FIVE FLASH PIECES
by Emily Grelle
Shell of an Aphrodisiac
Lathered in shampoo, her hair became like sea foam embracing knotted driftwood, limbs exfoliating on the shore. Her flesh was turning pink from such long exposure to the shower head’s hot prick, and the moon’s white hot eye lit up with the glee of a voyeur, peeping through darkness at a celestial body in motion. Razor in hand, she mutilated every hair that dared leave its follicle inside her. She had no room in her life for hairy situations, and she inwardly thanked the shower for demanding that she curtain herself off from the world at least once a day. Sometimes she would pretend she was a pearl, safely clasped in the tub’s hard enamel shell. If she wanted free, she could slither out, never clammy but like an oyster—a moist, labial aphrodisiac to be swallowed up by tongues of towels. And yet she was afraid of water—the taste of it repulsed her. To drink it felt like subjecting her insides to a bath in which there was no soap, no sponge, no scented crystals, only a cesspool of phlegm and bile. She was glad when the gurgle of the drain proclaimed the downfall of moistness. Her feet were the only part of her whose allegiance to water made itself known in shapeless prints upon the floor, but even these did not stay fastened to her nails for long. She would sic her slippers on this part of her that someone had so aptly labeled ‘heel,’ and the sound of their synthetic soles when they slapped the floor for its insubordinate behavior would carry her forward, deliver her to drier ground. The mirror was the final frontier. At the face-off she knew to enlist an army of Q-tips to help her come clean completely—she’d plant their shafts so deep inside her ears that drums of war would seem to sing and plead. Its head erect and seeing stars, the moon would watch and wax and shoot off comets at the height of heaven.
Down by the River, I Dare Not Go
Down by the river, where the banks burn blue with dragonflies of every shape and size, a woman lives alone. And yet the friends who sometimes visited her home have stopped coming due to their suspicion (which they developed independently of one another) that the woman was already entertaining some unknown guest upon their arrival. One friend conjectured that the woman kept a stuffed toy in the house, perhaps a guinea pig or a duck (or something equally gregarious), and did not want her friends to know that she believed it to be real. The reason the kettle on the stove was always hot or boiling when her guests arrived must be because the doorbell had interrupted teatime with her stuffed friend, and not because the woman’s hospitable nature enabled her to anticipate the precise moment of her guest’s arrival (as her friends had previously supposed). Another friend maintained that the woman must have a secret lover, bound and gagged upon the bed. This friend did not wish to imagine the scene any further. A different friend was certain that the first friend (with whom he’d had a quarrel) had arrived there first and instructed the woman to keep his presence a secret, so that he could eavesdrop on their conversation and use it against him later. This caused him to stomp out of the house once and for all, too angry even to remember that he should slam the door for good measure. A cockroach who had stolen into the woman’s bedroom knew the house to be regrettably empty. The cupboards were secure, and there was nowhere dark to go save for under the retreating shoe, so eager to close the distance between itself and its own shadow—one that is lengthening, even now, upon the poorly paved ground.
In this hall, there is a worn-out little dog with his tail still wagging. There are breadcrumbs lining the floor into the bedroom, but there are no owners there, and the bedstead is creakingly empty. The dog is wholly unaware that the light he sees, shining from beneath the door, belongs to the moon and not his master. His tongue crawls from his jaws like a snail unfolding from its shell, and he makes no move to retrieve it. Instead, he prances up close to the tightly drawn door and whimpers. His unclipped nails sound like hard-shelled insects plotting escape paths along the walls, and his tail beats at the air as though warding off something up there that might wish to attack him. Occasionally the little dog stands up on his two hind legs and makes an engraving in the wooden door. The paint yields to his small claws, turning their tips white as a French manicure. But the dog does not know much about beautification, and so he digs his paws into the palette of the door with little rhyme or reason. Lines form leading nowhere. The grooves the dog is building seem to deepen with every blow, as if a hole might form a gateway for him alone. But what is there for the little dog to bother reaching? For what reason is he knocking with the full weight of his body? The light in the other room wavers and wanes, diluted by the light of day. The doorknob is so gold, it catches the sun and seems to turn with the seconds. There is a pool of incandescent drool where the dog has been standing, and one can see his slug-like tongue return to where it singly squirms in sticky darkness. He forgets why his little legs have carried him here, and he exits back into the hall, where the fallen crumbs beckon to him like the time-hardened heels of his master. He sits in obeisance to some command that no one might have uttered long ago.
Ever since childhood, the man has been certain that his own ears are those of an inbred, domesticated rabbit. Not a lop-eared rabbit with ears that wilt before they ever have a chance to bloom, but the kind of rabbit whose ears stick up and spread like wings, or legs, or the two ticklish points at the end of a snake’s forked tongue. The man’s concern over the welfare of his ears increases whenever he is in a low-ceilinged room or lying down with a lover who whispers quietly to him while tousling his hair. She is apt to misjudge the reach of his ears, and her words’ cotton-swab attempts to close in on the circuitry of his thoughts are always destined to fall short. The elevator also irks him since it causes his ears to pop and sets them throbbing like a tuning fork. It is only when he takes a bath that his mind is set at ease. His ears seem to hunker down around his head like the skin of a peeled banana waiting to be swallowed. Their soft weight against his cheeks makes his upright head feel firm and reliable, as if it is capable of dispersing all the soaped-up suds in a triumphant burst of waves and rubbed-together sponges. And yet he can barely bring himself to pull the plug when it’s all over. With its deep, unintelligible language, the drain entices the water to fill its every hollow and descend somewhere unknown with baritone bravado. The man cannot forgive the drain for stealing the element with which he is so intimately acquainted, and so the drums in his ears begin to beat to the rhythm of war. But no one else is aware of the man’s antagonism toward drains, and they do not hear the pounding in his ears. There is only the ticklish feel of a whisker that sometimes slips past the man’s lips when he kisses, and his feet that leave such massive footprints that no one thinks twice about shrinking his head.
It was time to get the baby dressed for the picnic. The bonnet (round and floppy as a cat sitting on an ottoman and luxuriating in the rays that fall upon its fur like so many fleas) had lost its strings. What can be done with a bonnet that is missing its strings? It certainly must not go on the baby’s head, for no matter how sunny the day, a sudden wind might work itself up into a flurry and steal it to use for its own self-beautification, or else simply to make itself visible when there are no trees, flags, clouds, or other friends of wind in the vicinity. And what is worse is that the wind would get away with it. Who, after all, would condescend to prosecute the wind? Perhaps a kite (that has failed to be uplifted) might condemn the wind for lack of trying along with aforementioned theft. And to add a dose of pathos, the baby could be squeezed on the cheeks and persuaded to cry. But all of these conjectures contribute nothing to the sought-after resolution of our predicament. What about the stringless bonnet? What about the picnic? The baby requires some attire, some attention. If this goes on long enough, its diaper will surely need changing, though it’s unclear exactly who is authorized to change a bonnetless baby. And into what exactly? With no bonnet to be had, the baby might as well be an inedible toadstool waiting to be picked up from the ground. A bird might alight on it at any time, which would likely result in more droppings to be dealt with. Even more bothersome is the prosecution of the wind—without it the bird has no free ride and is liable to remain there for a period of time that is incommensurate with its purpose(lessness). And yet, doesn’t the bonnet deserve to be examined more closely? Perhaps the bonnet has consumed its own strings and they are lying hidden in the folds of its belly, wound around like the intestines of the cat who has just finished its dinner. The baby does not know that it is missing a bonnet, that its crown is as hairless as an old man’s, or even that its head is, in fact, a head. Before it can be stopped, the baby props itself into a standing position using the ottoman, and the bonnet is overturned. Soon there is nothing inside the bonnet but the baby’s head, the recovered strings so snug under the chin that the baby’s fat seems to form another bonnet with strings of drool reaching toward the little feet, getting hopelessly tied up along the way.
Emily Grelle holds an M.A. in Russian studies and a B.A. in English. Her work has appeared in journals such as Spoon River Poetry Review, Sundog Lit, Thrice Fiction, Storyscape Journal, and Zaum. She grew up in Chico, California, and also spent several years in Russia and North Carolina. She now lives in a very old house near Monterey, where she works for a novelist and leads a creative writing program for children.