I’ve been trying to write on the two pieces I have up at BookCountry, so I’ve been remiss with keeping up with my Flash Fiction. So when I saw the amazing Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) tweet a reminder that his Flash Fiction Challenge was due on Friday at noon, I had to jump on it.
What’s the challenge this week, you ask? Just this picture:
My contribution is below the fold. I will say, this ended up much differently than I initially thought it would. I ended up writing a lot more than the 1000 word limit, so I had to do some pruning, but I think it works well.
Mother was a hoarder. She always preferred the word ‘collector’, but Ethan and I would always call it what she actually was. Hoarder, psycho, complete nutjob… depending on whether she was in earshot or not, of course. Mother wasn’t just a hoarder, she had a mean drunk temper, whether or not she was actually drinking.
I remember when I first read the word ‘mercurial’ when I was in a kid. I ran back home from the library to tell Ethan I had finally found the thing that Mother was, but didn’t pay enough attention that she was in the living room while we were making dinner.
“What did you call me?” she said, too quietly, from behind me. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in the Clinic, with fourteen stitches on my forehead and a concussion.
When I turned sixteen, I jumped ship. Ethan was already out of the house a year at that point, and I tried to move in with him. His psycho girlfriends were almost as bad as Mother, though he had the ability to get rid of them. We never could get rid of Mother.
I tried by moving across the country. Waking up with cold sweats night after night, Mother in a falling-down house in Ohio, myself in a cheap walk-up in Seattle, the distance just made her voice in my head a little bit crisper.
We thought that she would live forever, on sheer crazy. Ethan called me one night with the news I thought I’d be elated to hear.
“She’s dead.” he said without preamble. I dropped onto my couch, barely keeping the phone to my ear. “Can you come home?”
Home? I thought. I couldn’t speak. This is home. Not that place, covered in all of Mother’s various projects and shit from her beloved strays. Those nasty animals that I always knew she loved more than us.
I cleared my throat and told Ethan that I would be back in town as soon as I could get a flight out. I had to hang up before I changed my mind. Ethan needed me.
He met me at the baggage claim. It had been a few years since we had seen each other, but there was no mistaking the tall blond man who hid his damage behind a stellar smile. I, on the other hand, wore my damage on my sleeve, which was why I think he noticed me first.
“Missy is already at the house.” He said without greeting. He took my bag without touching me. I don’t like to be touched.
“She’ll have the place organized in no time.” I stopped walking. “Why did you have me come out?”
“She was your mother, Ellen.”
I shook my head, knowing that I was putting him in a corner.
The ride out to the house was silent. Ethan didn’t seem to mind when I put on the radio and surfed through the channels.
He pulled up to the house that still surfaced up in my nightmares. Ethan got out, but I couldn’t bring myself to open the car door.
Ethan made the decision for me by opening up my door.
“Come on.” Ethan whispered.
The smell hit me as I opened the front door. Stale cigarette smoke mixed with rotting paper with a dash of cat piss for good measure. I was confused for a moment, thinking that I was late and that Mother was going to kick my ass in just a minute.
No one was going to kick my ass today.
“Ethan honey? Did you get her?” Missy called from the back of the house. I saw her handiwork already in the house, with all the scattered trash that would normally be through the house was stacked and bagged. There was a semblance of organization to all of Mother’s things, which was never present while I was living here.
“Well, there you are. Come on and get something to drink.” Missy came into the hallway. Outside of her hair going completely white, Missy was the same slip of a woman that she had been my whole life. Ethan called her Miss Tornado when we were kids, and it still suited her.
I followed her, still not ready to speak, back into the kitchen. This is where Missy had started, as everything had a place and there were already items tagged and ready for the estate sale. Missy handed me a glass of iced tea, as I looked over the collections.
The porcelain doll heads caught my eye. Those god-damned doll heads, roughly fired long ago when Mother had decided to make her own dolls were jumbled together with other toys in the corner hutch. While I first found them incredibly creepy, the more Mother lost her mind, more affinity I felt with them. They were parts, strong enough to be made whole but they never would be able to in this house, this life.
“Missy, I need those doll heads.” I said, setting my drink on the scarred old kitchen table.
Missy stopped for a moment, as if to argue, but looked at me, slowly nodding.
“You take anything you need to, honey.” She placed her hands gently on my shoulders. “Anything you need.”
She left me alone with Ethan. I looked at him once, then turned away from him and back to the doll heads. I grabbed the dishtowel, gently placing each porcelain head into the cloth.
I only had to navigate the screen door with its still sticky latch, holding the doll heads in the cloth like an infant. Ethan followed at a small distance behind.
I opened the dishcloth on the ground, and picked up a doll head. I caressed it for a moment before taking aim at the outbuilding, throwing it with all my strength at the wall. Ethan jumped at the sound, taking a step towards me. I turned to look back at him, then picked up another one and threw again.