepidopterist.
The lepidopterist’s wife stood beside me on her formidable calves and told me that she would appreciate it if I wouldn’t refer to her as fusty. It was neither the time nor the place. I told her that I wasn’t talking about her but the wine. Not fusty, I said, rusty. She asked me if I could think of a more appropriate drink for the time and the place, rusty and fusty was precisely what she was going for. I don’t think so, I said. I didn’t think so, she said, bristling, though unfastened, like the bristles of a paintbrush at the moment when the ferrule is crimped to fasten the brush to the handle.
She receded into the gilt-framed mirror over the mantelpiece, but her calves grew more formidable, projected forth by a wave in the old glass and I found myself moving closer and closer until I couldn’t see her calves anymore because of my aching eyes. I placed my glass of wine on the mantelpiece and moved away, sweating.
The lepidopterist’s daughter, her pale beauty transfixing, sat in the linen armchair that dominated the room in its breezy way. She asked if I didn’t like my wine. Don’t be ridiculous, I said, of course I don’t like my wine. I’m transfixed by my own eyes as by a fire in a grate. It is fusty, she said. I don’t know what your mother told you, I said, but I throw shadows, not stones. I’ll tell you what I told her, she said, I’m not interested in her matrimony. I told her I was having hot flashes before but that now I felt refreshed. She said, I remember one time I was you. I knew that to be the credo of the lepidopterist and supposing one stolen line deserved another, I told her the noise would drown tomorrow out. She turned, but the mirror seized her gaze, now projecting a scene from the garden.
I told her that I had noticed the Mulberry growing where the flagpole used to be, blood continuing to well up from the shorn roots of the pole. She said that while the demise of the pole was regrettable, the Mulberry was now the dominant feature of the garden, as it should be. Had I noticed the Common Emerald? The moth? I asked. Yes, she said. No, I averted my eyes, I told her. She said that with her father gone the Mulberry was crucial. For her mother would be next. I told her that I had chased after her father once and she stared at me like I was throwing stones. You confuse me with my mother. I told her I thought that was impossible. She stood and turned and I followed her, following her gaze, out of the room and out of the house.
An espaliered fig tree climbed the stone garden wall in a V. She told me the tree had been split at its base and forced to grow at angles, an ancient innovation that increased fruit yield by reducing the vigor of the tree to grow itself. This is my patrimony, she said. I told her that the leaves were still large enough to cover. She said I shouldn’t mistake her for her father who had told her that the articulation of stones was one story of time. I followed a course vein of mortar to the elbow of the reticulated wall, where an angular and brilliant garden spider bounced rapidly in the center of its web. A defense mechanism, she said. A plump fig hung at the edge of the web. She told me that it was actually an egg sac. Is that a defense mechanism? I asked. It’s a questionable defense mechanism, she said, that disguises babies as ripe fruit. I told her it would be a terrible thing not to agree with her. She pinced the fig with her textured palps, unstuck it from the web and popped it in her mouth. She swallowed and said, that is the story the flagpole told. Shall we celebrate it? I think you’ve confused your father for the figments that colored your father. I was told he spun silk, she said, but I never mistook him for the Monarch.
About the Author: Christopher Luken lives in Athens, Georgia, with his wife, Emily, and their three kids. These are his first published stories.