After she signs the divorce papers, and after he moves out and I move out and she decides to downsize by throwing out his things and my childish, unwanted things, my mother becomes a chalk outline model. She’s breaking news on CBS. A woman who jumped from a burning building. A bank robbery gone wrong.
When I call her, she tells me about her new lives. Shasta with the broken arm. Letitia with the steak knife. Rowen with three bullets. But mom, I say and hear her stop breathing. Mom, she says, toying with each letter, before the call dies.
Can I Take Your Order?
Order extra fries drizzled with chocolate. You shouldn't have to say "melted chocolate" because you say "drizzled" so it's clearly implied. Ten ketchup packets, just in case. You never know what might happen on the drive home. A burger would be nice. Treat yourself. Three patties, tomatoes, no pickles, light mustard, ketchup, all wrapped in lettuce.
You are, after all, watching your figure.
Not really, but tell the teenager on the other end of the voice box this. Say, I'm watching my figure. Don't let the sound of static embarrass you.
Instead, talk about your mother. The measuring tape she wrapped around your waist before every ballet class. How she compared you to other little girls sinking deep into their pliés.
Your ass gon' be trouble, she'd say, while the other little girls covered their ears.
Don't let the sound of static embarrass you.
Remember your father with a rib bone hanging from his mouth. Your uncles drooling grease, smacking on ox tails, chitlins, pig feet, chicken wings, feet, breasts, thighs, and gizzards. You tried that once, not the gizzards, but parading around with a bone in your mouth. Somethin' wrong with that girl, your uncles said.
Your daddy wouldn't face you.
That's when you ate the gizzards. Held them in your hand above your grandma's favorite cooking pot in a closet all your own.
Ask how much for a slice of apple pie. Laugh when the teenager in the voice box says, they nasty, after you miss hearing the cost.
Talk about pie. Apple, pecan, sweet potato, that one cherry pie you threw up when you were 16. Leave the memory there. Or don't. If you want, talk about how the women in your family take any bit of you they consider swollen and pinch and pull while sucking their teeth.
When you were a baby, it was cute.
Five, and they start to worry. What they feeding you, girl? They say while struggling to raise you over their heads.
You are a big legged girl at 12. Just as big as you wanna be.
16 and you're grown assed'ed, just like your mama said.
Baby having a baby, she said.
Except, you decided not to.
Again, you don't have to talk about that.
The teenager in the voice box will ask if you want extra napkins. Ask if you want a cupholder for a drink you don't remember ordering. He'll tell you to pull around to the second window.
I thought I paid at the first? You say.
Listen to the sound of static.
Change your mind. You ordered a burger and deserve a bun. Clutch a twenty in your palm. Practice saying, actually, I'd like a bun please.
Practice saying, keep the change.
Stare at your reflection in the sliding window. Your swollen cheeks. Arms beneath a sweatshirt that once belonged to a college linemen version of your father. How your stomach plumes over a belt strapped too tight. You can't see it, but you know it's happening.
The teenager behind the voice box appears, smiles, and offers you a brown bag with a greasy bottom.
Your order, he says, and you hear him. You swear you hear him.
And you ask, how much do I owe?
Avitus B. Carle
Avitus B. Carle (she/her) lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formerly known as K.B. Carle, her flash has been published in a variety of places including Five South, F(r)iction, Okay Donkey Magazine, Lost Balloon, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Avitus's flash, "Black Bottom Swamp Bottle Woman," was recently selected as one of Wigleaf's 2023 Top 50, and her experimental flash, “Abernathy_Resume.docx,” was included in the 2022 Best of the Net anthology. Her story, “A Lethal Woman,” will be included in the 2022 Best Small Fictions anthology. She can be found online at avitusbcarle.com or online everywhere @avitusbcarle.