How long are you planning to stay out here? Stephen used to ask her every few weeks. He doesn’t ask her anymore. The first time he kissed her he asked permission; he hasn’t asked permission for anything since, as if saying yes once was a blanket permit. She isn’t sure whether to miss them or not, his carefully phrased questions: If you don’t mind or If you happen to be doing laundry or If you’re not doing anything—that one she knows she doesn’t miss. The implication being that of course she wasn’t doing anything, what could she ever have to do that was important?
She has made plans to go away, but they’re plans that wash away with the rains, with the jobs she never gets or doesn’t keep, with the bad days that come and wrap her in a dark blanket that’s scratchy and rough and smells of industrial laundry soap, like the blankets they had at the shelter that time with her mom, but still, staying under that blanket is better than sticking your face outside it.
Fold egg-white mixture into dry ingredients with an over-and-under motion. Do not overbeat!
Sometimes she can lose herself in a moment. Sometimes she can stand at the counter with her sleeves pushed up and watch a single cloud passing outside the window, see how it moves itself across the sky and also changes shape, curling in on itself, stretching out, an eagle or a dragon or a dog, but still the same cloud. Doing what her grandmother called woolgathering and Stephen calls zoning out. Listening to that depressing music she likes, sulking like a sullen teenager, all doom and gloom, who’d want to hire somebody who’s like an ad for the Samaritans?
I’ll follow you into the dark...
She puts the souffle into the oven, walks away carefully, balanced on the balls of her feet. She’s learned to move through this house without sound; knows to hold the door so it will gently latch, not slam shut; knows to put a dish towel under the coffee pot for her first morning cup. She doesn’t even flush the toilet in case it wakes him. Those early morning hours are all she has.
Stephen is in an online meeting, his voice rising and falling, the door open a sliver; she glides by his room like a ghost. Catches a glimpse of hunched shoulders in the mirror: Who is that old man, she thinks, and realizes she never has known.
“They choose the user experience,” his voice booms against a background murmur. “If they don’t like it, they can get the hell out!”
She opens the back door. The birds are singing after the rain. A doe looks up from a juniper tree, watches her for a moment, like a dare, an invitation, then fades back into the woods. The door slams behind her. She doesn’t look back. The ground sinks under her feet like a sagging bed but she walks like her feet don’t touch that ground at all, walks with the lightness of someone finally given permission.
is an editor and workshop teacher at Cleaver magazine and has work featured in Atlas and Alice, Okay Donkey, trampset, and Wigleaf. Her flash fiction was chosen for Best Microfiction 2020. Find her online:
Wendy and Brian on the Last Night of the World, flash fiction
by Kathryn Kulpa in KYSO Flash (Issue 2, Winter 2015)
“Wendy and Brian...” is among 100 personal favorites on
Clare’s List, selected from among a thousand works published
in KYSO Flash over the course of six years.