1st Place Winner – Flash 405, February 2023: “Tacky”
I pushed my face against the black velvet painting. I hung it low so I could reach it. The neon painting was of a cartoonish chihuahua with mascaraed eyelashes and a blue bow at its ear. At night, I turned on the black light I bought for this very reason.
The glow reminded me of that one time with the phosphorescence with my husband. With my daughter. My now ex-husband. My now ex-daughter. Is that how you said these things? My once-I-had-a-child-and-now-I-don’t-child? No word for a past-tense child. That one time in the Atlantic at night, we were all nervous, but my daughter—ten—said she’d hold my hand. We snorkeled by the moonlight, and only felt the slightest chill, and by the end in a sea of glowing microorganisms we felt we experienced God.
That was four months before the accident.
My ex-husband had always yelled at me for the money I spent at the thrift shops, for the crap I brought home. You’re collecting dead people’s things, he said. I said, I’m collecting proof of life.
It was morning when we got the call about the bus that slid into the ravine and most of the kids were okay, they’d said, and we sighed with relief because really bad emergency calls like that only came in the night—they call it the dead of night for a reason. We hadn’t heard the word “most.”
It was only a few months later when my husband became my ex-husband and I traversed the rooms of our house alone. I picked up every throw pillow and threw them. I clacked the keys of the vintage typewriter. Pressed down the shutters of antique cameras.
My first thrift shop visit after the accident, I just pushed an empty rickety cart with a jammed wheel, surveying the detritus of peoples’ lives. I was about to give up when I saw the velvet poster, the puppy-dog eyes. I brushed my hands along it and the gentleness made me think I could have this, this softness.
After that I sought out only objects with texture. A corduroy beanbag chair, velveteen pillows, multifaceted crystal bowls, a faux sheepskin rug, troll dolls with fuzzy neon hair. The velvet painting with a happy dog.
I wanted to feel again. And sometimes, in the night, when I ran my fingers across my things, I thought maybe I was starting to.
With a tragedy at the center, this piece uses tackiness as a comfort and a path to healing for the main character.
Jennifer Fliss (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer whose collection The Predatory Animal Ball came out in 2021. Her forthcoming collection As If She Had a Say comes out in 2023 with Northwestern University Press/Curbstone Books. Her writing has appeared in F(r)iction, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.
Photo Credit: Ahmed Nishaath