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One day the woman wakes up and she can’t say exactly what it is that’s changed, only that she knows it all has.

Fiction | Flash Fiction
January 15, 2021

One day the woman wakes up and she can’t say exactly what it is that’s changed, only that she knows it all has. 

Then she looks around.

Outside the window, there is the street and trees and houses she knows, but there is also water she doesn’t. Great big dark waves, some crashing, some lilting and lapping, some loud and angry, some gentle and soft, but all grand in its music. 

The floor beside her bed is still cherry hardwood like it was yesterday, or at least she thinks it is anyway, not oatmeal colored carpet like when she’d first moved in to the place. But it also might not be. It could be that it’s neither of those things. It’s possibly vast and endless and not even there at all. It could be swirling black and gray and white and infinite, pouring down like milk through a funnel, opening up at the base to a sky of stars below.

She could just stay in bed, safe from all the dangers surrounding her, or she could explore the unknown.

So she drifts her way outside, letting the wind carry her there. She’s sort of flying, sort of not. She glides along the water and soon she’s not alone. There are people and animals she likes and people and animals she doesn’t, and she’s glad for once not to be in the solitude of her home. 

Her neighbors and friends and old lovers and missed connections and boss from her job she hates and that one girl that bullied her decades ago in school and that boy that kissed and touched her without asking or caring if it was okay and the man she’d fallen deeply and completely in love with who liked her just fine but not in the same way or with the depth of emotion she felt for him and the woman from work she had hurt very badly with the gossip she spread about her and the dog who had bitten the bicyclist and the dog who strangers loved to pet at the park and finally a new man she’s not known for very long but who catches her eye and her attention in a way that flutters pleasurably and almost painfully deep inside her belly—they are all there, too. 

Further along, where the street ends, or just beyond it rather, are oceans and mountains and ice and snow and sun and rain and the rest of the world and their joy and pain and war and hunger and hurting and happiness and it all feels unbearably far and close all at once. She reaches her hands out but though she can see it all, she can’t touch it. So she breathes in her disappointment, puts on a smile, and focuses instead on these faces surrounding her, from the town she knows but doesn’t recognize today.  

Hello, they say. But the new man says it in a tone that is meaningful and distinct from the others and when they look at each other, their gazes fuse in a way that makes everyone else know to float away and give them some privacy. 

As their bodies intertwine beneath the blankets on her bed, his head finds the normally empty and unused second pillow. He creates a comfortable shape for himself in it, a groove within which he can fit for all the days to come. In that moment, his warmth and her warmth meet. Visible sparks start to fly and ignite an actual fire. She is startled but doesn’t dare move away from him. The flames are more white and gold and blue than she would have thought, not so red and orange as she’d been taught to expect. The flames should scare her, they are catching fast, but the heat is so pleasant and cozy that she is not afraid of burning—she is afraid of how it would feel for it all to go away with him, for his body and the fire to be gone, and for everything to be cold again, including her. Especially her. She’d be safe but his pillow would be empty and cool, and she can’t have that. She concludes, yes I want the fire, if it means I can have him and me. Together. 

She knows this whole thing is half rendered and surreal like a dream but it also feels real, realer than anything she’s lived through yet. She wants to trust it but isn’t sure.

Go to sleep, he breathes into her ear. 

Her skin is starting to smell like bread she’s left too long in the toaster and her nerves tingle now with something more than happiness. She can almost feel the pain of the fire grazing her bare arms. 

Good night, he says. Then he pulls her in close, showering them both with even more sparks that sing and flicker like stars.

In the morning, she looks out the window and there is no water. She leans over the edge of her bed to see that the floor is just a floor. Her bedroom and home are not a charred skeleton. Everything is the same as it was before.

Until she hears a loud creaking noise and sees the doorknob across the room begin to turn as if by itself, as if by magic. Someone must be on the other side of the door, but she lives alone and so she remembers to be frightened as well as curious. 

Before she can ask who is there, the door opens. It is the man and he is holding two mugs of coffee. 

You’re awake! Sorry if I was too loud in the kitchen, he says. But now that you’re up, join me?

Yes, I will, she says. Thank you.

She follows him down the hall, memorizing the rhythm of his steps and timing the beats of hers to harmonize with his. The floor under her feet is hard and cold but she is on fire.

Read more flash fiction, including stories by Meng Jin, Chen Chen, Kyle Lucia Wu, and more, here.