Category: flash fiction

The Secret Life of a Bedsheet – Tara Mandarano

I am the worn and well-loved bedsheet Janetta slept on for fifty-four years, before she got trapped in the bathtub one day for over twenty-four hours, and never lay on me again.

She ordered me out of one of those Sears catalogues when she got married in the early 1940s, a stunning young woman, all sharp cheekbones and inscrutable green eyes. Awash in the double glow of matrimony and the purchase of her first real home, she was drawn to my muted tones, which suited her quiet-but-pleasant personality.

I remember her talking with her stepmother before she decided on me. Asking her opinion. Janetta did that with everything. All matters to do with the house had to go through Margaret’s approval process first, before anything could be definitively decided upon.

It’s just the way Janetta was. Motherless since the age of nine, she looked to the practical older woman, her middle-aged father’s brand-new wife, for all sorts of guidance when it came to life.

Margaret was kind in a blunt, straightforward way, happy to educate her stepdaughter when it came to all things etiquette. She knew how to set a table, how to cook the perfect pot roast, and most importantly, how to fend off unwanted advances from unsavoury men.

When she saw my pretty-yet-practical pattern peeking out of the catalogue, she promptly nodded her assent.

***

I remember when Janetta’s husband started spending more time with me, refusing to get out of bed. He’d been through the war years before, and his own internal battles, as well. A shell of the man he’d once been was the version of him who eventually came home to her.

He bought her a panda that sat on their dresser. He called her “Jan” in private. He genuinely loved her. But as he got older, he suddenly stopped wanting to go out. His social anxiety and psoriasis became his whole universe, and it was hard for her to live with.

I can’t count how many of her tears seeped into me over the span of their marriage.

Sometimes his water and salt would silently roll down and plop onto me, too.

I kept all their secrets in my pleats.

By morning, though, I was always dry again. And spotless.

But bickering and stubbornness leave their invisible stains and strains, and it was clear even to me that something essential had been lost between them. A lump of bitterness grew as they tossed and turned at night. During the day, they would take to their separate quarters of the house. Him to read the newspaper in the study, her to her domain in the living room, to watch daytime TV.

No matter the mood of their marriage, however, she always washed me religiously. Every Sunday I took a tumble and was spit out, bunched up and soaking wet. Never a believer in dryers, Janetta would pin me on the line to sway happily in the breeze.

The backyard, with the combined scent of her flowers and his cigarette smoke, became my beloved second home. The rays of sun hitting the folds of my fabric felt like heaven.

***

When he was gone for good, Janetta would spend more time curled up on top of me, childlike and empty. I could tell she was lonely by the way she would just lie there, clutching one of her many teddy bears. She had an entire collection sitting on her bedroom shelves.

It was during those times of sadness that I wished I could curl my corners around her in a comforting embrace.

Instead, I would just leave lines and marks on her already-wrinkled face.

***

When she laid out her trousers and blouse on me that fateful Saturday afternoon before her bath, I never dreamed that that time would be the last.

I could hear her calling out in pain from the mint-green tub when she couldn’t get out, and then a silence descended, more frightening then her whimpers had been.

I had witnessed so much of her life being a part of her bed, but I could not see the beginning of her end.

Eventually the firemen broke down the front door and rescued her, but she slept on the couch that night after her grown children eventually left.

I was suddenly and irrevocably bereft.

***

The next morning, Janetta would go to the hospital and never return home. Weeks later, her daughter would wonder out loud at her formal clothes laid out on the bed, and weep as she put them away for donation.

As he cleared out the house, room by room, her son would dutifully strip me off the mattress and toss me carelessly into a black garbage bag, as if I was worthless.

It was only when one of Janetta’s granddaughters came to look through the house for keepsakes that I dared let myself hope. When her fingers fumbled across me underneath some old, frayed pillowcases, my heart leapt.

I could tell she was looking for some mementoes and sentimental things to remember her grandmother by. As I lay there, all folded in on myself in sorrow, I saw her go to the kitchen, and I thought my chance at salvation gone.

When she came back a minute later with a pair of scissors, I was puzzled at first. Then she proceeded to cut out a square and put a patch of me in her pocket.

All I could think was that a part of me had survived, when Janetta and her husband had not.

***

Now I spend my days pinned to a crowded bulletin board in the granddaughter’s sunlit den. Faded by time, I am tacked up beside an old black-and-white photo of Janetta and Alfred as they strolled down Yonge Street in the 1940s. Glamorous and gorgeous, they are frozen in a frame, a forever way back when. And me? I am content, grateful to be close enough to brush up against their edges once again.

 

Tara Mandarano is a writer, editor, and copyeditor based in Canada. She balances life with a tyrannical toddler by consistently reading past her bedtime. Her work has also been published on Canadian Living, The Huffington Post, The Sunlight Press, Mogul, Mothers Always Write, Thought Catalog and Mamalode. Please visit taramandarano.com to see more of her writing or follow her on Instagram @taramandarano.

What She Knew – Sue Powers

She had a birthday, became thirty, became morbid and suffering and told her husband she would bear no more children, that inherent in birth is the sentence of death, that all childbearing is selfish, an illusion of immorally and how well she knew that she would die soon (what is thirty, forty more years compared to eternity?), that she was powerless, that her only life was moving along a path she could not remember freely choosing and she would not know all experience, live all the lives, reach all the corners that she might, but if nothing else, she said, she wished better for her unborn offspring than this anguish, this knowledge of nothingness-after-life.   

Take an aspirin, he said. Not unkindly.

Sue Powers has an array of publishing credits, among them Saturday Evening Post. She’s the recipient of a fellowship & grant from the Illinois Arts Council in Prose and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has 21 fiction publications.

 

 

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Feed Me – Carrie Mumford

Once a guy took me to Point Pleasant Park in the rain and sat me on the rocks overlooking the ocean and fed me spaghetti he’d cooked from a Tupperware and told me he wanted to drop out of school and buy a boat and sail around the world with me. The spaghetti was dry and the next summer he fell in love with a boy at the yacht club.

xxx

Once a guy made me lobster and lasagna. He called his adopted nonna and she coached him over the phone on how to melt the butter, when to take the noodles out, how to rub the spices between his hands. We slept in dog-dirty sheets and he told me about his brother’s time in jail and how he himself had stolen a register full of cash once but that was okay because it was the guy’s own fault for leaving it open when he went in the back to get the pizza.

xxx

Once a guy cooked me plantains and showed me how to choose the perfect mango, how the sweetest meat was closest to the pit. He recited a poem he’d written for his ex about kissing on a bridge in the rain and told me she’d left of her own accord and that it was her fault and her fault alone. He told me to be good be sweet be kind when I left him a few months later, of my own accord.

xxx

Once a guy made me baloney sandwiches with mustard on brown and he’d doubled in size overnight. He told me about his new girlfriend, how her hair was curlier than mine and her bum bigger and how we were so different because she was a cheerleader and I was a point guard but he liked that about her. And then we went upstairs to his dad’s camera room. Antique cameras stared at us on the single bed with baby-blue sheets. His feet hung off the end and we had perfunctory sex because we had to. 

xxx

Once a guy ate snowflakes off my eyelashes. He rolled on top of me and my snowmobile suit from the seventies, waited for the snow to fall, licked it from my eyelids, my cheeks, my lashes. He told me the stars always made him think of the Tragically Hip and the tobogganing hill made him think of weed. He drove me home in his crappy car and told me my mom was bad for me, as if she were something I could quit, like cigarettes.

xxx

Once I made a guy shepherd’s pie because his dad had a heart attack. I borrowed a cookbook from my mom and spent four hours boiling and mashing and frying and baking, and then I dropped it off at his house. He answered the door in an open housecoat and boxers and wouldn’t let me come inside. Behind him, his ex said, “Who’s that?” and I still handed him the pie and he still took it. I never got my dish back.

Carrie Mumford has lived on both the East and West coasts of Canada, and many places in between. Currently, she lives in Calgary, Alberta with her husband, three naughty cats, and one rambunctious dog. Her first novel, All But What’s Left, is forthcoming in June 2018.

First Week of First Grade – Natalie DeVaull-Robichaud

“He has trouble with transitions,” I explain to the social worker in her air-conditioned office. Two hours before, in class, he yelled out “I want to kill myself! I don’t belong in this school!” because (he later explained) he didn’t want to write anymore. They are wondering what is wrong. I ache in the cool plastic chair. There is a mirror on the wall where there should be a clock. There is my son who is different. I am glad there is organic milk in his snack bag that day as he shapes the magnetic toys on the table into an elaborate sculpture of triangles on triangles. The magnets are balls and sticks. He points to the silver magnetic ball in the center of the sculpture and says, “This is the atom of my mommy’s heart.”

Natalie DeVaull-Robichaud lives with her husband and son in Connecticut, where she teaches writing.

Relative – Jacinta Nandi

Whenever Lydia talks about how she was abused as a child, she says “relative.”

“My relative, who abused me,” she says.

So nobody ever knows: Was it her uncle or her stepfather or maybe an older brother or a brother-in-law? She has a million older brothers and sisters, like ten of them, something ridiculous like that, something really over the top. 

“Sometimes,” Lydia says, “I have these fantasies about how when my mum dies and my relative phones me up to plan the funeral, how I’m going to go to them, ‘Now my mum is dead, I don’t need to protect her anymore, did you think I was protecting you? You’re an idiot then, I was just protecting her. And now she’s dead, I’m gonna tell everyone what you did to me and I just totally will as well! I’m going to write books, short stories, novels, plays – I am going to write a one-woman-play about what you did to me – I am going to tell the world.’” 

“Yeah,” I say. 

It’s a nice plan. I imagine Lydia on the bus, on the phone, spitting into her phone, the words tumbling out, all the pain tumbling out, it’s a nice plan, I think. It’s good to have a plan. And it’s even better to have a nice one.

“And my relative, they’ll be so scared, yeah? And then I’ll say it, I’ll fucking say it. Maybe I’ll even go to the police. Maybe I’m gonna go to the police.”

I laugh. It’s such a beautiful sentence. Plus, I’m drunk.

“That’s a beautiful sentence,” I say. “Maybe I’m going to the police.”

“It’s a gorgeous sentence,” Lydia says.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I’m never gonna do it, I’d never do it. But just saying that sentence just once. I’d fucking love that.”

“Yeah.” 

“But not while my mum’s alive, it’d fucking kill her.”

“That’s the problem with being a survivor of childhood sex abuse,” I say. “You spend your whole life waiting for your mum to die before you can actually start properly living, it’s like being Prince Charles or someone.” 

Lydia sighs, she stands up and sits down on the sofa by the kitchen window, curls up her legs, looks out the window. She totally has this Little Women vibe going on.

“Imagine how normal we would be, how happy and normal, if we’d never been raped, never been abused. I would be so normal.” 

“We’d be so normal. We’d just lead these incredibly normal lives! We’d be able to drive,” I say, although I am not sure if this is true. I’m very bad at driving games on the X-Box, sometimes my son makes me join in with him and I end up going backwards. 

“I’d live by the sea and do ceramics,” Lydia says.

“I’d also live by the sea, but I wouldn’t do ceramics. But I would have lots of turquoise lampshades and pink candles. And I’d have cute teapots. Possibly with turtles on them? Not Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, cute ones. And I’d have lots of cushions. And I’d have a husband called Alan and we’d have two kids and I’d write kids’ books and I’d be fairly successful. I’d teach refugee teenagers English twice a week.”

Lydia yawns.

“What would your books be about?” She asks.

“Maybe a cheeky mermaid who doesn’t know any manners?” I say. “And zoo animals. And like, a lost unicorn and the adventures it has on its way back to the unicorn farm.”

“You’d probably win loads of book awards and everyone in the book industry would know who you were but you wouldn’t be totally famous. Only damaged people want to be totally famous.”

“We need more wine,” I say. I read the logo on my phone backwards: SONY i.e. YNOS i.e. WHINOS. Fuck, I think, it’s a sign! Lydia smiles sleepily, she looks like a sleepy lioness and a bit like Alicia Keys.

“No we don’t,” she says. “I got two bottles of Eierlikör in my room. I stole them from the supermarket.”

“Oh, you shouldn’t steal stuff,” I say. “We might be fucked up, but we’re not that fucked up. We’re basically coping.”

Still, I have to admit, it will be nice to drink the Eierlikör.

“If we could just meet Oprah once, we would be normal,” I say, pouring the Eierlikör Lydia hands me down my throat as quickly as possible. God, it’s delicious. It’s like drinking custard.

“If we could’ve met Princess Diana,” says Lydia. “If she hadn’t died and we had met her and she’d meet us and we could text her! It would all be fine. We wouldn’t just be normal. We’d be fucking amazing.”

I don’t say anything because I secretly think Princess Diana wouldn’t even like us that much if she hadn’t died. I think she’d think we were a bit dumpy and rubbish. But I don’t say this out loud.

“The bad news is, though,” Lydia says.

“What,” I say. I suddenly notice how drunk I am. Being drunk on Eierlikör is my favourite feeling in the world, you go fuzzy and numb and warm and it’s all so sudden.

“I think my relative’s going to die first. Before my mum does.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Yeah,” she says. “They’re ill. They’re pretty old and they’re ill. So you know what that means? I’ll never get my revenge.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Still,” she says. “I must admit. I’m looking forward to the funeral.”

“Oh,” I say.

“I’ve already bought the hat.”

I pour her some more Eierlikör.

“I have to admit. This stuff tastes even better when it’s stolen.” I say.

Okay, so we might never get our revenge, I think, but in the meantime, we can get drunk on stolen Eierlikör. And I guess it’ll do.

Jacinta Nandi was born in East London in 1980 and moved to Berlin aged 20. She writes in both German and English and has a political column in Germany’s youngest and newest feminist magazine, Missy, as well as the riotmama blog at the taz. In 2015, she published an autobiographical novel, nichts gegen blasen, with Ullstein.