Two Flash Fictions
He looked like he always did. Wire thin. A day or two past the day he should have shaved. His smile small but fierce. Nothing at all would have seemed out of the ordinary about him, about my husband, standing before me in our bedroom on a Sunday in January, had he not died four weeks earlier.
"Did I wake you?" He asked, his hand toying with the curtain at what used to be his side of the bed. The bed no longer has sides. It is just an unending middle: painstaking and monotonous and mine.
"No." I cleared my throat. "I was up. I've been up."
His eyes still hadn't met me; they stayed focused on the curtain. "Is this new?" he asked, pulling the fabric toward him, then letting go.
"No," I said. "I cleaned it last week though. Had to have been years since we did that. It looks different to me too."
He nodded. Then, finally, looked at me. "How was your day?"
I didn't answer him. Because there was no him. Fuck, I've gotta stop with this. I turned my back and faced the curtain at what used to be my side of the bed, which I hadn't washed. It looked exactly the same. I tried to conjure up the list of things I needed to do tomorrow.
"I'm sorry I've been so distant lately," he said. "It's not fair to you."
I shut my eyes. He's not real. He is you and you can make him go away by going to sleep.
But I don't want him to go away.
"You don't want who to go away?" he asked, though I hadn't said it out loud.
I turned back around, resting my hands beneath my cheek. I smiled at him. "Nobody."
He looked to the curtain again. "Do you mind if I step out for a moment? It'll just be real quick, I promise."
I faced what used to be my side again.
When he returned, his hands held fistfuls of dirt. He must have scooped them from our garden in the back. My garden in the back.
"Our garden in the back," he said.
"What are you doing with all that?" I asked.
Without answering, he began wiping his hands over what used to be the curtain on his side of the bed, coating all of it with grey, even the highest corners.
Once he finished, I turned back to what used to be my side and, this time, fell asleep.
I awoke to me, only me. I peered around the empty room. When the silence began to ring, I got up, and made my way to the bathroom.
I waited until I knew the water would be hot before reaching inside. I watched it turn muddy as it rolled off my palms, then watched it, slowly, turn clear again.
Once I returned to my room, I removed the curtain at what used to be his side of the bed. I held it to my chest for a moment, watching the morning wind tousle a tree outside the window, then walked to the other side and removed that curtain too.
I brought them both to the basement and tossed them into the washing machine before heading upstairs and getting a start on the list of things I needed to do today.
The last time I see my mother is in November. She’s in the living room, melting in her recliner as I enter. We both know she doesn’t have long. Maybe a few weeks, if we’re lucky.
“Hi, love,” she says, in the same way she’s always said it. I think this is important to her. That her words sound to me as they always have.
I take a breath. “Hi, mom.”
“Just you here today?”
I nod. “Yep. Just me today.”
She smiles. “How’s Maria?” Her voice strains to be upbeat, but the cracks show through. I smile back anyway.
“She’s good. Busy. But, you know, good.”
“Are you busy too?” She asks. “Or no?”
I shrug. “Not really. Unfortunately.”
She shakes her head. “I think it’s probably fortunate, sweetie. It’s just so exhausting, all of it. Better to stay away, I think. Leave the beast be, if you can help it. We like it better that way.”
As it’s been the last year or so, her thoughts are choppy, and they don’t align with reality much, like subtext to text that never got written. But, as it’s been for much longer than a year, I think I understand her.
“How’re you feeling today?” I ask.
“About the same? Or—?”
She lets out a shallow sigh, but stays quiet. The silence hugs me against her, and I study her. She looks so small, so frail, I fear if I breathe too hard she’ll blow away.
After a while, her eyes harden, and her hands move to her temple.
“What’s wrong?” I ask. “Is it your head? Should I get you some water?”
She stays silent. Her fingers turn to white as she presses harder and harder against the sides of her head.
"What is it?" I ask again, but she still doesn't answer.
I step toward her, resting my palm against her forearm. “Mom.”
Her panicked eyes fix to mine. “There was excellence here,” she says, drawing out each word. “You know that, right?”
I close my eyes, but only for a moment, then look at her again. “Of course I know that, mom.”
Slowly, her grip on herself loosens, and her hands lower. I let go too and she stares forward, tilting her neck like she’s studying something hovering just a few inches from her nose. Though, to my eyes at least, nothing's there.
She grimaces. “What a waste.”
I don’t say anything, and her eyes close. She nods to herself. “Okay. Okay. Come have a seat next to me, love. Sit down and tell me about you.”
About the Author: Daniel Waters is a 20-something writer hard at work maintaining his contradictions. He's published short pieces of both fiction and non-fiction and is currently working on his first novel. You can follow him on twitter here, or on his blog.