Highly Commended in the winter 2019 TSS Flash Fiction 400 Competition

 

I have always eaten mice. My earliest memory is of swallowing one whole while my mother chased me with a broom trying to get me to spit it out.

When my teeth grew in, I rarely swallowed them whole. Instead, I enjoyed the taste of warm blood and the crunch of small bones.

My mother, she used to worry I’d choke on one of them.

My grandmother told her not to worry, that I had part of an agyinamoa (cat) spirit inside of me. She’d come from Ghana and spoke like she was always singing. She was the first person I tried gifting a mouse to.

It is difficult to describe growing up in my house. There was the summer of my grandmother and the spring of my mother. The winter of my father, whose voice sometimes caused earthquakes and hurricanes.

I went to school. I didn’t like the noise of so many people talking or the way teachers wanted you to stare directly into their eyes.

Grandmother told me stories of tricksters and said my father had the spirit of a warthog inside of him.

Look, she told me, how he enters each door slightly backwards.

My mother’s love was stealth and shadow. She wore dresses that resembled the color of our walls, a sort of soft beige. Sometimes I’d blink and forget where she’d gone.

She whispered to me at night, when my father wasn’t raining thunder down on her. Touched the back of my hand, matching our skin tones like swatches of fabric.

I fought at school, mostly for something to do. Partly because I liked the way punching felt. The way my knuckles split on teeth.

My mother’s hands bandaged me and punished me at the same time, counting my wincing as penance.

“One day,” she said. “One day.”

She braided my hair into tight rows, sitting behind me with her warm hands on my scalp. My grandmother gave her warrior’s beads to put on the ends so I moved musically.

At night, I imagined my claws growing, splitting the flesh between my fingers. I could almost feel the tingle in the webbed flesh. Feel the fur sprouting from the place I kept my pain and poison.

My father had never hunted. He did not know how to pounce or slash. When my claws grew, I would show him.

***

JM Templet is a recent transplant from Seattle who works in a school library by day and terrorizes her fat pugs by night.