Sarah sat on the sofa, listening to her mother read, “It was an anxious moment for the watchers on the bridge. They looked and looked…”
Distracted by movement across the street, her mother stopped and identified the stranger pacing in a neighbor’s yard. “That’s Miss Donovan’s niece, “she said and resumed reading “…and even the sight of Piglet’s stick coming out a little in front of Rabbit’s didn’t cheer them…”
Approaching sirens ricocheted through the frigid winter air, permanently interrupting the afternoon’s reading. Sarah squeezed her knees into her chest when the ambulance stopped at the end of Miss Donovan’s sidewalk. Now silent, circling sirens bounced red off homes and snow.
She reached for her mother’s hand as their neighbor’s hurried niece and two paramedics disappeared into the backyard. Anticipating the outcome, her mother spoke softly of Miss Donovan: of her age and her osteoporosis. And she told Sarah about how flowers bloom and die.
When they lifted Miss Donovan’s black-bagged body into the ambulance, her mother said, “Miss Donovan was like an orchid, a long-lasting flower on a gently sloping stem.”
“She was always happy,” Sarah said.
“Like coreopsis,” her mother added.
Three months later, the first lumps on her mother’s breast burst forth with the crocus as it breached the softening dirt of spring. By mid-summer, her body rejected chemo. The spreading cancer took root like a pernicious weed. Blossoming tumors, like a many flowered perennial, flourished until the shifting sun cast its autumnal shadows. In the waning days, Sarah paid witness to each petal her mother dropped. Holding her father’s hand, she allowed the soil to reclaim the now decaying beauty of what had once been.
Days later, walking to the river, Sarah said, “Mom was so courageous.”
“Like the oak,” her father added.
Shuffling through a collage of maple, ash, and locust leaves, they stopped on a footbridge. The water’s current held Sarah captive until a family of quacking mallards paddled upstream.
She turned, looked up at her father and asked, “Can we play Pooh Sticks?”
“Of course,” he responded.
After finding two twigs of similar lengths, they returned to the bridge.
“One, two, three,” her father counted.
They released their sticks and rushed to the other side.
It was an anxious moment for Sarah. She looked and looked, and even the sight of her stick emerging before her father’s didn’t cheer her.
This story has seen many incarnations, all originally centered around a glass swan bud vase. After many attempts and two rejections, I remembered that Meg has a section on her website titled Meg’s Flash Writing Tips and decided that perhaps her tips could offer me inspiration. Reading through the list I locked onto two. One, asking if the story feels original and true; and another, asking if the end leaves the reader breathless rather than ‘completely satisfied’. With these two objectives in mind, I tackled the story anew, and discovered the only way to answer the questions she posed was to slash my beloved vase. There is a reason why we turn to the masters.
Constance Malloy is the author of Tornado Dreams, 2018 TEN16 Press. Her stories have been nominated for Best Microfiction 2021 and Shortlisted at Fractured Lit’s Micro Fiction Prize. Follow her at constancemalloy.com and on Twitter @ConstanceMall13. She has also recently joined NFFR as a Fiction Editor.