Flash Fiction: If Daphne Still Had a Mouth by Nora Wagner

Sunlight. No more reprimands for not wearing enough sunscreen, unflattering tan lines, eruptive skin, popped like bubble wrap. Sunlight is food now, and I devour it.

To the little boy with wiry hair, who fell from my branches and sprained his left wrist: I’m sorry that I couldn’t catch you. I wish you would come back. I promise it won’t happen again. Is it a doctor’s note or a wary mother keeping you away? I’ll keep you safe. I’m good with rules.

There’s a relief in no longer being instructed to stand up straighter, correct my posture, shoulders back and chin up.

Yet I want my father to strike my roots with his trident (as Poseidon did in Athens) and turn me into a salt water spring.

To Apollo: I have nothing to say to you, because you’d never listen. Familiar predator, ears full of your own strumming.

You feel everything as a tree. Spindly, toothpick legs of insects, wind, woodpecker’s tenacious beaks. I imagine this is how it feels to be a mother: children climbing over you, making your body their monkey bars. Irritating comfort.

To the proud men who wear me in their hair: what about me constitutes victory?

When I see new couples, just struck by Eros’s arrows, how I long to reach out, entangle them in my roots, trap them in my hollow. Punish them as he punished me with his lead arrow.

Why me? I think, pointlessly.

To my father: why didn’t you give me wings, a motorcycle, a flying chariot? Really? I’m a tree?

Kite flyers, you need to hold your kite up by the bridle point, slowly let the line out. Only fly when there’s wind. It’ll help.

It’s weird being solid. I miss the transparency, my fluid bones.

To the young lovers who visited me, carved their initials in my trunk with a hunting knife, danced and laughed and lived: it won’t last.

To the boy: you have Eros’s coarse jawline, Apollo’s fishing hook eyes, and my father’s impulsive stupidity. I’d like to believe that you won’t end up like them, but I’ve been rooted long enough to know that men always end up choosing one of them.

To the girl: you should run. Use a stronger four letter word than help.

Nora Esme Wagner lives in San Francisco, California. She was a 2020 Adroit Journal Summer Mentee. Her fiction has been published in The Telling Room.

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