We Wonder by Yasmina Din Madden

We wonder about the man across the street for a long time. The way he hacks at his bushes with an axe, without rhyme or reason, without any sort of plan. When he finishes, the shrubs look like Jack’s scalp after we held him down and buzzed his hair—patchy and angry. Raw and hurting.

We wonder about the man’s cycling outfit, which he puts on every day at five o’clock sharp. Not shorts and a jersey, like a normal person, but a tight one piece. A spandex, athletic romper. There he goes in his romper, we say, as he pedals furiously down our street. We comment on his crotch, the way it bulges out in a way we can only call disgusting.

We are walking down the street and the man comes by and offers us each a rose from the bouquet he holds. It is near to Valentine’s day and none of us has ever been offered a rose. Candy hearts that say ‘Be Mine’ or ‘You’re Sweet’ are the most we’ve been given, and only because we are all made to give each other such things at school. Cheap flimsy cards that read ‘You’re out of this world’ with a spaceship blasting off, to which we add balls. We take the man’s roses and run. We wonder why a grown man would do such thing.

We are growing. Child-women. In some cultures girls our age are married. But in our world, we pedal our bikes to the beach, to get ice cream that melts as we ride one-handed and cocksure. We ride in packs and wear our bikinis and nothing else. Or tiny shorts and jog bras. We wear our helmets until we are out of sight and then stuff them in our backpacks. We are whippet thin or carry a layer or two of pudge. We chatter, chatter, chatter as we ride. We stare at our reflections every time we pass a window.

We wonder why the man across the street doesn’t have a wife or a girlfriend. A husband or a boyfriend. We don’t know grown men who don’t come in a pair and we are suspicious. One of us pays three dollars to check the sex offender registry for our neighborhood. We are sure he has offended. Why else would he be alone at his age? We know about pedophiles, have been warned of this sort of danger forever. He’s not on any registry but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an offender, we say to each other. Our ponytails swing violently as we nod in agreement.

We decide it is up to us to save the unsuspecting. The most daring of us writes a note: We know what you are it says in fat, curly letters that crowd up against each other. The fastest runner among us darts across the street and slips the note in his mailbox. We watch and wait for what seems forever. We grow impatient and ride our bikes to the pool, push boys we know into the water, get kicked out. We go back on watch and make the weakest in our group go check his mailbox. The note is gone. We wonder if he’s afraid. We wonder what he will do when he finds out it is us. We creep among the bushes and watch and wait until we can’t wait anymore and then we run out onto the lawn and twirl in circles until we fall back on the grass, the world spinning around us.

The NFFR and Yasmina Din Madden Interview

During the pandemic, what’s been your favorite artistic escape either book, music, or tv?

My favorite escape, always, is reading, and I’m certainly doing more reading during the pandemic. I’m currently reading a great collection of stories called “Crooked Hallelujah” by Kelli Jo Ford.

We’ve been thinking about the elusive definition of Flash Fiction and the different and similar ways we all approach it. What’s your working definition of it or thoughts on what it “is”?

This is a tough question. As I tell my students, it’s almost impossible to say there is one definition of the genre. However, there are distinguishing elements of the genre that have to come into play, at least in my definition, which include: the precision and compression of language, time, and emotion; consideration of the relationship of language to time;  the piece should offer a narrative arc in fewer than one thousand words, but still leave a distinct impression, linger, keep the reader thinking about the story past the final word.

What was the inspiration for this story?

Ha! The inspiration for this story was a guy who lived across the street from us last year. We’d never spoken but the one time I ran into him while I was walking my dog, he offered me one rose of a bouquet of roses (it was close to Valentine’s Day, but still…). It was nice but strange and it planted the seed for the story.

Yasmina Din Madden is a Vietnamese American writer who lives in Iowa. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published or are forthcoming in The Idaho Review, PANK, Necessary Fiction, The Forge, The Atticus Review, Fractured, The Fairy Tale Review, and other journals. Her short stories have been finalists for The Iowa Review Award in Fiction and The Masters Review Anthology: 10 Best Stories by Emerging Authors. Her flash fiction stories have been finalists for the Fractured Micro-Fiction Contest, the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions, and The Pulp Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize. She teaches literature and creative writing at Drake University.

a view from behind blinds looking out on a snowy yard

Photograph by Al Kratz.

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