Flash Fiction: Fallen Short
Darian thought an attic window black as that could not be empty behind the glass. But no one who’d broken the others could pitch a stone to reach so far.
She wondered if this were true.
The V between the front porch roof and that of the upper story held a shoal of debris, twigs and leaves, rusted blisters of metal from the roof itself. Maybe stones that had fallen short.
She got out from under the elder’s roots, and stood where the creek lapped her shoes and the derelict, so near teetering over the road, was easier to see. And concluded she would have to go pitch a rock herself, or how would she know?
How close you could get.
She looked the house in the eye for a long time. She glimpsed a face…convinced herself she had…a spidery oval of white. Brooding, haunted things gathered in attics, or at the back of cisterns in damp cellars. She thought what a secret pleasure it would be, when other kids said it.
“Someone broke that window.”
To know and not say.
Would her mother be one to reject the afterlife? Driving a road she could still find…hating that she could, Darian remembered talks that hadn’t been. She hadn’t been told if there were any religion, unspoken belief kept in abeyance, to be made use of when it was time. Death a last item on a list of things to be over with. You didn’t, of course, get over it. You could have possession of this one thing forever. In fact, there would be no tidy reckoning, however alphabetized or ordered by date were the letters and papers and belongings, the pictures of people, clues remaining to a point of view in the assembler.
No means of decluttering at the end, all the fondnesses and funny notions and little ways of passing time, the actors adored in teenage years, the music she would have bought for herself, if she had bought music for herself. But Darian’s imagination could draft a scenario.
When her mother sat down with her father, here, where all secrets were made manifest. “Yes, you know. I did those things.”
They would confess to one another.
“Well, of course, bless your heart”—that imprecation, that warning to let the subject be closed—“you do try better, when you know. It’s where you get your information…”
Still seeking from confidences Darian’s story, as though this could not be taken from Darian herself.
If they said this needed thing in this way, Darian would mean…if you would only stop. If you would only come back, prodigal parent.
The house could never have been as bad as she’d pictured it. All the back-porch sashes’ torn screens banged over with waferboard. A ceiling bulb in a socket, and a switch. This, in a galvanized box beside an outlet, standing off from the wall. Clamped-on conduit. Shelves…waferboard again, irregular cuts stacked on plastic crates. And a rug smell, that made the whole room seem new.
Acrylic, bought at the discount store they used to have, dull charcoal.
She had broken the window that was her own.
That too, and the fold-out cot to sleep on, had seemed like the mechanisms of adult retribution. Before the porch, with the eaves of the lower roof blocking your view, the perplexity came clear. You could step backwards about the length of a body, and your feet would slide into the ditch. You could go back up the drive, onto the road, and if your throwing arm had been strong enough, arc a rock over the sumacs.
In the ditch Darian had spotted a soggy, torn foam ball, a dog’s plaything. She ran. Her mother’s trailer was at the bottom of the hill.
If you could hit the trunk of a tree, and bounce the ball just right.
On the second try, she overthrew. And so she’d gone up.
The skin of the screen door scoured away, a film of sawdust spread before the threshold. The metal hook and eye that held it closed was shiny silver. But the door was not latched. The front was off its hinges, propped. Cardboard boxes were stacked on the floor. Bottles of water and an ashtray in one corner.
Once she’d got up to the attic, sent there with broom and dustpan to do her own work, “getting the place livable”…
The oval had looked like only cobwebs and ashy dirt. She had exorcised it with the broom handle.
But all perceptions are of the human mind, and we cannot perceive the nature of that we cannot know. Why say, then, that this was the prosaic explanation? The ghost, sharing her hours, smiling at her punishments, biding. In those years, Darian had known it.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)