by Tara Lynn Masih
It is spring by the tidal river. Elspeth is sweeping out the two-room cabin once again. Piles of yellow pine dust fluff up like low-lying clouds over gray weathered boards. Her stiff straw broom cannot manage the fine powder. On the inside of the gingham curtains, yellow. On the kitchen table, on the braided bread and the butter crock, a coating of yellow. Everything looks muted to her, grainy.
Lying on a bed musty with the dust. Trying to make something grow. Her husband, entering her. Sweat from his forehead, cloudy with yellow. Drops fall on her. In her eyes, not in her closed mouth.
Too distracted by the dust to feel anything.
When she sweeps, everything is clenched. Tries not to breathe. Impossible to relax. Every year, she must get through this trial. Push it out, it comes back in. Breathe it out, it comes back in. But she is still empty.
The river is full and glassy tonight. Eddies that swirl and spiral wash away what settles on land.
Maybe somewhere downriver, she thinks, I am living another life. For some reason, this allows her to continue.
Breathing is our most basic bodily function. Most of the time, we don’t notice we are taking breaths. We only notice when breathing is forced or ragged. In this little story, I wanted to look at how breath could be interrupted, contaminated on some level, and how pollen and its minuscule grit might somehow constrict the narrator’s interior life.
Tara Lynn Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle (both ForeWord Books of the Year), author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows, and is Founding Series Editor of The Best Small Fictions. Her flash has been anthologized in Brevity & Echo, Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose, Nothing Short of 100, and is forthcoming in W. W. Norton’s New Micro. My Real Name Is Hanna, her first novel, is forthcoming in September 2018. www.TaraMasih.com.