Broadside #49 (Fall 2017 / 17.11)
Judi Walsh, with artwork by Robert Bharda
Before I am born I watch my mother hoping this time will be different. I know this time won’t be different, but the heart should have a chance to rule the head, shouldn’t it? She takes a new piece of cloth and smooths it out. Her rough hand skims the virgin surface, catching, making tiny flaws. She is careful with the chalk. Her lines are not even, and not for the first time she wonders whether it would be better to leave it unsullied. You’ve got to try though, haven’t you? That’s what they tell her. So, she takes the scissors and slices along the dusty outline, tacks the pieces together, and congratulates herself on getting this far. Holding her breath, she’s controlled with the machine. Enough pressure to keep moving but not so much as to run away with herself. She tries to extinguish a flicker of excitement, pulls the butterflies sharply back in the net. This time it might come together like it is supposed to. The needle pumps up and down and up and down. But once again, there they are, those little star-splashes of red. She takes the tiny, half-formed doll, and lays it gently on the pile with the others. I move the green one. A year from now, the green one will be mine.
Sometimes I imagine – that this is the jungle – that these are wooden parrots screeching – that those are metal crocodiles snapping – and I imagine I am a brave explorer – slashing on with my knife – keeping my wits and kit about me – keeping on forward though my arms are pricking – and my legs are numbing – and when I want to sleep – I imagine it’s the whipping vines that yank me back – and not the strapping – so I take another breath – it keeps me going – but at the same time – leads me to stopping – all that particulate – like the soft jungle steam rising – glistening like the shilling pocketed – forfeited – for each cough.
I think just one of us made you dance like you were dancing for yourself because he likes a girl who knows her own mind. You spun around and waved your arms. A couple of us magnified your charms, boosted your wit and your talent and your sex. In battalion we might have caused you to miss your step, to remember that there was talk, but only to grasp the feathery edges of those words. You can remember smoothing your clothes, and blurs of green and yellow. You can remember that burn. The substance of the thing is now buried in a bag, from which only cobwebs emerge and they spell shame. We make you big and then enormous and then so small you want to disappear.
I love flash fiction and poetry, and my writing of one is often informed by the other, although I’m still musing over whether I can (or want) to separate them in my own work. These three pieces were inspired by workshops with the poet Helen Ivory, and reflect a theme that runs through much of what I write: how we integrate our stories about the past, present, and future, especially where key components — objects, people, memories — are lost, broken, or missing.
About the writer:
Judi Walsh writes short fiction and poetry. Her writing has been listed for several awards including the Salt Flash Fiction Prize 2012, the National Flash Fiction Micro Competition 2016, and the Bath Flash Fiction and Novella-In-Flash awards 2017. In 2017, ‘Spinning Jenny’ was shortlisted for The Short Story Flash Fiction 500.
About the artist: