The scent of fallen cherries on a fresh cut lawn. A baby, crawling across a woolen blanket, its chubby fist a grasping claw to the lady bug it chases. Legs—yours—jean-clad and crossed at the ankles, stretched out into the blue blue day. The lump of oh-no that sinks to the depths of your stomach and bobs at the thought of the man with fists waiting for you at home.
A book cover, covering your face. A photo snapped, beach-perfect. Sand in your toes and knee backs and ear holes. Salt on your lips. Creamy cold sweating drink at your side, dripping. Beside it, the freckled woman you swore you only wanted as a friend, peeling nose in a book and head in the sky.
Dry rasp of skin on skin. Hands rubbed together before a fire. Smoke, clouding up up up, into the trees and darkland. His calloused fingers, firm on your knee, holding down, grounding the part of you that drifts after the cloud, burnt and dead as charcoal. In a few days those fingers scrape their way up and down and up and down another woman’s spackle-white thigh.
The ticking clock. Fresh bread kneaded and punched and kneaded again, even though you didn’t need to. Quiet as crickets, tiptoeing and wondering: what do you do with so much space? Around and around barren rooms, fingertips tracing crop circles in the dust. Willing someone to rise, appear ready-baked, just for you. A heart never-broken, but broken still the same.
A hard swallow. A deep breath. A choke. A step. Your legs—bare—below the hem of a white dress. Behind your ribs a taut drum taps a staccato jig for the ones that wouldn’t be, and the one that would. Silver sandals ferry your foot with a sharp sliver of deck, embedded in a red-pulsing heel. A reminder it could have been otherwise.
Inspired by Jane Kenyon’s poem, “Otherwise.”
Carrie Mumford has lived on both the East and West coasts of Canada, and many places in between. Her short fiction has appeared in RavensPerch, ShortEdition, Dying Dahlia Review, and other fine journals. Carrie is the author of Magpie, a collection of flash fiction, and All But What’s Left, a coming-of-age novel set in rural Alberta. Carrie now lives in Calgary with her husband, three naughty cats, and one rambunctious dog.
Artwork by: Daria Shevtsova