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.
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: ©
/ Dollar Photo Club
The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest is open for submissions! The submission deadline is October 15th, 2015. All contest entries must be received through our Submittable page. This year’s judge is Laura Ellen Joyce. Laura is the author of The Luminol Reels (Calamari Archive Ink, 2014) and The Museum of Atheism (Salt Publications, 2012). She teaches at Edinburgh Napier University.
The winner receives $300, publication on The Conium Review Online Compendium, publication as a limited-run micro-chap or broadside, and a copy of the judge’s latest book.
Send crisp prose that packs a punch. Give us traditional narratives, or shake things up with an unconventional format. Be bold. Full guidelines are available here.
The Conium Review‘s managing editor, James R. Gapinski, talks about publishing and writing in a Grub Daily “Micro-Interview.” Read the full interview here.
This brief interview is part of Grub Daily‘s advanced coverage of the Muse 2015 conference in Boston, MA. James will be leading a workshop, “Beyond the Seven Basic Plots: An Exploration of Experimental Fiction,” on Saturday, May 2nd at noon.
Two of our editors share some panels they’re excited for. Naturally, we’ll be spending a lot of time at The Conium Review table (#2025). But there will be three of us at AWP (Chelsea, James, and Uma), so hopefully we’ll all get to attend our panel/presentation wishlists.
Chelsea Werner-Jatzke’s top
five eight panels (because lists of five or ten are just too neat and tidy for a badass like Chelsea):
- Thursday, 9:00am to 10:15am. History, Speculation, and Invention in Long Form Fiction. (Christopher Robinson, Jan Elizabeth Watson, Jaquira Diaz, Melissa Falcon Field, Sebastian Stockman). Room 200 D&E, Level 2.
- Thursday, 1:30pm to 2:45pm. The Hybrid Book: Publishing Poetry and Art Together. (Allison Campbell, Henry Israeli, Bianca Stone, Ben Fama, Elizabeth Clark Wessel). Room M100 B&C, Mezzanine Level.
- Friday, 9:00am to 10:15am. The Ethics of Book Reviewing. (Eric Lorberer, Stephen Burt, Carolyn Kellogg, Brian Evenson, Rusty Morrison). Auditorium Room 1, Level 1.
- Friday, 1:30pm to 2:45pm. Word Meets Image: The Video Essay. (Ned Stuckey-French, Eula Biss, Kristen Radtke, John Bresland). Room 101 F&G, Level 1.
- Friday, 1:30pm to 2:45pm (competing against the previous panel for attention). Music in Prose: Crafting the Lyric Sentence. (Pearl Abraham, Hanna Pylväinen, V.V. Ganeshananthan, Stephanie Grant, Will Byrne). Room 200 H&I, Level 2.
- Friday, 3:00pm to 4:15pm. Where We Begin to Revise the Poem. (Keetje Kuipers, Erica Dawson, James Harms, John Hoppenthaler, Peter Campion). Auditorium Room 1, Level 1.
- Friday, 4:30 to 5:45pm. Let Us (Not) Teach You a Lesson: A Pleiades Writers’ Symposium on Moral Fiction.(Phong Nguyen, Bayard Godsave, Christine Sneed, Seth Brady Tucker, Michael Kardos). Room L100 D&E, Lower Level.
- Saturday, 1:30pm to 2:45pm. Rock and Prose: Musician/Fiction Writers Reflect at the Crossroads. (Steven Ostrowski, Steve Yarbrough, Lynne Barrett, Joe Clifford). Room 208 A&B, Level 2.
James R. Gapinski’s top five panels:
- Thursday, April 9th, 3:00pm to 4:15pm. How I Taught Then, How I Teach Now. (Joseph Scapellato, Derek Palacio, Cathy Day, Matt Bell, Jennine Capó Crucet). Auditorium Room 1, Level 1.
- Friday, April 10th, 9:00am to 10:15am. Four Writers of Experimental Fiction Disagree. (Jeff Jackson, Kate Bernheimer, Susan Steinberg, Alan Michael Parker). Room 211 C&D, Level 2.
- Friday, April 10th, 3:00pm to 4:15pm. The Uncanny Reader: the Art of Unease in the Short Story Form. (Marjorie Sandor, Karen Russell, Kate Bernheimer, Steve Stern, Kelly Link). Room 101 H&I, Level 1.
- Friday, April 10th, 4:30pm to 5:45pm. Fail Better: Successful Writers Talk About Failure. (M. Molly Backes, Roxane Gay, Megan Stielstra, Dean Bakopoulos, Rebecca Makkai). Auditorium Room 2, Level 1.
- Saturday, April 11th, 1:30pm to 2:45pm. Weird Science: Strategies to Encourage Innovative Writing in the Workshop (Andrew Altschul, Lucy Corin, Eric Puchner, Melanie Rae Thon, Deb Olin Unferth). Room 200 B&C, Level 2.
Amelia Gray (current Innovative Short Fiction Contest Judge and future galactic overlord) will be reading on Friday and Saturday at the 2015 AWP Conference in Minneapolis, MN.
On Friday, April 10th, find Amelia at Lee’s Liquor Lounge (101 Glenwood Ave, Minneapolis, MN) from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. Other readers include Tarfia Faizullah, Janaka Stucky, Adrian Matejka, Monica McClure, Brian Foley, Lisa Ciccarello, Sampson Starkweather, and Sheila Squillante. Co-sponsored by Ninth Letter, Birds, LLC, Black Ocean, Hobart, Barrelhouse, and [PANK]. Find this event on Facebook.
On Saturday, April 11th, she’ll be reading again at Public Functionary (1400 12th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN). The reading celebrates Amelia’s new book, Gutshot (published by FSG Originals). The event is also co-sponsored by Paper Darts. Other readers are Brandi Wells, Dessa, John Brandon, John Jodzio, Lindsay Hunter, Laura van den Berg, Safy-Hallan Farah, and Simon Jacobs. $5 at the door. Find this event on Facebook and RSVP here.