39th Writing Contest • Flash Fiction Prize
Shanna Yetman of Chicago, IL has won the New Millennium Flash Fiction Prize for “The Miracle Is to Walk This Earth.”
She will receive $1,000, a certificate to document the success, and publication both online and in print.
This vignette centers on a mother’s fear about her young son’s upcoming surgery and the solace she seeks in Buddhism, particularly its slippery and elusive principles of non-attachment and liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
The Miracle Is to Walk This Earth
By Shanna Yetman
Her son’s surgery is Thursday. His face uneven, bulgy on one side. From the back, he looks like he’s swallowed a balloon. His cyst, tumor, lipoma protrudes from the left side of his neck– as though, someone has knotted up this growth and tied it with string.
But, today they are at the park. Her son gestures for her to push him on the swings.
“Mama! Mama! Lift me up.” He’s managed to place himself halfway in the baby swing so it’s easy for her to lift him into it. First, she puts down her book–a book written by a monk with one of those single world self-help titles like fear, death, life, loss, gain, mindfulness. She finds answers to her anxieties in Buddhism.
There is no fear in the present moment, she reminds herself.
She places her fingers on his back, pushes. She watches him rise and fall, rise and fall. He sings. She counts her breath, tries to match it with each movement of the swing.
Six in. My heart is now at peace.
Six out. She stops to push her breath out, to connect her body to her mind, anchoring herself to the present moment. No past. No future. Just now.
“Faster, mama. Faster.” He’s three. When will he know? She feels guilty for not preparing him for the risks she consented to on his behalf. She feels guilty for giving him a body that needs surgery.
They hear the squawk of seagulls flying toward the lake. They watch a shower-like sprinkler go on and off, on and off, every five minutes to the horror and joy of the children. Each time the sprinkler goes off, the water pours over the heads of those brave few and she and her son laugh. Each child shocked, surprised at the water’s intensity.
“Do you want to go in? I brought your bathing suit.”
“Just watch, mama.” He twists himself around to face her. “They don’t know when it’s coming.” The sprinkler comes on and he laughs, claps his hands. “Swing more mama. Swing more.”
She looks around her son to the choppy waters of Lake Michigan. She sees the individual waves, whitecaps wash over and over each other. Each one its own entity, coming up out of the water and then washing right back into it. For a while, she watches them come and go, come and go. She feels an incredible sadness every time a wave hits the shore or splashes against the pier.
No birth? No death? Her son’s birth was such a happy memory. A blue-green day in early spring. She knows if she looks up, away from the waves, she will see the whole lake. Those waves are only water, after all. She remembers that first tug of her son’s lips on her nipples, the let down of her first milk, and the end of breastfeeding. The pain that came with breasts stuffed rock hard with milk no child would drink. She can’t help but look at those waves, stare at them obsessively. They are small, nothing compared to what the ocean might produce, but they are enough for her. She watches the wind seduce the lake into one frothy wave after another. She thinks she sees one begin to rise way back, and float forward. She hopes it will break past the pier, past the beach even, and closer to her—washing over her, maybe?
She wants it to last as long as it can and then rage to the end.
Shanna Yetman’s fiction appears online at Connotation Press and the Writing Disorder. She is a 2014 recipient of Chicago’s Individual Artist Grant.
When not writing fiction or enjoying her family, she works as the Communications Coordinator for the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago.
Read her other stories at writershannayetman.weebly.com.
"The Miracle Is to Walk This Earth" © 2014 Shanna Yetman