I’m the best wife—Sarah told her mother—I take good care of Stanley, like you took good care of me. We learn the best techniques from our parents, darling—her mother responded—I’m glad you were paying attention. Sarah hung up with a smile, reminiscing on all the hospital trips, treatments, and medications throughout her childhood. As a result, she was a healthy adult, healthier than Stanley, who suffered chronic neck, back, and knee pain, not to mention the migraines and heel issues. Before he came home, she went to her closet and pulled down the shoe box that held the Flat Stanley her son had sent out for adventure as a school project. The idea had hit her when it was eventually returned. She pushed it down farther onto the leaf’s thorns. Stanley would need extra attention tonight. Sarah would baby him with a back rub, forehead kisses, and a special dinner brought to him in his chair. She was such a good wife.
It’s a parasite, ya know—Len said as he twirled his finger around, indicating the wisteria dripping from the pergola. I hadn’t known. What’s more, I didn’t want to know. Len loved to enlighten me, especially when he could destroy notions of things I loved. I nodded, unimpressed. Parasite indeed. I imagined that beetle that infiltrated spiders and took control as they ate the spider from within its own body. If one crawled into Len, it could commandeer a larger life form, eating on him for an excessively longer amount of time. I wondered how long Len would be in control of himself if this happened—a day, a week, a month. It’s a tiny beetle in comparison to a human.
I believe you can eat the blossoms—I told him and started picking some for (his) dinner. They were prettier than expected on the salad. Len didn’t notice that I took very few blossoms, and that I didn’t actually eat even those. After three long days, I asked if he was okay. He looked at me funny and asked why. I shrugged. Then I looked up wisteria on my phone. The blossoms are edible. Len’s right. I really should pay more attention to what I’m doing.
“Happy Anniversary!” Rich leaned down and gave Barb a kiss as he handed her a dozen yellow roses.
“Oh, honey, they’re beautiful. Thank you.” She beamed back at him.
After he went downstairs to his home office, I asked her how many years. She told me thirty. Later that night, he gave her a 3-carat diamond ring, one carat for each decade of their marriage. It was obnoxious, but the roses were gorgeous. As Barb’s personal home health aide, I was often witness to the couple’s relationship interactions. Today I would become privy to a secret.
“Would you please put them in a vase and set them in my office?” Her office was a small room off the kitchen that she rarely entered.
“But you won’t see them in there. Don’t you want them in the kitchen or living room?”
She leaned toward me from her wheelchair and stage whispered, “I hate yellow.”
“What?” I was astonished. She’d seemed genuinely pleased to receive them. “I figured it must be your favorite color since men usually give red roses.”
Barb sighed and sat back. “He gave me yellow roses on our first anniversary. We were newly married, so I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I gushed over them, and he forever believes they’re my favorite.”
“Why don’t you tell him otherwise?”
“It’s too late.”
I put them in a vase and set them in her office, drawing in their scent deeply before leaving.
He looked exactly the same as the day he left, in his favorite green striped shirt and cargo shorts bulging with plastic dinosaurs. It had to be a hallucination, but I didn’t care. I knelt and hugged my ten-year-old son who should have been twenty. The door hit me on the way down. I hugged him so tightly, wanting to never let go again. Footsteps came up behind me. Hal pulled the door open, and a gasp escaped him. Terry–he whispered–Terry. Hi Dad–said the forever little boy.
Over the next few weeks, Terry told various stories of his whereabouts, none that made sense, except perhaps the few time travel tales. But who believes in time travel? At the end of Summer, Terry announced that he must leave again, that he wasn’t really supposed to have come home. Though he hadn’t seem to have aged, even over the Summer while he was in our sights at all times, he appeared to have the wisdom of an old soul. We let him go. We had to. He promised to visit us again, but we might not remember him then. Yes, he would likely still appear to be a ten-year-old boy. There were no answers to our real questions.
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Yeah, that new little foreign job crumpled up like a used tissue. My big ole Plymouth, made of solid steel, got barely a scratch.
But then, she’s down there talking to a police officer. And I’m up here, looking down at my body wrapped around my steering wheel.
Yellow air dusted everyone who dared go outside. We all looked sickly, most of us miserable. Sneezes caused the powdery tree sperm to be flung off as a wet dog shakes off the water. Snorfling followed, a disgusting, yet necessary action. The spores lingered throughout summer. Hearts clenched.
This piece was originally written for Flash Fiction Friday at Inner Circle Writers’ Group.
Something was crawling on my back inside my shirt. I ripped off my shirt. Standing there in my bra, I flicked the shirt across my back until the creepy crawly feeling diminished to a tolerable level. Then I saw the spider on the last button, wrapped around it like a child clinging to the head of the person holding him on her shoulders. I dropped the shirt, then snatched it back up and ran to the washer. Only after I threw it in, and listened to it fill up, did I realize that the dead spider would not go down the drain with the rinse water, but need to be removed by hand. I shivered. Probably I could procrastinate for a couple days. Maybe someone would drop by in that time.
That night a sleep paralysis nightmare washed over me like a thousand spiders. It felt literally like spiders walking all over me, an army of them, a family of them. Oh, God! Its family! The spider’s family. How many spiders could there be in one family? I’ve seen those eggs hatch; it seems like a never-ending supply of baby spiders, far worse than all those horrifying clowns popping out of that stupid little car.
In the morning I felt itchy everywhere, but not the itchy that cries out for scratching, rather the kind that makes you feel as though you’re being watched. I forced myself to check the washer. I gently pulled the damp shirt from the belly of the beast, shaking it frantically and tossing it in the dryer. Half-expecting the spider to launch itself at my face, I peered in slowly. It was nowhere inside my machine. Maybe I needed a better look. I grabbed a flashlight from the whatsit drawer in the kitchen and aimed it in the washer. The light circled the barrel, faster in case the little critter was still actually alive and running from the light. I did the same in the dryer, shaking the shirt again like a woman on meth, not that I knew anything about that. No spider. No carcass.
Again the same sleep paralysis nightmare overtook me. I woke breathlessly, crying. The spiders crawled all over me, as I lay there unable to move or even open my eyes, repeatedly all night, alternating with gasping wakefulness, great gulping sobs by morning. The itchiness continued unabated. The paralysis attacks me nightly. My work is suffering. What can I tell people? Where is that stupid little spider?
“The ring, please.” Father Monahan turned to Jeffrey, whose gaze sent everyone’s eyes to the back of the room. Whatever he was looking at was not apparent, and all returned their attention to the couple.
“Jeffrey,” the groom stage-whispered angrily at his best man. He couldn’t be bothered right now that his lifelong friend’s unrequited love hadn’t shown. For god’s sake, it was his wedding. If Jeffrey ruined it, their friendship was in question. It had been faltering ever more as this obsession had grown.
Laila slowly opened the heavy church door, hoping for a quiet entrance. She was late, hadn’t been expecting to come at all. Susanna had begged her to come. Her little sister’s wedding was a must, but she understood that HE would be there. They agreed that no one wanted the commotion that would ensue from her presence. Yet she desperately wished to see her baby girl she helped raise marry the man of her dreams. The door squeak echoed around the three-stories’ tall ceiling. Acoustics were fantastic in here—as a singer, she was impressed. Then all eyes turned again to the back of the room.
Halfway up, Laila’s ex-husband Henri sat with two of their children, both of them excited about baby sister as flower girl. Upon seeing Laila in the doorway, with sunlight haloing her auburn hair, he stood up, snapped his fingers for the kids to follow, and headed to the door. As he walked down the aisle, he heard a gasp from the front, but didn’t turn to find out from who. In his peripheral vision, he noted a tall man in black on the left get up and head in the same direction. He did not want to know who this guy was. Henri reached back for his children. The sound of little feet running behind him assured him that all his kids were coming.
John beckoned me over to look at mom’s birthday gift, a photo of all of us kids. She’d hung it on her dining room wall above her grandma’s buffet. I looked in the bottom right corner where he pointed.
“Is that a cat?”
“No way. I don’t own a cat. I’m allergic.”
“It looks like a black cat.”
“If it were, I would be dead. You know my allergy.”
“I do. That’s why it seems so weird.”
I looked closer. It must be a shadow, but it sure did look like a black cat. His eyes were glowing green from the flash.
Shelley took a selfie of us, with her hand held in front to show off the engagement ring, for her parents, who lived across the country. After texting it to them, her dad called, concerned.
“Daddy! Isn’t it exciting? Wait. What? There’s no cat. No, no, Tim’s allergic. What? Of course, I’m sure.” She hung up and went to her text. There was indeed a black cat on her lap, her arm just above its head, engagement ring accentuating her smile. What the hell?
Now I lie in bed, the creature sitting on my chest. It’s weight feels so real, yet my allergies are not activated by its presence. I cannot go to sleep. I cannot move. My phone is in the living room.
“She has a penis. I seen her naked. Why do you think she always wears skirts?”
“That’s stupid. Ain’t nobody got a penis and boobs. That don’t make sense.”
“You don’t make sense.”
“Shut up, stupid.”
Farmhands Larry and Darryl ogled Meredith Winters from the barn’s hay loft. She walked past every day, twice, on her way to town and back to her little house in the dell. Always they stopped to stare as she passed. Usually they spouted nonsensical rumors to entertain themselves. Every day, she waved at them just before going round the bend past the copse of trees at the edge of their boss Traynor’s land. This unnerved them each time; once Larry jumped away from the window so abruptly, he shoved Darryl, who stumbled several feet before falling from the loft. He walked now with a limp, and his left hand fell asleep randomly. Larry covered for his cousin when the hand affected his work. Family was family.
Miss Meredith giggled as she waved. Not only was her hearing superior to humans, they would never guess her secret in a gazillion years, when she would still be there, and all these silly, rumor-mongering humans gone.