Congratulations to Jane Shlensky for her winning the one-syllable flash fiction "Just Once" and to William Polf for his winning multi-syllable story "Empty Rooms."
by Jane Shlensky
Since the stroke, his words won’t come—hide and seek, smudge and slur, thoughts and tongue as thick as mud yet clear to him.
“Speak?” He is urged by his nurse, his wife, his son, as if he will bark and wag for a treat, sit, heel, stay.
“Drink? Eat? Sleep? Pee? Pooh?” they ask and he is turned babe, wee child, slow, dull, and mute while his thoughts race, roads leap up, trees blur in the zoom, in the go go go of stay.
“Dad?” his son, no doubt, with those cards he loves to flash. “Let’s try this!” A game he sees, big smile on son’s face.
“Corn,” he tells his son whose face falls, eyes squint.
“Not corn, but...” he mimes red bite, makes sound crunch.
“Rose!” Not rose, he can tell. “Cat! Tree! Cup!” See, I know words, he wants to say to the card’s face, but Son flips through cards. His brain treads paths in dense woods.
He sees gold and green, but will not say corn more than once. His son wants too much, wants big long sounds, tongue traps, the kind that fill your mouth and roll like peas.
“Bird!” he says with joy. “Shoe! Pot!”
“No! No!” (bad dog voice). “Try, will you?” Son is stiff now, mad. Their eyes lock. Long look, big tear, such great big hurt. No fun, no good. Big damn, big bad word, big scared. He nods, long sigh.
“Just once,” Son says. “Come on, Dad. Tell me what this is.” Crumbs on trail. Son holds chance, lives hope, loves Dad. He needs truth from Dad. He lifts the corn card high once more. “Just once, tell me what this is,” he pleads.
Dad’s eyes shine with love and fun. “Card! Son, That Card!”
by William Polf
He drove straight through, despite his full bladder and his aching left knee. He wanted to get to the summer house before sunset, and he still had twenty miles to go. He had considered stopping at the general store, but that would mean another round of condolences from whoever happened to be there, and he did not want that. He had hardened himself against the constant expressions of sympathy. Something inside him needed to be kept safe from intrusion until he could decipher it.
At the house, leaves had carpeted the long driveway, masking the crunch of the car tires on the gravel so that no sound disrupted the silence of the tall dark pine trees, brooding nearby. He approached slowly, driving with caution, feeling as though he needed to be prepared for something, although he could not think what it might be. The house stood as it had been left, windows shuttered and blinds drawn, ready for someone to appear and open it. Usually that would have happened months ago.
As he sat looking at the house, he could almost hear the soft chorus of the wind chimes she always hung on the porch when they arrived, but he knew that could not be. He had taken them down when the house was closed-up last year. He felt the weight of the door key in his shirt pocket. Why had he come here, where her presence had been everything? He searched his mind, trying to understand. No answer came, so he stopped wondering. Right now, the rooms were empty and silent, waiting to be filled with life as they always had been before. Still, he sat, not moving, and not leaving the car, fearful that his life alone would not be enough to fill them.