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“Pitcher of Cream,” by Caitlin Scarano

doodle stove and firewood

This winter, I live alone.

I collect dolls with marble eyes (ribbon core, oxblood, onionskin) and antler hands. I imagine they have bones and are not just stiff with sawdust. I keep the wood stove humming until the back of my neck is damp with sweat. Each day, I bake a loaf of sourdough, perfecting the ratio of sugar to salt to flour. But there’s no one around to eat it but me – by now, all of my children have gone missing or set out with their little suitcases and weaponless hands.

No matter. I still have all of their shoelaces. The sound of dogs howling from the next homestead over.

But the space between our houses grows while I sleep. The forest around me deepens. The trees fall in love and multiply. The snow an intoxicant. I pray the pines don’t get bolder, that they don’t grow organs and hands.

This winter, the sun only rises on certain days. I record them and carve a chart into my headboard. The townsmen would not believe me if I tried to teach them the patterns I’ve discovered, how things secretly align.

Like the woman I am, I keep to my house, my mule, my tasks.

One day I am out chopping wood and a little boy appears on the edge of my yard. He is not made of skin.

“There’s no one left to play with here. You should carry on your way.” I rest the axe on the splitting stump, but keep a hand on the handle. For some reason, I am afraid.

The boy doesn’t say anything. Against the snow, he is hard to see. He has no coat. I cannot tell if he trembles. I do not turn my back on him. His black eyes follow me. I try not to imagine how many rows of teeth he might have. I pull the axe from the stump and yell, “Git!”

I don’t see him again for four days. When he returns, it is on a day when the sun has not risen. On the edge of the yard, I scoop snow into pails to melt on the woodstove. Behind me I hear a little cough. In the dark, he seems smaller, less frightening. Maybe I imagined him wrong the first time. I invite him into the house but I do not touch him. After lighting the hurricane lanterns, I tell him to sit at the table like a good boy. He hesitates and then climbs into the chair where my husband used to sit. Some boys turn into men.

“Would you like some bread and butter?”

“Yes and cream.”

I keep cream in the blackest pitcher. I pour it into a bowl for him and he licks it as if he were a cat.

“Where are your people?” I ask.

“Will the winter end?” he replies while buttering his second piece of bread. His hands are dirty and rusty with old blood. His voice is so little it seems to get lost in the long corridor of his throat. But he is strong. I can see the tight muscles in his neck, and imagine how he’s come to hunt and scavenge.

“It always did before.”

“Does that make a thing true?”

After dinner, he fingers the hair of my dolls but does not take them down from the shelf to play. I give him my oldest son’s red coat. The buttons are missing so I use a bit of rope to belt it around his waist. In a blue lunch pail, I wrap bread and cheese between strips of cloth. I don’t give him meat. He doesn’t ask to stay. If we are both to survive this season, it will not be because of each other.

At the edge of the yard, he turns back to me, his black eyes inky with moonlight. “Where did they go, your children?” he asks.

“Does that make a thing true?” I reply.

 

About the Author:

Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbooks. This winter, she will be an artist in residence at the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls and the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island.

Special Notes:

This story won The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce.  It will also be made into a micro-chap for distribution at the 2016 AWP Conference in Los Angeles, California.

This story was selected for inclusion in the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology, Best Small Fictions 2016, guest edited by Stuart Dybek.

Image Credit: © dule964 / Dollar Photo Club

The 2015 Flash Fiction Contest Winner is Caitlin Scarano!

Caitlin Scarano‘s piece, “Pitcher of Cream,” is the winner of The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce! This year’s finalists were Ashley HutsonGary Joshua GarrisonEmily KiernanAri LaurelMarsha McSpadden, and Jan Stinchcomb. An honorable mention goes to Kitsune Hirano.

Laura said that Caitlin’s story “was haunting and beautiful and every word was chosen with care.” She went on to say “The story felt complete: a whole world in a few hundred words. The chilling ambiguity of the missing children and the unreliability of the narrator made this a perfect flash fiction.”

Caitlin Scarano

Caitlin Scarano

Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbooks. This winter, she will be an artist in residence at the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls and the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island.

Caitlin will receive a $300 honorarium for her winning piece and a copy of the judge’s latest book, The Luminol Reels. You’ll get to read Caitlin’s winning flash fiction piece on Saturday, December 19th when it goes “live” on The Conium Review Online Compendium. The story will also be made into a broadside or micro-chapbook for distribution at the 2016 AWP Conference in Los Angeles. Caitlin will be on-site to sign copies for AWP attendees.

“Purple Haze Purple Rain,” an AWP reading with The Conium Review, Pacifica Literary Review, and Small Po[r]tions

Join The Conium ReviewPacifica Literary Review, and Small Po[r]tions for an off-site AWP reading.

Location: Eat My Words Bookstore, 1228 2nd St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413.

Time: 6:00pm to 8:00pm

Reading for The Conium Review are Christine Texeira (published in Vol. 3), Zach Powers (published in Vol. 3), and John Englehardt (winner of our 2014 Flash Fiction Contest and published in The Conium Review Online Compendium).

For Pacifica and Small Po[r]tions, readers including Caitlin Scarano, Kyle Ellingson, Terri Witek, Valerie Wernet, and Genevieve Kaplan.

AWP Reading Flyer

A flyer for “Purple Haze Purple Rain,” an 2015 AWP Conference off-site reading.

John Englehardt is the 2014 Flash Fiction Contest Winner!

We’re pleased to announce the winner of the 2014 Flash Fiction Contest.  Congratulations to John Englehardt for his winning piece, “This Is Great But You Don’t Need It.” This year’s judge, Ashley Farmer, says “This story is a heart-breaker and a rule-breaker, a clear breath and a gut punch. It’s unorthodox in its point of view and risky in its sincerity. A full life and full world in three short pages, yet I’d stay there for longer if I could.”

John Englehardt’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Sycamore Review, The Stranger, Monkeybicycle, The Monarch Review, and Furlough Magazine. He’s a recent graduate of University of Arkansas’ MFA program, and now lives and works in Seattle. John will receive a $300 prize and a copy of Ashley Farmer’s latest book; his winning story will appear on The Conium Review Online Compendium, we’ll turn it into a handcrafted micro-chap for distribution at the AWP Conference, and John will be reading “This Is Great But You Don’t Need It” at an off-site reading at Eat My Words Books in Minneapolis, MN.

The 2014 Flash Fiction Contest finalists were Sarah Colwill-Brown, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Melody Sage, Caitlin Scarano, Hsien Chong Tan, and Will Walawender.

The Conium Review editorial staff thanks everybody who submitted and supported this contest.  We look forward to announcing next year’s judge soon, and we hope many of you will consider submitting to the contest again in 2015.  In the meantime, remember that our general submission queue is currently open.  Furthermore, our Innovative Short Fiction Contest, judged by Amelia Gray, begins reading submissions on February 1st, 2015.