One of my favourite aspects of flash fiction is the chance to explore another story for a while without having to commit. The world-building happens on the fly, while you’re writing, and the characters inhabit only that moment, or those moments during which the story happens. It’s like visiting another world for just a little while.
My flash fiction tends to fall into one of two categories: a peek at something bigger (or another idea for the Big Book of Ideas) or something that feels complete, even though it’s short. The latter is much harder to do, I think. To tell a full story in only a handful of words. The second piece I want to share today does it so, so well, though, and I wish I had written it. Alas, I did not, and I’m grateful to ‘Nathan Burgoine for allowing me to share his piece on my blog.
First up, a picture frozen in time. I had a plan for this one, but when I sat down to write, a different story crept out, one I like very much, and an idea that has been dutifully entered into the Big Book of Ideas.
Dad’s Side of the Family
If you stare at anything long enough, it will blur. Sometimes it will change into something you want to see. Sometimes not. The photo on Tim’s cellphone is not what I want to see.
“That’s not me,” I say.
“Despite the fact you’re wearing the same pajamas. Right now. The ones I gave you two months ago.”
My mind wants to latch on to that. The pajama pants. I remember peeling back the paper and being confused by the pattern revealed beneath. A soft fold of material in grey and blue, with crisscrossed stripes. A check. He’d given me pajama pants and it was at once confusing, endearing, more domestic than I’d imagined we’d ever be, and… sweet. I remember thinking it was sweet.
“I love these pants.”
Tim’s smile is brief.
I tap the picture. “Okay, so… this. How did you do it?”
My gut feels as though it’s folded in half, and breakfast is pushing back upward. I swallow. His gaze flicks to my throat and I know he’s interpreting the movement of my Adam’s apple as anxiety. He’s right. I’m anxious as hell. My palms are sweating and there’s this buzz somewhere behind me. I’d turn and look for it, but years of experience have taught me there’s nothing there. The buzz is in my head.
Tim flops down onto the couch, phone gripped in one hand. “Can we pretend, for just a minute, that you’ve already admitted to the fact you can move things without touching them. It’s… a thing. A skill. A gift? You’ve always had it. You inherited it from your grandmother. Your entire life, you’ve hidden it, which is why you’ve never had a proper relationship before. But now the secret is out, and you’re actually kinda relieved, because now you can stop pretending you sleepwalk, or that you’re forgetful, or that we’re living with a fucking poltergeist.”
I’m gaping now and it’s not all in feigned innocence. I mean… seriously? He’s this far along?
Of course he is. This is Tim.
I sit on the couch next to him, the same couch in the photo, and close my mouth. My tongue is dry. My gut is not happy with the sitting situation and I’m thinking about throwing up. Or not throwing up.
Tim slips a hand into mine. “It’s okay. Really. I’m cool with weird.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Just tell me the truth. That’s all I want.”
The truth is that he’s right. Sort of. I’ve always had this… I don’t call it a gift. It’s not a curse, either. It’s just something extra. Like another sense, maybe. I can feel things. The couch beneath me, the slippers on my feet. That’s what the buzz in the back of my head is, and when I get agitated, things… move. I can control it. Hell, I’ve been playing with the extra forever. But when I’m anxious, or sometimes when I’m sleeping…
I look at Tim. At the beautiful man sitting next to me—not running, screaming, calling Ghost Hunters or the men in little white coats. The man who lends a happy burr to the noise of things. I took a chance when he invited me to move in with him. When he decided I needed something other than boxer shorts to sleep in.
I take a breath. I squeeze his hand. “It’s actually from my dad’s side of the family.”
As I mentioned earlier, ‘Nathan’s fic is the sort I love most: it tells a complete story. I expect he could write more. His pieces are always inventive and interesting. In this instance, I don’t think he needs to. I think all we need to know is right here.
I jolt awake, and do the thing I always do: reach out a hand to see if he’s there.
The warmth of him is always a comfort, even though the rest is completely unknown.
He’s awake, too.
“Are you okay?” Emmitt says.
There’s a sadness in his voice, and hearing it tells me he knows.
It’s a relief. And it’s frightening. I can never decide if it’s kinder to him when I end up in my little cottage alone, or when he’s there and has no idea, but this time? He knows.
There’s guilt when I touch his skin, but when he kisses me, I’m so grateful. We both pretend there aren’t tears.