Flash Fiction: The Rogue Wave by Karen Schauber

Photo by Selena Morar

Murmuration of starlings again this morning. The sky holding back, just a bit, as thick menacing clouds squeeze into place. We prepare for a deluge, slicker and wellies by the door.

Sophia is racing around, shrieking, long golden tangles whipping, frenzied, as I neatly lay out her undies, pedal pushers, t-shirt, socks and shoes. My banshee daughter is attacking the day. Never soft, gentle, slow; her movements a blur. At seven, she still doesn’t speak; it’s all guesswork.

The sea is a calming influence. It entertains her, teaches her, embraces her. We descend along the well-trodden path over boulder, shale, and timber, to our little stretch of beach. Rain and blustery winds never a deterrent. The cove a safe haven for exploration and release. The view, a never-ending vanishing point.

Sophia hunches over, red wellingtons wedged deep in the tide pools. Her pink plastic shovel prods and jabs into crevasses, hunting for snails, mussels, anemones, urchins, and sea stars. High-pitched wails morph into sing-song as she focuses, digs, tormenting tiny crustaceans. Her skin a healthy rosy glow.

I hang back a few meters leaning against the fallen Douglas fir, grown too tall and heavy for its rocky mooring. Lesser trees still standing, dead and broken. The area is secluded, and I don’t worry about noise and commotion disturbing the neighbours. In the distance a solitary loon issues a melodious tremolo. I disengage, take an unhurried drag on my cigarette.

It takes an instant for the rogue wave to barrel in, roaring. The vertical wall of frothing water stinking of brine and decay, towers over Sophia. It lunges, like a Rorqual whale—its gigantic mouth gaping wide over its prey—swallowing her whole, carrying her off into the churning black sea. It is all over before I have a chance to react. My chest lurching as I gasp for breath. The turbulent surf reverting flat like carpet. My burden gone, forever. I snap the elastic, hard. It leaves a welt on my wrist as the image dissolves. My hairs still staggering. I give it another snap, banishing the intrusive thoughts.

I am exempt from culpability, I am told. It is my subconscious working through my fears, giving me some semblance of control. It doesn’t reassure. I feel depraved, ugly, a bad mother. I snap the elastic over and over, as the dark murderous images resurface.

I stamp out my cigarette. The shoreline is littered with pebbles, knots of seaweed, crushed hermit crab shells, and barnacled driftwood. I tease out pointed shards of dolphin-blue sea glass and deposit them in the yellow plastic pail next to Sophia. She doesn’t notice. The waves lapping and lipping, ever so close.

Karen Schauber’s work appears in sixty-five international literary magazines, journals and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Cabinet of Heed, Cease Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New World Writing, Spelk; and a ‘Best Microfiction’ nomination. ‘The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings‘ (Heritage House, 2019), her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology, achieved ‘Silver’ in The Miramichi Reader’s ‘Very Best Book Award” for Short Fiction, 2020. Schauber curates Vancouver Flash Fiction -an online resource hub, and Miramichi Flash, a monthly literary column. In her spare time, she is a seasoned family therapist.

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