Flash Fiction: Cold and Foreign Dispatches by Marvin Shackelford

I throw Sara’s book at the dog trying to get him away from the corner of the couch he’s pissing on, and half the pages come flying loose and falling about like a poorly thrown bucket of water. I miss the dog entirely. He’s ruining the house a piece at the time, and I’m not sure what he expects to happen when he’s finished. He waits, wall-eyed, for me to get up and do something. He weighs eight pounds but I think he’ll fight me. Sara says he’s a baby. He’s twelve or thirteen, has the body of an ancient, rabid bat but lacking the wings. All skin and veins. I stand, and neither of us does anything. I pick up the pieces of my projectile and retake my seat. He’s watching. The book’s vampires, romance, shit Sara doesn’t need to be reading anyway. Sara has big eyes and pale skin and thinks there’s a kinship to be had with the dark. She wears rings on her thumbs and too many necklaces. She wants all her face pierced but her ears. She says the ones we did when she was a baby closed up, and she likes it that way. I shuffle some of her book back together by page number, 109, 111, 13, and then I just start trying to make a sentence of the lines at the top of every page:

inside the walls a terrible scratching like the hopeless wails of sad

rickshaws and bicycles and even small paddleboats where water

swallowed her hand’s slender frame in his own. His heart nearly beat

the cold and foreign dispatches of love stealthily through air and night

I get into a couple more beers and figure I can buy her another. I think about the space and fullness of our emptied-out house and wonder where she is, really have to think about it. Probably the mall, drinking coffee, waiting for her mother’s car to pass through the parking lot where she’s smoking with her friends, working hard to feel alone and complete. Sara’s not all that afraid of the bright days ahead. I know if she comes home there will be plenty to say. If I can just lay hands on her, take her by the shoulders, I can turn her the direction she needs to face. It’s not here. I go outside and watch for headlamps turning into the drive. I light cigarette after cigarette until I think I might burn away. I try to encourage the dog to slip away, disappear, but he hobbles no farther than the curb and the neighbor’s nearest trees. He knows something I don’t. He stays close. We wait.

Marvin Shackelford is the author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming). His work recently has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Wigleaf, Split Lip Magazine, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.

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