Gary feels smited (biblically) though he tells himself he shouldn’t. That it’s just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and isn’t worth a rotten fig to think otherwise. The clouds after all are machines of science and those jagged volts that crackled down to ravage every cell were just that: science in motion.
Mourning Becomes Electric
He meets Frida at a Lightning Strike Survivor’s support group, sits across from her in a hard brown folding chair. She says to the group, “Forgive me if this sounds harsh, but I don’t give a rat’s ass about religion.” She says this after someone shares that they feel punished and blessed at the same time. “I burned a Bible soon after, at a motel,” Frida says. “In the bathtub with a can of lighting fluid. You should have seen it: all those ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ going up in smoke.”
They are in a semicircle with their cups of coffee, looking at her, stricken. Gary gets up to hug her. When he touches her sweater he gets a small shock of static electricity and pulls back. Only the two of them know what’s happened and laugh. The only person in the group who’s been struck by lightning twice gazes at her with a slightly twisted mouth and says, “Damn! Set a Bible on fire in a bathtub. You sure like playing with fire, sister.”
Gary is a mattress salesman and late that night at the strip mall he lets Frida in and they bounce on each bed/mattress in a back-floor room for “firmness” and “reliability.”
“I kind of liked it when they had squeaky bedsprings,” Frida says. “When beds talked back.”
“You like being bad, don’t you?” Gary says.
“Bad is good,” she says. “Goody two shoes went flying out of me as I was lying there on the ground unable to move.” They are nearly naked, but when he goes to embrace her, she weeps.
“Ever since, you know...it happened...things taste better,” Gary tells Frida.
“I know,” she says. They are in her studio eating burritos and drinking beer. “You think the electricity is like a really good spice?” she says, smiles.
He half smiles. There is a black bean pressed against his teeth. “No, I mean it. Coming that close to death. Feeling its breath on me, maybe spices things up a bit after, you know?”
“Hmm,” she says. Her paintings are all around them on the walls—huge blocks and swirls of color, bold and shooting down the canvases. She tells him how after she was struck she was lost for a time, working at her uncle’s music box factory. How the same ditzy tunes kept getting stuck in her head. How it nearly drove her nuts, but then she returned to an early love. She sweeps a hand demonstratively around the room.
He feels foolish when he gives her a nerdy thumps up. She goes on and on about something or other, and he stops listening but continues nodding.
The rain seems to nail him deeper to the ground, and when he comes to, he tries to move a finger, then two, and then his head, slowly. He is face down in the mud and there is a worm. A worm squirming past his vision. A watery eviction no doubt. It pauses by his face as if to catch its breath. Gary is still disoriented and wonders if he is really alive or... No, it’s a fucking worm, you idiot. The thunder is everywhere at once it seems and the searing flashes highlight the worm’s slow departure. He wants to scream: “Wait!” But wait for what? It’s a worm after all, and not his life, as he knew it, leaving, not his faith, not his old sense of who he was, or why he is. It is just a worm is all. Just one squirmy little wet departure. Nothing more.
“Pass the hot sauce,” she says.
work has been included in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International; Gargoyle; Matter Press; New World Writing; The Best Small Fictions 2016, 2017, 2021 (forthcoming); Best Microfiction 2020, and elsewhere. He is the author of seven literary chapbooks, several books for children, and five flash and micro-story collections. He was the winner of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award in Poetry and the Blue Light Book Award for his fiction. His most recent book, What Are the Chances? (Press 53), was a finalist for the Big Other Book Award for fiction.
He has, along with James Thomas, co-edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, published by W.W. Norton & Co. Robert is one of the founding donors to The Ransom Flash Fiction Collection at the University of Texas, Austin. He lives in San Francisco.
Visit him at: www.robertscotellaro.com