by Cheryl Suma
Honorable Mention – Flash 405, April 2022: “Escape”
The signs you left in a hurry are everywhere. The half-eaten bag of M&Ms on the coffee table, several rainbow balls come to rest in the scratch I made tossing you keys the day you moved in. The tin of mint tea on the kitchen counter just below the window, where you’d stand and sing when you thought I wasn’t listening, watching the kettle boil while you whispered sweet melodies with the quiet grace of someone who could really sing but seldom did. That ugly rocking chair you insisted on bringing when you moved in, explaining as you dragged it up the front steps that you “absolutely couldn’t read without it.” Your Sudoku puzzle book, its uncounted numbers cluttering the bedside table—your go-to activity whenever your anxiety became too much to carry. All the things I thought trivial or bothersome, now transformed into sources of comfort. Today I’m staring at your favorite mug, the one with the painting of weeping willows. You were the only person I knew who had a favorite tree. The mug still cradles tea waiting to be sipped, a circle of red lipstick kissing the cup’s lip, painting the tops of the willows until they bleed. I’m staring at the mug because last night, I realized something I hadn’t noticed before. These last few weeks have been a blur; when not at work, I’ve spent most of my time sleeping. Sleeping so I can awaken. So I can treasure that moment that lingers between lashes and morning’s fog, that breath before I’m fully conscious when I forget you’ve left. When I believe you’re still curled up in that ugly rocking chair. Still singing softly in the kitchen or counting numbers to find your peace. Still leaving your kiss behind as you sip from your favorite tree. Until this morning, when I realized there was another sign left behind, one meant for you to discover. A cruel intent pretending to be an afterthought. A tiny, overlooked detail that now holds my memories hostage.
You never wore red lipstick. Your mug, her lips. Left by the rocking chair for you to find—so you’d know she’d been here. To scream that for a moment, I’d not been yours alone. So today, instead of awaking to your ghost, I understand you didn’t leave. You were chased away—by me, and a red kiss pressed to a weeping willow.
The little details of this story drew me in immediately as a reader, as they indicate how well the narrator knew and cared for the “you” portrayed. The story is fast-paced but reflective. I thought the author used the “escape” theme in a way that is really unique. The narrator’s loved one, who physically “escaped,” clearly left the narrator in a state of grief. I found it interesting how the narrator’s memories are held “hostage” throughout this piece, and there’s both this comfort in remembrance but also hunger to escape one’s memories. The ending surprised me, but it is powerful and made me want to reread this piece.
Cheryl Suma’s fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in U.S., U.K., and Canadian publications, including Barren Magazine, National Flash Fiction Day: FlashFlood, Second Chance Lit, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, Blank Spaces Magazine, Longridge Review, Glassworks, Sonora Review (forthcoming), and others. A Pushcart nominee, her work placed in twenty-four competitions across 2019–22, most recently on the shortlist for Five South’s 2021 Short Fiction Prize; as a semi-finalist for Ruminate Magazine’s 2021 The Waking Flash Prose Prize; on the shortlist for Blank Spaces Magazine’s 2021 Fiction Anthology Contest; and runner-up in 2022 Pulp Literature’s Flash Fiction Contest. Suma has a MHSc in Speech-Language Pathology and a HBSc in Psychology. You can find her on twitter @cherylskorysuma.
Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema