Honorable Mention – Flash 405, February 2019: “Happily Ever After”
When I began first grade, my parents forbade me to kiss anyone. They encouraged layers of clothes, as if that would protect me. It reminded me of my father; he always wore turtlenecks, even in the glowing heat of July. When I was eight, I crept to the bathroom while he took a shower. I saw his burnt skin, the way it bubbled and stretched.
Before the first day of middle school, my parents repeated the warning. My father took my mother’s hand and held it to his chest.
It’s your lips, my mother said. Our lips. Yours and mine.
Later, I saw two girls kiss each other in a bathroom stall of the locker room. The stall door was left slightly ajar. I watched them as I had watched my father. Their skin was different. It glowed a different way. One reached up the other’s shirt, and I wanted to rise up between them. My parents said if I did such a thing, I’d scorch their skin. But then I remembered my father whisper—his eyes intense on my mother—It was worth it.
* * *
The need became worse after the truth. I imagined kissing everyone.
I entered high school, and there was an ache that grew along my limbs. I didn’t realize it was the need until I met a boy in Trigonometry class. He had eyes the color of maple leaves and left candy wrappers on my desk, drawing on them with a Sharpie pen he always kept tucked behind his ear. His skin was racked with acne scars. He wrote me love notes, saying he wished he could burn the scars all away. I wrote back he was beautiful anyway, but I could grant his wish.
He met me in the girls’ locker room after school. I instructed him to take off his shirt and meet me in a stall. I remembered the girls forming a chain of arms and legs and wanted to replicate it. I warned him of my curse. He didn’t believe at first. My fingers traced the scars up his chest to his mouth. He exhaled. My fingers felt warm.
At first I was afraid to do harm, but he whispered trust, and the fear became the ache of my parents, and the ache became a fire, and the fire became a glow.
The magical realism of this piece taps into a fierceness of desire through a gendered lens. The narrator’s lips have the power to burn anyone she kisses, and yet, she yearns desperately to kiss anything and everything. That conundrum taps into something fierce and primal in desire, particularly when it first blooms in us as adolescents. Then there’s the unexpected delight of her curse finding its desired target—the thing that she feels makes her the most undesirable turning into a trusted and coveted asset. Plus, the metaphor of love beginning as a raging, burning fire and lessening into a warm glow is one that warms my very soul. It’s a fun take that like the best fairy-tales hits at something elemental about love.
Lyndsie Manusos’s work has appeared in The Masters Review blog, Midwestern Gothic online, PANK, A Cappella Zoo, among other notable publications. She received the Sara Patton Stipend Award in fiction from the 2017 Writers Hotel conference. Her story ‘Everything There Is to Love on Earth‘ was recently listed as a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly’s Flash Fiction Contest and was published in their 60th anniversary issue.