Winner of the Golden Key Flash Fiction Open 2014, judged by Karin Tidbeck
Mother said there are no ghosts, silly, close your eyes and you won’t hear them anymore. But she lay awake and soon heard their soft thumps and wails. Tonight she would find Mother and show her where the sounds came from. She went down the steps and through the dim parlor, where the phonograph was missing from the round table. In the kitchen there was only light from the back porch and no one was there. When she’d gone down the night before to tell Mother about the ghosts, Dad’s friend Walt was standing with his penguin shoe resting on top of Dad’s army trunk in the corner. He tapped his cigar ashes into one of Mother’s canning jars. You go on back up to bed, he told her. Your ma and pops went to the picture house to see Valentino and I’m just watching things for a while. Dad doesn’t like Valentino, but she didn’t say so.
Tonight she stood for a moment in the kitchen while she got her cat-vision. She could see Walt’s large shape outside, smoke rising around his hat. Her toes found the smooth spots on the floor that didn’t squeak. She went to Dad’s trunk and could hear the ghosts laughing now, their light pushing through the spaces around the lid. They shouldn’t be in there—it was the only thing Mother and Dad asked her not to touch in the house, for goodness sakes. That’s where Dad keeps his heavy boots and mementos from the war and all the letters Mother sent to him when he was away, and you should respect people’s private things. But they must have found the key, gold colored like Dad’s spittoon and hanging high above the back door where no one ever noticed it. She looked out to the porch and saw Walt tilt his head and blow smoke to the moon. She knelt down to the trunk and ran her hands over the rough scratched metal top and felt the crackle of the paper mailing label that said Dad’s name. Her fingers slid to the curved metal parts on the corners, the rivet bumps and lock-catch in the center. She pressed and lifted the lid and looked down into glowing whiteness. She heard the phonograph playing, five foot two, eyes of blue—Mother’s favorite, and she always smiled when Dad sang but oh! what those five feet can do. There was movement below the ghost cloud that smelled like Walt’s cigars, bodies dancing and gathered around tables covered with jars and bottles. And there was Mother’s face looking up through the white, her red lips open in surprise. Mother had on a shiny dress she’d never seen before. She reached in and her hands touched the splintery step of Dad’s apple picking ladder. Walt banged open the screen door and said hey now, girlie. She leaned forward and fell to her mother.
Shanna Streich is from the San Francisco Bay Area, where she graduated from San Francisco State University, and where she has had several careers. She recently earned an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, and is currently finishing a short story collection.
What hidden thing would she like to find? “A 19th-century house that has somehow become hidden from view and forgotten, maybe down a remote road obscured by fairy tale proportion overgrowth, or an urban dwelling lost within a long-ago overlap of later builds. The house would be full from attic to basement with the furnishings and objects of its onetime occupants, who would appear to have walked out in the midst of their lives. I would go from room to room, opening drawers, cupboards, chests, reading letters and journals, pondering portraits and possessions, and try to piece together the story.”
Art — kAt Philbin is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA. She draws inspiration from fairy tales and personal mythologies to create her delicate illustrations with many, many tiny pen lines. See more of her artwork at www.katphilbin.com.
Back to Issue 6: Hidden Things