It’s Not Goodbye Without a Little Blood

Two flash fictions by Alec Reitz

broken white plate with fork and knife

It’s Not Goodbye Without a Little Blood

Back When

I do miss the house, I’ll say. I miss how I could feel my way to the bathroom in total darkness. That certainty. That’s love, right? I remember love.

I was chopping the vegetables for dinner. So it goes with beginnings. Stir fry with tofu. Sesame baked how you like. That marinade takes a minimum four hours, do you know? Enough time for a load and three fourths of laundry. Enough time for nine or so sitcom episodes I can watch half-hearted, chuckle up a ghost here and there, though I’m certain I laughed in full once.

Your laundry finished first. I folded it at the kitchen table so I could watch the vegetables sigh and numb up. I pressed the sleeves of your favorite button down together, smoothed the wrinkles, pictured tucking the buttons together right under your chin. Kissing the plaque from your teeth. Morning bliss. How domestic, yes, me, a homemaker in dull. Prod the veggies, fold the shirts, scoop the lint from the dryer. What a dream I was.

It wasn’t raining or nighttime but could pass for both if you asked me. I was patient. Had been. Still am, maybe. That all depends. Your laundry finished first, after all. The rice cooker you insisted on clicked off right as your tires hit the driveway. Headlights shining cinematic over the plastic house siding and me in the spotted apron, a gift from your mother. A nice touch. I’m never trying to forget the past. When you walked in, I still kissed you slow and sweet. I still let your hand creep under. I still let you remember what had passed.

There were even candles on the table. I really went for it, I really wanted to give you everything. Hard to imagine now. How did I know I had changed? You moaned around the first bite, and nothing stirred. I imagined you drawing that sound out of another.

Those soy-stained plates shattered everywhere. Impossible range, I know it surprised you. Something whole, then not. Something whole, then, a slip. That’s what I called it. That’s what you called it. Does it matter either way? What did those plates really carry? Or the house? Or our bed?

And then the shard, of course. In my hand, smooth as baby’s skin. And your neck, angled perfect and away. Once savored. You didn’t mean to, so you said. What did that matter? I didn’t mean for the ceramics to carve up my palm, so be it.

Let me tell the story all over the linoleum. Never mind the counter space, we’ll spread out. The green cutting board is for organic meats, bled with ultimate care. I stopped eating meat after our first anniversary. Anything for you, anything.

Portrait of a World Where My Mom Never Works Again

In retirement, my mom becomes the sailor she always has been. She has every right. To my brothers, she leaves the trailer, the two living rooms, the bargain furniture that would never survive the water. To the debt collectors, she bakes three coffee cakes and leaves no crumb behind.

With all the time in the world, my mom is a sailor. Not by trade but by heart. She uses what she knows—cuts the sail out of thrift store curtains, fills the tears with coconut oil, flosses with fishing line. She builds herself a boat from the long-forgotten backyard table and nail-files it of its faults. Proud of her sweat drip and muscle strain. I haven’t been home in years but can imagine the swing of her braided hair with certainty.

That first dawn on the water, she nearly backs out of it all. Never mind all that effort, all those perfectly good intentions. Here is a precipice asking to shake hands. A body of water can never be known. My mom doesn’t shy away from wide open spaces—she loves like the horizon with no end in sight. Take my dad, he was the emptiest of fields and she ran straight through the tall weeds. Even her mistakes are made in perfect stride. The second her boat touches shoreline, she knows there’s no going back.

I’m told our small town turns her legend. Lady of the lake. The local kids wave to her on their way into school, her toes dipping between the calm blue-green. She yells over good morning, and even though her voice doesn’t carry, they always say it back. The shape of her carries. Before long, summer seaweed gets plucked to make-believe her hair. Mothers pray to her before dunking their babies for the first time.

Mom tells me she’s not like those other sailors. She knows no ocean. Her dreams are not so grand. A born lake-sweller, with waves like kitten licks and cold as fathers’ love—that’s the home she sails for. Even so, the pocket lake in our town can only hold her for so long. I remind her to send me postcards. The bed of her Ford pick-up cradles the boat gentler than any current as she glides up the state. In each new town, she takes a wildflower from the roadside so she never forgets where she’s come from. I tell her how to press them between the pages of her favorite books. In each picture, her smile grows wider, dark circles long forgotten.

She puts on weight from sheer happiness, fresh crab legs slick with butter, chocolate mousse, fried pineapples. Never once does shame cross her mind or her lips. The time for that has gone. There is at least one lake every six miles in the state of Michigan, and every one of them calms their wake to meet her.

I don’t think of it as losing her. I think of her as freedom. Not having it, but being it. How many people get to become their own dreams? We haven’t seen each other in a long time, but I picture her laugh every time the trees shake with the wind. I send a blue jar and ask her to catch some for me, to remember me back to her side.

When she gets to the top of Lake Michigan, the autumn chill begins to set. Against the shore rocks, she wraps herself in the blanket I wouldn’t let her leave behind. Even at a distance, we never stop caretaking each other. With all the time in the world, she takes out a legal pad and writes—shopping lists for my brothers, self-affirmations, prayers, daily love for me, everything—for as long as the pain in her hands evades. It never seems to come, or it does so quietly. Here, timeless in the dimming light of day, she becomes herself. The suns fall into the horizon, and my mom sends the wind home to me.

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