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Fathomed, with Singular Fidelity

by Melissa Ostrom

     It must go here.

           This is relatively flat terrain, but the builder’s expert feet sense a swell. He considers the subtly elevated grade. As a whole, the property, a neat rectangle, covers ten acres: woods, meadow, scrub. The sun climbs over the young canopy, pools in the grass made pretty with chicory and purple vetch and improves, as gilt does, the accidental shrubs. Across the land, a thin creek streaks diagonally like toppled lightning.

           But the interior designer wandering the property has stalled in the meadow, arrested by chicory’s blue and the way the delicate blooms defy their jagged, woody stems. Here, he insists, enjoying his bright meadow with its forested backdrop, the branch-severed shadows, the sun-ruffled crowns. He sees ivory black chenille and cadmium yellow damask.

           The potter notes the sumptuous clay that reddens the stream’s bank. No, here. Here! The preacher, hungry for God and proximity to His grace, must agree with the builder. The thief wants to hide in the woods. The electrician, cognizant of wiring and utilities, argues for the roadside section. The meteorologist understands the winters in a snow-belt. He pats the electrician’s arm. God, yes. Keep the place close to the road. You don’t want to plow a long driveway. The hermit listens. He is hopeful. Too far from the road, and we might be unreachable? Snowbound some days? Cut off from the grid? The environmentalist is excited, too, thinking solar panels and septic systems. He begins digging for the well. The English professor and physics teacher completely disagree on where to cut soil, primarily because they used to date until the latter was caught with that two-bit adjunct on his stack of poorly written To the Lighthouse essays. Their voices rise, and an indigo bunting shoots out of a wild honeysuckle bush. (Oh, the wild honeysuckle, the environmentalist moans. Terribly invasive. Not even indigenous to this area.) One of the educators throws a punch. The other bares his teeth and physically retorts, head first. The baker steps out of their way. He can’t understand why the meadow shouldn’t become an apple orchard. Apple crisp. Apple strudel. Apple bread. Everyone enjoys apple pie. Who doesn’t love apples? Crazy people, that’s who. The crazy person takes offense. Crazy is a very derogatory word.

           The squabbles and screeches continue. The herd of deer, signaling danger with a flash of white tails, abandons the woods. The bear noses her cubs toward a more auspicious ten-acre lot. The environmentalist notes the migrations and is grieved.

           The child, minding his own play as a child will do, remains undisturbed by the din. He, alone, is drawn to the scrub. The sporadic ramblers and young trees suit small hands and feet. Black raspberries thickly trim bush stems. From the barely grown trees, branches hang low. These are easy to climb. He climbs and scoots back down. He climbs again and falls. He can’t help but climb. Then, from one wavering perch, he finds the sun-coined waters in the hollows. He notes a stir in the wooded den. He sees rocks strangely patterned in a circle. And the entire time, he experiences the sky. All around his windswept head is sky: present and chicory-blue.

Author's Note

This flash developed in a way writing seldom does for me. The narrative burgeoned like a healthy thing: hungry. I can, however, pinpoint its seed. It came from a week I'd spent mulling over topics in the news. More than the specific crises, what struck me was how zealously they were debated, how combatively they were covered, like outraged villagers poking pitchforks at each other, certain the other is the monster and emboldened by personal convictions.

Melissa Ostrom lives in rural western New York with her husband and children. She works as a public school curriculum consultant, teaches English at Genesee Community College, and writes whenever and however much her four-year-old and six-year-old let her. Her fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, decomP, Oblong, Cleaver, Flash, and elsewhere.

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