3rd Place in the spring 2018 TSS Flash 400 Competition
My father comes from fire. At night I can hear his steam, twisting his irises into candlewicks. My mother stands in doorways, watching.
Come to bed, Jeff, my mother says. Just a minute, Rhonda, my father says.
He dials up the Phil Collins, paces. Dad loves his Phil Collins. He also loves Britney Spears and bad kung fu movies and slipping cigarettes to my friends, slipping and lighting them with his tongue, “like magic.”Did I mention we’re 16?
The music dims. My father sits. This is the worst, his blue-black silence. The house rocks in his slow burn, rocks and rocks. I imagine him gone, Mom hosing down the place in a pair of red stilettos. She pretends she doesn’t see—the handprints flaming down his back, those teeth marks from other women.
My mother comes from water. She is the pair of cool hands that coax my father from burning rooftops, her body the safety net he falls into at the bottom. He sees her most in absence—the laundry that doesn’t get done, the rind of soap that hardens in the bathtub drain when she leaves to visit Aunt Linda for a week. She dissolves in corners, watches my father parade in restaurants. His fire melts her, disappears her inside his body.
I am the smoke that comes from my father’s flame. I whistle out of windows and coil down the stairs. I slip shapeless into dive bars. I let wannabe married rock stars feel me up in bathroom stalls and gutters. I am my mother’s ocean. I am her water, bending to Bowie on the jukebox, to the smell of weed and wedding rings and to long, blue bodies, to what they want, to what they tell me to do, against the wall or over a graffitied toilet, to lips and thighs and hands. I am the mist they wash off lips and thighs and hands. I let them do what they want.
Sometimes I sneak back home and hear Dad pacing. His long legs pacing, steam pushing, the cigarette melting in his lips. Smoke ghosts against my window. It massages it with words—Go to bed. Won’t tell Mom. So sorry—wasn’t ready for all this. This—three stick figures in his smoky kindergarten scratch. Me, my mother, him.
Leonora Desar’s writing can be found or is forthcoming in Passages North, River Styx, SmokeLong Quarterly, Harpur Palate,Hobart, and Quarter After Eight, among others. She recently won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest, and was a finalist/runner-up in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She also received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and was a finalist in Black Warrior Review’s flash prose contest and for SmokeLong Quarterly’s Kathy Fish fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn.