An artwork in three panels
Three Women (Alice, Gretchen, Susan), Susan Schaffer, 2008
Before the shouting starts, you hear the baritone bell on the far side of the canyon. A dog joins in with a howl, cutting through the chili-chili-chili of the morning birds and the gurgle of the fridge and the flick of your dental floss. Now you hear what sounds like arguing next door and a wooden clap-clap and a woman shrieking. You go to the window, its frame blonde with dust and already hot to the touch. As you lower the shade, you hear a child cry out. You feel a mantle of heat pressing in on the house.
The little girl comes running first, trailed by a bulgy dog. Her brother catches up and pulls her back before she reaches the edge of the canyon. Their mother comes next, followed by the father, who is moving quickly, shoulders hunched, a rifle in his arms. You regret that you’ve come outside to look. Then the light shifts and you see it’s not a rifle, at all, it’s a mop handle with a beige-patterned snake hanging from it. The man shuffles across the street and lobs the serpent into the air. Ohhh! you all cry as the creature quivers and plummets into the gorge.
A whistle in the dark. They’ve got her. The mountain lion. She’s grabbed a neighbor’s pooch and it isn’t the first time, either. It’s late when the rangers finally shoot her in the brush and bring her down from behind the new homes. Husbands in pajamas and hiking boots watch as the rangers load her body into the pickup. She was lame, they say, which explains the poaching of the backyard pets. That, and all these months of drought. Everything’s drier, everything’s hungrier. The men touch the big cat’s amber jaw then take a selfie and close up the truck.
Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer living in Italy. Her flash fiction has been published in anthologies and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic and selected for inclusion in Best Microfiction 2019. Her novella “How to Make a Window Snake”won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2017 and the UK’s Saboteur Award for Best Novella in 2018.