The Fourth River

Flash Fiction by Sophie Rosenblum

By on May 8, 2013

Pebble Eyes

The chickens are bulletproof these days, sacks of flesh with beakless, nickel-sized heads that barely contain a brain. We’ve engineered them this way, paper bag-colored hairless meat bricks ready for plates. Hens in my day were gorgeous. Full-feathered gals with bright little pebble eyes and two sturdy claws on which to perch. I wake up missing them, and in my dreams I’m chopping heads off at the neck, not doughy in line, pressing buttons on a machine. As kids, we drank milk from the cow’s udder, sucked from the bosom near her backside until we hummed with a hinted high and took our paces back, the incline to the house volleying our supple northern legs. He did it, my cousins said, and now I was worthier, that summer brighter than before.

 

Suspended Something

My parents were youthful, tinier versions of their parents, with crab-cake cheeks and legs sturdy as blood sausage. Each of them worked two jobs and, instead of giving gifts, sprinkled each other with muscle rubs and love words. They never called me a mistake, an accident. They just said, “Let’s think of more money-saving ways to get through this year, okay?” and then we all kind of grinned, knowing I really wasn’t meant to be there. I could get by all right without them. I knew how to hunt, and I wasn’t sorry after a kill. Sometimes I thought of taking the train out. It was autumn, and I could keep on with some juice and a sweater, but when a farm-raised squab turned up at the table, they were glad, even when the neighbor’s dog was put down because of it. Today Nicolas wants to know how babies are born, so I say, “Look,” and I take a date and push the pit through the skin, the middle part, and then I point to my stomach, and say, “here” because he was a c-section, but he’s confused, his face white and wet as feta. I say, “You were radical,” and he says, “Yeah?” and I say, “Sure. And we said, Nicolas, that is one radical kid.” “Dad said it, too?” he asks. And I say, “Of course dad said it. And the doctors said it. And the nurses said it. We all said, That’s one radical baby.”

 

Island, Junk, Crave

Marcy and I went to the island to get dyed orange from the sun. We wanted to avoid words like overcast and stuck. I took not much with me, sunglasses and shorts that doubled as a bathing suit. She took some lemon-based product to bleach the mousey out of her hair and tons of tops missing the neck part. They squeezed around her middle like brightly colored pythons. We went daily to the beach, ate mornings by the dunes. I was embarrassed day two for getting a book at the gift shop, but conversation got thin quick, and my vision for us two chatting sea-side warped into drunk meals covered in edible flowers. “I’m still not eating them,” Marcy said, pushing petals with her fork. I said, “Come on, Marcy, try it,” the way I’d coaxed beer and sometimes a pill or two down her. But she said, “No,” firm as stretched canvas, so I dropped things and took a snorkeling class. Out in the water, I was coming up clean and starting to finally see things again when my foot scraped a can, and the sting from the cut was wild and hot.

 

Our Dear Compulsions

As a six-year-old, it’s most important to face all stuffed animals towards the door. They like to see who might be coming in and out. When you go to sleep, make sure of this. All of their eyes, white felt or brown plastic, will stare as a vacant mass. On Halloween, section your candies out in pairs. If there are an odd number of Blowpops or Tootsie Rolls, throw them out. Each candy needs a partner. Three of anything doesn’t work. Also, organize by color. It’s nice if even shades of brown are separated, the sepia, russet, and auburn each in lines. When you eat them, do so in pairs, making sure not to leave a lone one. Chew on each side, even bites, measured, calm. Spell out words in your head. Feel for rhythms that make sense. Love palindromes, haikus, rules. When you dog-sit, run your finger down the spaniel’s spine, counting the markings on each side of her body, disappointed again and again when the numbers don’t match up.

 

 

 

Sophie Rosenblum is pursuing her PhD at Florida State University. Her fiction has appeared in New Letters, American Short Fiction, and The Iowa Review. She is the Web Editor for NANO Fiction and the Fiction Editor for Better Magazine. You can find links to more of her work here.

Cover image from the David Rumsey Map Collection.