A faint breeze blew through the shutters, bringing with it a trace of garlic and mussels from the nearby bistro. Oh God, Maître Barbier was known for his sensitive nose. He should have arranged for the bistro to close for the evening. As Pierre rose to go to the window his wife put her hand on his arm.
“Stay, Pierre. You must not be gone when Monsieur arrives.”
“But the smell! What if he notices? ”
“What if he does? It’s your night, isn’t it? Not his? Come, Pierre, sit down.”
Pierre been planning the Vernissage for months. Everything – lighting, temperature, ambiance – must be just so for the visit of Maître Barbier. It was an incredible coup to secure him for the opening. Pierre knew he was being unreasonable and took a deep breath. Everything that needed to be done had been done. He smiled at his wife then turned towards the door where a sudden flurry heralded the great man’s arrival.
Eventually, the introductions and speeches were done and Maître Barbier walked towards the central painting in the exhibition. It was of a tree in winter, bare branches stretching towards the sky in something like supplication. So many freezing days in the forest trying to capture the light between the branches, the yearning in their stretch and reach. Pierre sivered.
Maître Barbier leaned towards the painting, angling his head slightly, took a step backwards, then another. He approached the painting again, bending forward almost double. As if to sniff it, Pierre thought. The hush was palpable. Finally he turned to the assembled crowd.
“Competent”, he pronounced, then moved on, followed by his eager entourage.
Pierre made a quiet return to his position at the Bank later that year. How kind of them to hold it open for him, everyone said. A crise de folie, they said, this wanting to be an artist. And his wife, so patient. He would grow out of it.
Years later he watched the last leaves of that same tree drop soundlessly to the ground, propelled into their leaving by some invisible force. Gravity? Indifference? They might never have inhabited the branches, never have borne their vivid greenness with pride. Uncomplaining, they left behind the stark outline of their world. He mourned their loss and wished he’d known to come and look at the tree when it was at its best.
Carol A. Caffrey
Carol A. Caffrey is an Irish writer and actor living in the UK. Her short fiction and poetry have been published by Lunch Ticket, Poetry Ireland Review, and The Mechanics’ Institute Review, among others. She has been shortlisted in a number of competitions and her Flash story “Vertigo”, nominated for best Small Fictions, won the BlakeJones Review Flash Fiction competition in 2019. She tours the one-woman play “Music For Dogs” by distinguished Irish poet and playwright Paula Meehan. Her debut poetry pamphlet “The Untethered Space” is published by 4Word Press in June 2020.
The phone is ringing I am sure the phone is ringing somewhere in the dark cave of my bedroom in the black void of sleep I know the phone is ringing.
The phone is not ringing. The phone is in the other room, plugged into its charger. It is not ringing. The phone is not ringing.
Something is wrong with the kids I know something is wrong with the kids deep in the fissures of my brain I know that something is wrong with the kids.
Nothing is wrong with the kids. Go back to sleep. It’s 3 a.m. Nothing is wrong with the kids.
Thirty-two years ago, as I lay asleep and unsuspecting after a glorious night, nature worked the way it often does, and I was invaded by another human being. Hospitably, I opened my womb to a developing life–my baby, our baby, a temporary visitor, a sublet for nine months or so.
I did not know he was colonizing. I did not know he was going to stick with me forever.
While I thought I was gestating, he was moving in. Fetal cells crossed the placenta into my blood stream, into my cells. Like stem cells, fetal cells can morph and change into the tissue they inhabit. Scientists discovered this when they found cells with Y chromosomes–male chromosomes–in a woman’s brain tissue.
Her son was right inside her head.
Further research has shown that this is much more common than anyone had previously believed. Apparently, we give birth, but apparently, they never quite move out.
They call them micro-chimeras, little bits of other people living inside of you, making cell lines, taking up residence in your head, in your heart.
These chunks are all mashed up like the chimera of Greek mythology—a monster with a lion head, snake for a tail, and rising out of the back of the beast, a goat head. The chimera breathed flames. It was an omen of disaster ahead—fire, shipwrecks, volcanoes.
The chimera was, of course, female.
Later, a sister, another colonizer. As her cells crossed the placenta into my blood, as they latched and landed and became one with my tissue, did they meet her brother’s cells? Did they wrestle, like Jacob and Esau, in my brain, in my heart? Or did they link up, united in their intrusion into my body?
How do they mingle, co-mingle, with each other and with me? Which one is the lion head, which one the snake? Which the goat head rising up from the center, bleating its dismay?
Now they roar inside me in the middle of the night. Wake me in a blaze of panic because I know one or the other child is in trouble–struggling, despairing. Sometimes I am right. The phone is ringing, the kids are in trouble.
But my heart always knows before the phone rings. My brain knows before I am even fully awake. My boy, my girl, they will not let me go.
Kit Carlson is an Episcopal priest and a life-long writer with work appearing in publications as diverse as Seventeen Magazine and Anglican Theological Review. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, recently published in Ponder Review, Bending Genres, and The Windhover. She is author of “Speaking Our Faith” (Church Publishing, 2018). She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, with her husband Wendell, and Lola, a nervous rescue dog. Find her at www.kitcarlson.org.
I notice my parents’ aging as I do my own:
Not at all, then in a photo, all at once.
I blink and seasons, eons have passed.
Now Winter speaks to me, her voice
a groan of boilers straining against cold—
Don’t be sad. Does not the frost remind
of home? Of baking Piroshki with Grandma?
On sluggish mornings such as this, when
the sun sweats to warm the chilly earth,
I wonder what my napping son is dreaming,
what he will ask when he grows old—
Remember that photo of Grandma and Grandpa?
They are smiling and, though it’s getting dark, I smile back.
What was it you wrote about America and hope?
(So much happens when we’re asleep;
One morning I awoke to an altered Earth.)
You’ve begun to stir. I hear your happy babbling.
This darkness is heavy; I won’t let it crush you too.
Andy Posner grew up in Los Angeles and earned an MA in Environmental Studies at Brown. While there, he founded Capital Good Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial services to low-income families. When not working, he enjoys reading, writing, watching documentaries, and ranting about the state of the world. He has had his poetry published in several journals, including Burningword Literary Journal (which nominated his poem ‘The Machinery of the State’ for the Pushcart Poetry Prize), Noble/Gas Quarterly, and The Esthetic Apostle.