I began my writing journey with flash fiction, and if I’m being honest, I miss it. There’s something about the brevity and wholeness of a piece of flash, an organic structure, a slice that shows the complete picture. It continues to fascinate me. Novels and flash fiction are such completely different beasts that I can’t bring myself to write flash when I’m first-drafting a novel.
I’m working on the contracted sequel for THE BLUE BAR, due out this October, so flash is beyond me at the moment.
What I can do instead is look up some of my old work, which is what I did.
I killed my boy on a trip down the stairs.
Dave, poor bastard, keeps saying not your fault Mia, come on, but from where I am, inside this blue-foggy place, I see only the tiny face that would have suckled at my breast right now, right here on this sofa, had I stayed careful. Dave doesn’t tell me we’ll make another one.
He and I haven’t been doing it lately. All this lard, I wear it like a blanket, to wrap myself in. The other part is I can’t stand it, to have something enter me, deposit a life and then for me to go and lose it, have it fall out.
Three years I tried, let Dave laugh at the way I kept a calendar of my temperature, made him do it on the right days with a bolster under my hips, lay in the right posture afterwards, for the right amount of time. And then Dave found me, knocked out and bleeding. If not for him, I’d have bled out all the way.
The last two months, I live on the sofa next to the foot of the stairs. I refuse to run away from what I’ve done. I live in front of the TV, walk out during ad breaks to pee, or scrounge in the refrigerator. Catch a nap at dawn and wake up to the morning bulletin. I lower the volume at nights so Dave can sleep, because I’m afraid I’ll stop living if the TV stops talking. I need noise to drown out what would have been my son’s heartbeat.
Last night I woke up and stared out of the window, and then I knew. It was the bear, the bear who sat beside me on the sofa, his paw the size of a dinner plate on my shoulder, soft and padded, claws hidden. The bear had taken my son. Not a grumpy bear, this one. He had a half-smile, like he knew lots of secrets he wasn’t telling.
This morning, I tried to tell Dave.
“I can’t sleep these days,” he said, “Without you beside me I can’t relax, you know that, and now you come to me with weird tales about your dreams.”
“You’re not listening.”
“Bear with me. We’re paying a professional to listen to you, Mia.”
I stared at him, his rumpled hair, his tousled clothes and how very like a grizzly he looked. I wanted to hug him. And then I didn’t.
“I can come with you for the session, if you like.”
He stripped on the way to his shower, and I couldn’t stand how toned he looked, fitter than five years ago, when I married him. Nah, no bear looked like that. I went back to the sofa to catch up on sleep.
I wake up past noon, to silence. Has Dave left me and gone?
I switch on the TV next—why had he switched it off? He’s left me the usual note, stuck on the TV remote: Food in the refrigerator. Get brunch when you wake up. Will call you. Want to go out this evening?
The air-conditioning whirs, but my t-shirt is moist with sweat. I feel filthy with the smell of stale food, sweat, alcohol. I brush my teeth and head to the kitchen, pour my cereal. Two foods I like these days, cereals and pizza: anything else makes my stomach protest.
Moving about the kitchen, I feel the first stitches of pain in my lower back, the fullness in my pelvis. It is coming, the cramping reminder that I don’t need folic acid any more, can booze as much as I want. My breasts have hurt for the last three days. My nipples feel tender against my t-shirt, but no tiny mouth would suckle them.
When I get back to the sofa, I find the bear, looking at me with a smile that is not a smile. I shiver, but I wouldn’t give in. Won’t let a stupid bear scare me away from my own sofa.
He’s sitting at my spot. I shove at him. My lard is good for something—it gives me presence, authority. The bear does not budge, keeps smiling in that way he has. I can see his teeth. They are large, not white. His breath smells of old fruits, honey, fir cones, blood, figs. He looks too big to bother with, so I sit next to him, invading his personal space as much as I can without touching.
He puts his paw on my shoulder, and just sits there. I don’t know if he watches me eat, and I don’t care. I switch channels, show him I’m busy, quite capable of being absorbed in what I witness on the screen. I try to find a wildlife channel where they show grizzlies going extinct, or polar bears hanging on to an ice float in the middle of an ocean, or orphaned moon bears looking lost.
I wake up again, and this time, the bear cuddles me, the fur soft against my skin, paws toasty like heat pack on my tummy. “Go back to sleep,” it says in Dave’s gruff voice, and I do.
When I open my eyes, the bear’s gone. I miss the warmth of him, the tickle of his breath in my hair, but not his weight. I know what he’s done. Pushed me down the stairs, the bastard. I want to tell Dave all about it when he comes home.
I switch off the TV, I need the silence to think. 4 p.m. Two more hours and Dave would return.
I gather myself up, go to the kitchen, and pick up the knife. Its heft feels solid in my hand, it reassures me. I’ll give the bear something to think about when he returns.
Hugging me in its giant limbs, it wouldn’t know. I’ll part the cuddlesoft fur under its arm and sink the blade quietly in.
If you liked this piece of flash, hit WANT TO READ on Goodreads for THE BLUE BAR. Each of those helps the book’s journey, you’ll earn tons of good karma, I promise.
Do you like reading or writing flash fiction? What did you think of Bear With Me? It was written at an online writing challenge with the wonderful Forge writing group, and I can’t thank them enough for their support over the years.
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