Flash Fiction

Requiem For Piano

by Nancy Stohlman

She’d been slipping away from him slowly, as the things that hurt most do. He woke one morning and nuzzled his arm into the swooping curve of her waist only to find it cold, with a hardened glossy varnish that could only mean to keep him out. He tried to fit his body into the new curve but it was stiff and unforgiving.

Her long ballerina arms and legs were next. They, too, hardened and reached for the floor, anchoring her growing weight until she became too heavy to move. Her ribs cracked open and widened into a wooden soundboard, the strands of her long curly hair stiffened and elongated until he could no longer run his fingers through them. Pulled taut, they vibrated and wept if touched, crying the last of the unshed tears that now landed like dampened hammers on strings.

It was happening but he couldn’t stop it, could only awaken each morning to what remained of his beloved and take frightened inventory: her toes reduced to golden pedals, her polished satin black skin, her long spine a lacquered lid that reflected his bewilderment.

Her face went last. On that final morning her smile stretched into 88 white ivories, feathered with the sharps and flats of dark lashes. In the soft morning light he played a requiem on her still-warm keys, propping the lid to listen to her heart.

Originally published in Literary Orphans. Read original here.

Death Row Hugger

by Nancy Stohlman

            For some reason it’s always at night. It’s always in the same room, the light is always jaundiced. The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners.

I guess I was destined for this job. My parents weren’t the hugging type, so I’ve always had a malnourished craving for arms around me. I started out as a professional baby cuddler for the preemie babies in the NICU; each night after visiting hours, I settled into the wooden rocking chair with these miniature babies and their ancient, sculpted faces and whispered of a future when they would be strong and full sized.

But nothing could prepare me for being a Volunteer Hugger on Death Row. You enter that holding room, and there they are, trying to enjoy their steaks or lobsters or Cuban cigars or whatever. My job is to hug them just before they take that long walk. It’s not a sexual hug, though I have felt a few erections, and a few have tried to kiss me, but I politely turn my cheek and squeeze them harder. Because there’s this moment in the hug, you see, where it goes from something awkward and obligatory to when they melt into my arms, weeping with their bodies if not with their eyes. Every now and then I hear one of them whisper in my ear, and once one called me Mama.

Originally published in Boston Literary Magazine. Read here

I’m Being Stalked By The Avon Lady

by Nancy Stohlman

At first it wasn’t so bad. She’d show up in her pencil skirts and French manicures and support hose and I just thought it was good customer service. But soon I started noticing little extras inside the plastic bags, weird hearts drawn next to her phone number, and then one morning I caught her peeking in my front windows when I didn’t have to be at work early. When I said “What are you doing?” she blushed and tried to hand me this month’s Birthstone Bracelet. It was green—August. I’m sure I’d never told her my birthday.

The next week she was back, delivering wrinkle creams in white paper bags. She rang my doorbell even though I hadn’t ordered anything. I stood on the other side of the screen suspiciously. I wanted to give you some samples of our new bath elixir bulbs, she said. Please. I cracked the door enough to grab one. You just put them in the bath and they are so fantastic. But her voice was shaky on the word fantastic and inside the bag was a note: Help me.
I thought about calling Avon Customer Service but I decided to follow her instead. She unlocked a normal looking two story home and I saw a tiny basement window turn on. I got close enough to see the floor piled up with undelivered books and empty plastic baggies. I could hear muffled screaming and then a glass tube splattered against the wall, its contents oozing to the floor.

I returned after dark and positioned myself again by the tiny window; I tapped softly on the glass and she came, wearing the latest shade of Sassy Tangerine lipstick. Take this she said, passing me a pair of 14 k Metallic Sweetheart earrings on sale this month only. Hurry, they’ll be back soon she said, pushing the earrings through the bars.

The next day I saw her in the neighborhood delivering Avon books out of a little red wagon in her faux leopard print pumps. She was wearing sunglasses, a dark spot on her chin that had been shabbily concealed with new Daywear Delight All Day Foundation. I found myself hating her, hating all her stupid lipstick samples and her childish gullibility.

The next week there was a new lady, a bright smiled woman wearing a fuchsia two-piece suit and last season’s Whimsical Woods body fragrance. What happened to the other one? I asked. She didn’t work out, the new Avon lady answered.

Originally published May 28, 2013 by Cease, Cows. Read original here

The Homunculus

by Nancy Stohlman

After all my other birthday presents had been opened, he had one last gift for me. It was a tiny box that he held out with such a grin that I became nervous. What is it? I asked. Just open it, he says. Inside was a tiny man, about 6 inches high. He was dressed in tiny polo jeans and a tiny madras shirt with pullover sweater, and he looked very much like a tiny version of my boyfriend.

It’s a homunculus, he says. Since I have to be out of town so much for work, and I know how much you hate being alone, this will be the perfect solution! It’ll be like we’re together all the time.

But how will I take care of him?

He’s a grown man, he can take care of himself.

It was a bit awkward at first, but my boyfriend reassured me it would be fine. So I put him in the inside pocket of my purse, where I keep special things like my mirror and my flash drive. He never complained, even when I once saw him all twisted under some lipsticks and dirty from the random filth that collects at the bottom of purses.

I felt bad, so I started taking him out more often, setting him on the table at meals. He got brave enough to sit at the edge of my plate and eat with me; I didn’t have tiny utensils, so he used his hands. He was always clean, even though he wore the same clothes, all the time. When I finally asked him about it, he just said, I’m a homunculus.

We were really hitting it off, which shouldn’t be surprising. He was just like my boyfriend—except tinier. And more available. We liked all the same things, of course. I let him ride in my breast pocket on my weekend bike rides. I started taking him out of the purse when watching a movie, sitting in front of the fireplace, and eventually I let him sleep on the pillow next to me. That first night I was terrified I would roll over and crush him, but he was fine in the morning and I started to relax, and then on one of those mornings I let him go beneath my panties when we were lying there, and things happened.

That’s when I started to feel guilty—what was my boyfriend going to think? But he’s the one that said it would be like we were together all the time. The more time that passed, the more I rationalized it to myself: this was ultimately going to be good for us, me being less needy, and all. But I didn’t want to admit the truth—I was falling for the little guy.

The first night my boyfriend got back into town was strange. It felt weird to sleep next to a full sized person again, and I lay awake for the longest night of my life, feeling worried about the homunculus, who was back in my purse.

The next morning after my boyfriend had left, the homunculus climbed out of my purse and found me on the pillows. Let’s run away, I suggested. I couldn’t stand the thought of not being with him. Suddenly the whole world was full of possibility again. Then I heard my boyfriend coming up the stairs. I left my tofu by the bed, he said. He stood in the doorway as I tried to hide the homunculus. But he must have seen it in my eyes, because he yanked the pillow away and there was the homunculus, trying to disappear between the folds of the comforter. His face contorted.

You backstabber! he yelled, snatching him and running down the stairs. I followed, screaming—don’t hurt him! For god’s sake you’re crushing him!

My boyfriend ran out the front door and across the street and all the way to the top of Jackass Hill, where he wound up his arm and threw my homunculus as far as he could. I saw his tiny dot fly through the air until he disappeared into the blue sky.

 Originally published in Revolver. Read here.

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