Honorable Mention – Flash 405, August 2019: “Underneath the Words”
Alice is 307 years old.
Of course this includes the past lives before she was a cat, but mostly, she has lounged on four paws for the better half of her life. Alice has loved, been loved, been the middle of a lovers quarrel, but she has never learned to love herself. She has water stuck in her left ear from when she was a small blonde girl swimming in the ocean. Alice has been Margret, Suzanne, Lauren, and Charlie. Alice has even been a boy, and he thought about girls and licorice and joining the army. Alice the boy didn’t last long.
What Alice misses most is watermelon juice on her chin. She misses swim suits and slices of pie and sex. She mourns hot tea and fresh bread, the feeling of Christmas morning, the first swim of summer. She mourns herself; but as a cat, she moves on and remembers there is food in her dish. She misses the sensation of pulling weeds by the roots, of guessing weeds by their roots. She misses being a root.
Before Alice was a cat, like right before, the life before, she turned down ten men for the woman she loved. Alice is counting, maybe the days until she is human again, or the days in bliss she has left. She tells people she has been a dinosaur, a sea lion, a Monarch, and only one of these is a lie. Alice loves lying, as all cats do, about where she has been and who she has been.
This piece knocked my socks off with its vibrant, rhythmic language. I fell in love with the protagonist, Alice, who is both a cat and Everyone. I love how “Alice has been Margaret, Suzanne, Lauren, and Charlie. Alice has even been a boy…”. I love how Alice “turned down ten men for the woman she loved.” Alice, as a cat, does not have thumbs and cannot pull weeds or name the weeds she pulls. This piece transcends, not only time and space, but the divisions between magic and reality, life and death, boy and girl, human and animal, paws and thumbs. I loved that Alice lies, and that in claiming ownership of her lies, she reveals both her cathood and her universal humanity. I love that the vibrant rhythm of this piece has the feeling of always moving up up up and out out out, and that the reader is invited to join Alice, to feel emboldened by her sense of survival, her ability to own every second of her 307 years of life.
Olivia Kingery is a gardener of plants and words in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University where she reads for Passages North. When not writing, she is in the woods with her Chihuahua and Saint Bernard.