When He Lived With Us

by Olivia Parkes

Second Place: Flash 405 June 2016, Judith Freeman’s “Metamorphosis”


“She’s got no taste,” he said, the only thing he said against the woman he moved in with, first off, as if to get it out of the way. He said he’d done some basic home improvements, torn out the ratty carpet and tiled her kitchen. He’d taken down the heavy curtains and put in wooden blinds instead. He’d bought two geraniums at Home Depot and set them on her patio in terracotta pots. When he lived with us, we always had geraniums too.

He went through the bags in her garage—duffels and IKEA totes she’d stuffed blindly during her own divorce, desperate for half. She was ashamed of the crap she’d kept, he said, like he was proud to be the man to help her let it go.

It was strange to think of my father going through another woman’s garage, her house—de-cluttering an act of love rather than an act of war. He ragged my mother constantly about filling the house up with junk, like it was her fault they needed three remote controls.

We have coffee in bed in the morning, he said—drip coffee, two or three cups. My father couldn’t drink coffee when he lived with us; it gave him the jitters. For breakfast we have bacon and hash browns. The bacon, he said, is pre-cooked and microwaveable. He never could eat breakfast when he lived with us—it made him tired, it made him sick, it bunged him up.

Maybe we gave him the jitters, made him tired, bunged him up. He did have terrible bowel trouble for a time before he left. He’d sit on the toilet, his head in his hands, waiting—sometimes the door was open—and then the sound, like confirmation of an ugly thought, liquid spatter hitting the bowl. Shitting through the eye of a needle, he called it.

And that, I think. Did we do that to him? He asked for the check and I asked if he still watched Jeopardy in the evenings. He said he did.


Judge’s Comments:

Robert Frost advised, tell other people’s stories as if they happened to you, and your own as if they happened to others. (You need distance, coolness and warmth, in either case). The feeling that rose up in this story was so cool to me—cool in every way—not telling us what a narrator feels but leaking it like radon, something a reader immediately notices, feels. The ending didn’t pull any punches: it was coarse and raw—sudden scatological surprise. I like to be surprised.

Olivia Parkes is a British-American writer and painter based in Berlin. Her work has been published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The New Haven Review, Gone LawnThe Coachella Review, and Stand Magazine. She was named runner-up for the Bosque Fiction Prize in 2014.

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