First Place | Flash Fiction Writing Contest
53rd New Millennium Award for Flash Fiction
Sean W. Murphy of Taos, New Mexico for “Crackup”
Murphy will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.
Sean W. Murphy
“It’s not going to hatch,” I call down the stairs, but I get no answer. Instead there comes this request:
“Ham and cheese.” She says that loud and clear. “Toasted, on rye, and a diet coke.”
That’s the way it’s been. Four days and counting. I bring her sandwiches, diet cokes, slices of cheesecake, whatever. She never seems to change position. She must have to move to use the bathroom that I built after putting my workshop down there, but I never even hear it flush. Can’t use my workshop now, anyway. She says it’s too disruptive to the process.
I try to keep busy — mow the lawn for the first time this season, oil the screen doors, fix that loose board on the porch. Springtime stuff.
“C’mon,” I tell her. “You’re missing the daffodils.”
She says this is too important. She’s always been like that. Once she sets her mind in a certain direction there’s no turning it around.
Next day I go down there and the lights are out. Everything’s all dark, like a tomb — or a womb.
“What are ya, just gonna sit there all day with the lights off?” I ask her.
“It’s peaceful,” she says.
“It’s dusty,” I say. “Spider webs. Maybe black widows, even.”
“I’m not worried,” she says.
There’s these little slit windows up by the ceiling, just above ground level. They throw enough light so I can see her sitting there, still as ever.
Next day I go back again, bring her everything she wants. But I’ve been thinking. Maybe it’s time for a new strategy.
“Hey baby,” I say to her, “want me to take a shift?” This is something I haven’t tried before. Somehow it never occurred to me. “Give you a chance to get up and stretch a little, maybe go for a walk? I promise I’ll take real good care, keep it real warm and all.”
“Let me think about it,” she says.
This surprises me. I hadn’t thought this would gain any traction at all.
“Listen,” I say, “I’m sorry I said it wouldn’t hatch. I mean, who knows? It’s good to keep an open mind.”
“Come back later,” she says. But she looks like maybe she’s almost touched by my offer.
“Yeah, O.K.” I say. I leave her alone in her nest with a sandwich and a diet Coke.
So I go up and watch the game. Afterward I go back down, playing it nice and easy. “Honey? So what do you think?” I look at her sitting there in the shadows. “After all, the men oughta participate too, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” she says after a minute. “OK. Sure.” She looks back at me.
This is something new passing between us.
After a minute she stretches out one leg, gives a little groan, then the other leg, climbs down off the platform she’s rigged up, shakes some straw off her jeans.
“Now you be real careful,” she says. “You know how you got to sit. You can’t sit right on top of it.”
“Yeah, I figured.” Still, I’m glad she said it. I’d always wondered how that worked. I twist my legs up into what do you call it, a kind of a tailor position, crosslegged, and I tuck that little sucker right in close to my private parts, where it’s sure to stay nice and warm. She pushes some straw in close around me, making little clucking sounds. I feel comfortable. Toasty, even.
“Sure you’re gonna be OK?” she asks me. “I won’t be gone long. Maybe walk around the block, get some air. Go down to the park.”
It’s quiet down here once her footsteps disappear up the stairs and she shuts the door. I didn’t ask her to turn on the light. She was right — it’s nice down here in the near-darkness. Relaxing, quiet. And I’ve got something to take care of — a kind of a mission, even if I’ve got to admit I’ve still got serious doubts about the outcome.
She’s gone longer than she said. Or maybe not. Hard to tell down here, alone in the dark. But one thing she’s right about — it’s peaceful. Nothing to do, nothing to think about. Phone doesn’t ever ring, or if it does I don’t know about it.
But then it does start to seem like she’s been gone a long time. Hell, if I had to count the time up, I’d guess she’s been gone for hours. There’s not even any light coming in through the windows anymore. Well, I guess she’s coming back. I hope she is anyway. But I don’t feel hungry or anything. Anyway, I don’t feel like moving. I’m not gonna move. I promised. This whole thing depends on me now.
Besides, if I sit here long enough, maybe it really will hatch. Just like she says. Maybe I’m starting to believe.
Maybe it’s a process, just like she says.
Maybe it will hatch.
Maybe it really will.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean W. Murphy, a 2018 NEA Creative Writing Fellow, is author of the nonfiction One Bird, One Stone and three novels with Bantam-Dell, including The Time of New Weather and The Hope Valley Hubcap King. He won the 2017 Faulkner Wisdom Award and Southern Indiana University’s 2019 Mary Mohr prize. www.murphyzen.com
Crackup © 2022 Sean W. Murphy