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
Theodora Ziolkowski’s “Apples” is a modern take on the classic fairy tale genre. This piece is one of nine stories from The Conium Review: Vol. 4. It’s included in the paperback and forthcoming Collector’s Edition.
The Collector’s Edition is a box set of handmade chapbooks and broadsides, each containing a different story from the issue. “Apples” is printed on 24-lb. bright white linen paper with a special 24-lb. ivory parchment leaf for the title page. The cover is 65-lb. brown card stock. This 12-page booklet measures 3.5″ wide by 4″ tall.
“I want to be a clown,” I told my mother when I was very small. The fontanel in my head had only just closed and my tiny pearl teeth glimmered with newness as I spoke.
“A clown?” she snorted with a contempt that shot out at me like venom. “No one will look at you. No one will laugh at you, girl.”
I learnt early not to eat anything she offered me. Even the shiniest apple turned to vinegar in her hands. With time, her nose—always prominent—met her chin, warts sprouted with wiry facial hair, and her destiny was complete. By that time, I was far away, out of reach of spluttering hyoscine, out in the oyster-world, wearing yellow garlands in my hair.
“I want to be a clown,” I said to my teacher on that first-cage day of school. I smiled at her stony face. “Clown begins with C,” I boasted. She clucked her teeth at me and waved my small, eager face away. “Will you help me to be a clown?” I asked in my naivety.
“I’ll give you clown.” She smiled grimly and made me stand, facing away, in the corner of the room until my knees ached and the other children forgot me.
“I want to be a clown,” I told my boss in the office where I wasted day upon day—a treadmill of contemptible tapping at a keyboard, throat numb from talking, unlistened to, on the phone. She eyed me merrily, squinting with a feigned surprise.
“Then be free,” she said. “I won’t stand in your way,” she laughed and took away my keyboard and my telephone and my monthly paycheque.
I spiraled down in a flurry and London became a hellish place. Crowds jostled me aggressively; rich ladies snatched their bags away as I came close; the pavement became my bed, doorways my home.
One night, as rain spattered the bare streets, shoppers fleeing for fear of melting, a shadow loomed, dark and magical against my covered doorjamb.
“You want to be a clown?” he asked. I looked up, but there was no good light by which to see his face.
“Yes,” I said, amazed he could tell my thoughts just by looking at me. Too eagerly, I followed him to a boarded-up shop filled with costumes.
“A clown,” he said, eyeing me from the secret vantage point below his wide-brimmed hat. I saw only the effect of his words upon the situation of his pointed, black beard. In a whirl of hands and fabric he had me dressed, white-faced, in a ruffle—a sort of harlequin.
“Sleep here,” he ordered, opening a back room and indicating a mattress on the floor. “Be a clown here.”
When he was gone, the darkness enveloped me uncomfortably, constraining my movements as though I was captured by shackles. The almost-silence of the shop terrified. I shivered in the cold, thinking longingly of my abandoned doorjamb, paralyzed by fear.
In the morning, when no one came, I added a tutu, flourish of tulle, and struggled to open the door to outside. Once in the street, shocked crowds jeered, pointing, nudging, laughing. My tears streaked pink jagged lines down my white face. Terrified fingers knotted my hair, making it stand – wig-like—on end.
The shoppers laughed. The workers, commuting, laughed. The hobo man and his yappy dog laughed to see me. The whole world was made merry at the sight of me. My fresh tears ignited the fires of their mirth.
About the Author:
Sarah Mitchell-Jackson is a novelist and a short story writer. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The Critical Pass Review and Really System. Her debut novel, Ashes, will be out in 2016 published by Blue Moon Publishers. You can read more of her work at www.smitchjack.wordpress.com.
This story was one of The Conium Review‘s nominations for the 2016 Pushcart Prize.
This story is one of The Conium Review‘s nominations for the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology, Best Small Fictions 2016.
Image Credit: © ~ Bitter ~ / Dollar Photo Club
From “Police Blotter:”
The Bear Family in the Nearby Wood area reported a home break-in yesterday at 3:22 p.m. While away from their house, an intruder committed petty theft (bowl of porridge) and vandalism (rocking chair) before being discovered in the bedroom. The intruder, described as a human child, then fled the scene. She is approximately six years old with blonde hair and no other distinguishing characteristics. Possibly armed.
From “Griselda’s Helpful Hints:”
Q: One of the best things about the beanstalk in my husband’s garden is that we find the occasional human. My husband always wants me to grind the bones for bread, but I want to try something new. Any suggestions?
A: While we acknowledge that bone bread is a staple of any giant’s diet, you’re missing out on some interesting exotic flavors. Use a microplane to shave the bones over a salad or pasta for an umami kick. Or, if you have the time, smoke the humans and add them to the pot when you cook those beans from the stalk. It will add a fatty richness, especially if you happen to get an American.
From “Ask an Evil Stepmother:”
Q: I already have trouble sleeping, but now I have back problems. My prospective mother-in-law put a pea under my mattress and I still ache two weeks later. How can I marry into this family when they are capable of such abuse?
A: Oh, do blue bloods like to whine. Look, I realize in-breeding has made you royals as delicate as china dolls, but I’m going to give it to you straight: toughen up, princess. You may think it’s a happily ever after now, but what are you going to do in twenty years? Can you feed the new hot chick a poisoned apple? Will you get your new husband’s kids “lost” in the woods near the cannibal witch’s gingerbread house so the adults can get some alone time? How about giving the all the chores to that left-behind little ragamuffin so your kids can get the good stuff? Can you do that? Not with that attitude, missy.
About the Author:
Charlie Brown is a writer and filmmaker from New Orleans. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he recently received his Masters in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and also runs Lucky Mojo Press and Mojotooth Productions. He has made two feature films: Angels Die Slowly and Never A Dull Moment: 20 Years of the Rebirth Brass Band. His fiction has appeared in The Writing Disorder, Jersey Devil Press, The Menacing Hedge, Aethlon, and what?? Magazine and the forthcoming anthology The Portal In My Kitchen. He currently teaches journalism and composition at various community colleges.
This story was longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions.
Image Credit: ©
/ Dollar Photo Club