Novena

by Mary Ellen

Honorable Mention – Flash 405, February 2020: “Bright Spot”
Fiction


 

Day One
I’ve come outside to our garden planted with whatever would grow in the desert, no design, any plant plopped willy-nilly into the ground. How would we know that we’d go crazy living here, where owls pump their wings, weighing over us night after night, leaving their wooly scat on the garden walls? A rattlesnake asleep at the front door. And then dust, a great wave of it, wheezing at the windows.

Day Two
The monsoon wind strives. Its eyebrows scrunch together. Its breath shortens and reeks of fear and misunderstanding. A rock beseeches. As if his beak is pulling him forward, a roadrunner hyphens across the driveway, not knowing if he is in pursuit or being pursued.

Day Three
Then flash floods from rain that lasts for three days. No kind of supplication stops it. The roof leaks. Mud preys down the mountain behind the house. When the sun intercedes, I step outside. Clinging to a bougainvillea bough, a hummingbird purrs in prayer, repeating.

Day Four
A dead bird, beheaded, lies on a shelf in the kitchen. When I ask, you say you know nothing about the bird. I reverse a plastic shopping bag, pick up the bird, right the bag, and chuck it in the outside trash can, which seems wrong.

Day Five
On this fifth day, sacrifice is in the air. I vow to sweep away the dust that coats everything outside. It’s everywhere. In some places I will need a shovel.

Day Six
Not too long after finding the headless bird, I discover another dead bird floating in the pool. This one has its head. I won’t tell you about the second bird. When you come back.

Day Seven
Two baby house finches squat outside the sliding glass doors. They are an offering, of what I don’t know, but I feel like a disciple when I scoop them up.

Day Eight
Our dog is aging and his right eye weeps crud. I kiss it and taste salt. He saved my life once. Petition is simple: please spare him from blindness.

Day Nine
A cactus wren sits on a branch of a dead acacia, its song the same as yesterday and the mornings before. Its attitude is not one of rest but of yearning’s repetition. A red-tailed hawk who usually wheels overhead has been gone for four days. Come back to the cleft in the rock.

 

 


Judge’s Comments:
As someone who grew up in the desert, I particularly appreciated this submission. Arranged in the form of a nine-day prayer, the descriptions of wildlife in this piece are strikingly and tenderly rendered. What really sets this piece apart from similar pieces for me was the realistic descriptions of the “monsoon wind” and the “dust that coats everything outside.“ Finally, I thought, a beautiful yet accurate depiction of desert life as well as life in the desert.

Mary Ellen Smith lives in Paradise Valley,Arizona with her husband and two beagles. She received her MA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Electric Literature published her essay “Carrel: A Writer Regenerates in the Stacks”.

 

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