Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Flash Fiction
776 words
SHJ Issue 3
Spring 2011


Line-Maria Lång

Translated from Danish by Thomas E. Kennedy

There is a sea by a river where only female plants grow. The girl comes there often. She laughs with the plants and doesn’t care that it’s raining. The mosquitoes swarm around her and settle on her bare white arms and cover her ankles and throat. She waves goodbye to them when they’ve drunk their greedy full and float away in the wind like tiny red balloons that are smashed against the earth.

She has heard that there are rare fish in the water, and that is why she walks out there so carefully. People usually throw coins and messages in bottles into the water. Those she finds the girl gathers in her dress. She feels her way forward, breaking through the thick air with her every movement. Leaves fall from the trees and land before her in the water: even if the contact is only brief, they create a rustling wall of sound, everything contributes to a great surface, a gigantic instrument, a combined will to make noise. The fish are amused; they dart and swim between her feet. They open their toothless mouths and suckle her toes with gentle bites. She floats, and the fish are like ten white horses working beneath her; she strokes them and blows smoke on them. She doesn’t know whether they’ve had her completely underwater to greet her, but something inside her, the smoke and the air, draws her ribcage up, when it is filled, like the messages in bottles that sink and bob up. They want to be found.

She rolls laughing toward the bank, but begins to wonder whether she can open her eyes again, whether they are already open now. When she dozes, she thinks about whether she will wake, but it doesn’t matter, she is so happy just as she is.

So much sky. So much sky. So much sky. The grass prickles and lifts her from the earth; she hangs on each blade like someone running over needles. So much blue in the world, she thinks.

Nearby a man sweeps the stairs and collects refuse; he is working so early that for others it is still night. He gathers things that should not have been discarded, and that night he has already found a small paper ship made of red tissue paper, a bottle with a message in it which he looks forward to reading, and a flat chanterelle. The lamellas had all with a single footstep been pressed into one another so they formed a picture on the ground. When he was a child he only collected flat things, felt that a special unity occurred, that the flattening turned it into a snapshot. All the flat earthworms that crawled somewhere, a flat ladybug with its red outer wings spread to the side like a gown for an old-fashioned ball with a little train of the actual wings, black and transparent, trailing after it. He found flat sparrows and let them float in the water. A flat plastic mug that could be taken up cleanly with a cookie spatula. There had to be a flat person who could drink from it. A flat person who walked around smoking a flat cigarette and lived in a flat house and slid in and out of the front door like a letter.

He collects the garbage in large bags with four strings that must be tied first the one way, then the other. He always walks through a park to empty the refuse cans, and it is often the same as in the garbage bags, cracked plastic wine glasses, dead wasps in white napkins, sandwich halves; the man is so interested.

He sees the girl on the bank; she lays there, her eyes closed. He thinks that she is some kind of sculpture of hard plaster, a mannequin that hasn’t been put in a bag and bound with knots or bows. He thinks she is a thing he can take home and save. That is what he does. He puts her in the most beautiful bag he’s found, one he has been saving. He ties a fine double bow, and he is a little sorry that her legs have been made that way, with red, swollen marks and the neck, which is covered with small bumps, and the completely transparent toe nails that are so clean, it doesn’t look natural. He carries her home, and she is heavier than he would have thought. He sets her in a room where he keeps special things. There he saves her, and as the first of her type in his collection, she will be something completely special.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury