Flash Fiction: Things That Won’t Stay Swallowed by Evan Michael Anderson

In school one day we read that blackholes probably exist all around us. Microscopic ones that could transport us through time if only we could shrink down to something smaller than an atom. I squirm and swallow and think about tiny blackholes like sand scraping and scratching their way down.

I’m twelve now and haven’t thought much more about blackholes the first time it appears—it forms right in my throat behind that middle part that points out too far and makes me self-conscious. We’re all running together, a pack of wolves with knobby knees, when I stop with a force that bends the hinge of my body until my palms land on the asphalt. I try to swallow but the blackhole swallows my swallow and won’t go down.

What’s wrong? someone asks, and it sounds like a laugh underwater.

I’m sorry. I say. Where’s my mom? I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

The next several months, I wait for it to reappear. What’s wrong with me, Mom? She says nothing is wrong with me. But sometimes I can’t breathe. She says that I can. I just feel like something terrible will happen to me. She says it sounds like a panic attack as casually as if telling me that I could probably use a haircut. Oh, I say, loosening the grip on my jeans and sitting on the edge of my bed wondering if she’d be so calm if there were a stranger in here on the bed next to me walking his fingers around my throat.

I’m sorry, I say.

I start this habit of seeing how many breaths I can push out before my chest starts to hurt or I feel dizzy—it makes the hair on my neck stand up—how many times I can swallow until it feels like the skin of my throat is pulling itself down. I guess I think that if I can empty by body of life, even for a minute, the blackholes can’t find me.

The second time it appears, I’m three years older and lying in the bathtub with the shining mountains of my knees protruding from the clouds of bubbles. The blackhole comes dripping out of the faucet oozing around my big toe which I like to see how far I can get up in there. It drips and spreads until it’s all around me and I’m floating; not in water or in these bubby clouds but in liquid teeth; in a cold Florida panhandle spring filled with giant bass with dead eyes, diving gear swallowing my spindly body; in a deep underwater cave pulling myself along by a rope light that I imagine is a carotid artery in a giant snake’s throat following the glug glug blood squirming up and down. Air! Air! I need air! I push my toe deep into the faucet until the nail scrapes painfully and the blackhole disappears. I’m panting. My heart is making ripples like a stone skipping in place. All the bubbles are gone.

The third time I’m an adult with my partner and another boy we brought home from the bar last night and now it’s late the next morning and I haven’t thought of the blackholes in years until now, standing and gripping the leather hand strap on the street car downtown and starting to hear water. My blood grows thick in my hands and chest, and I see the rope light dangling from the creaking metal ceiling. I sit down and grab my partner’s hand and lay my head in the other boy’s lap. Help. I’m sorry. It’s gone as soon as the ambulance merges us off the interstate toward the hospital.

The last time it appears, I’m ready and so I reach out and grab it. Just plucked it from the air and hold it in my fist. I wrap a chain around it that I’ve been keeping in my pocket and wear it as a pendant around my neck. When I start to feel the expanding weight of it against my chest, I pluck it off the chain and swallow it whole. My jaw pops painfully and my throat hugs it tight for a second, but I don’t let up; I keep working at it like a snake swallowing a rat and eventually it slinks and twists down, down around my arteries, and I feel them thump thump out of my neck in protest; it orbs around my heart which jitters and pauses to consider it, and the atria squeeze out all their chambers of blood too soon, afraid the blackhole might swallow it. It travels down to my aorta which thump thumps shock waves through my belly. I slip into the bedroom, pull off my shirt, and lay there watching it move. I can see the aorta squirming and uncomfortable, rippling the thin layer of fat across my belly like maybe I have a second heart there.

One of those times, my partner walks in. I wish…he starts.

It’s okay, I say. He puts his forehead against mine. He puts his lips against mine—it is a foreign taste, but he wants to know it. He puts his hand over my heart. He wants to feel its journey, but he can’t really. If only we could shrink down to smaller than an atom together.

Evan lives in New Orleans, LA with his husband. His work has appeared in Five:2:One, Cleaver Magazine, Cease Cows, Gone LawnMonkeybicycle, and others. You can keep up with his writing at www.evanmichaelanderson.com and on Twitter @emanderson_1.

One response to “Flash Fiction: Things That Won’t Stay Swallowed by Evan Michael Anderson

  1. Very encompassing, I felt anxious through the description of anxiety in this book. Well written! I want to read more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s