The Moths Are Caught There

by Leslie Cairns

Honorable Mention – Flash 405, June 2022: “Inheritance”
Content warning: abuse


I wanted your charm. Childlike, thinking it’s something to transfer. Not a mythical, magic beast of a thing that never really mattered.

Oozing perfection. No one believed you churned, burned, took my name and wrote it on my back in something worse than marker.

Flanked with your irises, flecks behind your eyes, that stare at me in the mirror. It doesn’t matter where I go, how many bubble baths I sink my scales into, in order to attempt erasure. The name’s always there: when I go into my hallway, balcony, near glass windows. Mocking me. Saying you’ll find me there, or anywhere, if you really wanted to.

I also got your storms of silence, the way you burrowed after you threw a wine glass, or made cocktails that no one else was drinking. Draped in merlot maroon, the way the bottle caps would fall around you like an encore, instead of roses. You’d switch to Dad’s old beer if you ran out of wine, and you’d switch to moonshine in your closet that you told me you only hid because I scorned you so. I was sixteen and thought I was so old.

Words inflicted as a teenager grow into your ribcage like bent moth wings. They stay there, trying to find the light in what you said, believing in flocking towards the flames. Ribcage sucking them there, glued. Changes the way I walk. I’ve noticed more cracks in the pavement than sunny skies, more mildew than lovers’ quarrels or kisses in the park.

Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Even as I walk, you see, I feel childish.

Poison ivy, red blisters wrapped around my ankles like you wanting me to stay. That night you were drinking and blocked the door. Eyeing the knives, calling me a thief. Pushing past you, a memory that will haunt me. Grabbing your body to find safety.

Sliding through the back door, into pine trees, pretending to play flashlight tag. Texting friends to find me. Arms waving. Running with bare feet.

Three days later … poison ivy.

A scar formed from picking at my wounds. I inherited deadly plants, spindles of poison, ivy that snakes up legs to remind you that you are daughter. Or, a beating drum. And that you running away from lineage is an invisible thread, the mom, that dot who stands there waiting for you to be pulled back, the scar that always leads you back home.



Judge’s Comments:
I was swept away by the subtle beauty and nuance of this piece. Its imagery of nature, from poison ivy to forest to “bent moth wings” crafted a setting, tone, and narrative thread that was impossible to look away from. I also admired its play with sentence structure and language, how it often read more as a poem than a fiction story, and how it succeeded beautifully as both.

Leslie Cairns holds an MA degree in English Rhetoric. She lives in Denver, Colorado. She has upcoming poetry/short stories in various magazines, including Coffeezinemag, Cerasus Magazine, Loft Limited Books, Pink Plastic House, Wishbone Words, and others.

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Photo Credit: Anna Bratiychuk