Getting Smaller Every Day
Prompted Flash Fiction (plus a Special Guest Story)
Fluorescent light gleamed on the steel blades shaking in Ang’s right hand. Thunder sounded somewhere behind her, and the shaking worsened. An old lady pushed her cart around the corner of the aisle, saw Ang, frowned, and backed away, out of sight.
“Ang,” I said, “don’t do it.”
The scissors wavered in her hand.
“Because I’m begging you not to.”
Ang took a deep breath and lowered her arm. She said, “I’ve always hated spiders.”
Behind her, thunder faded and water misted from hidden nozzles onto artfully arranged lettuces and herbs grown in greenhouses thousands of miles to the south and flown north to this rainy city built where centuries-old trees once stood. The trees had been cut down to make cheap furniture and extra-soft toilet paper.
“Thank you,” I said.
Ang set the scissors at the base of a pyramid of avocados. A bag of tortilla chips balanced on top. Taken as a whole, the structure seemed a temple built to honor the god of snacking.
“I don’t know what these scissors are even doing out here.” She said it as if their presence had required her to menace the tiny spider dangling from a sign announcing the low, low price of the mangoes piled next to a mound of pineapples and some slowly dehydrating pre-cut coconuts. “These avocados are terrible,” Ang said, poking at knobbly green skins. “I think they’re hard enough to crack a windshield.”
“Please don’t test that hypothesis,” I said. “My windshield has enough cracks.”
Ang fiddled with the scissors, opening and closing them. They made a faint snick snick noise. “Why do you care so much anyway? It’s just a spider.”
The spider, perhaps sensing her animosity, crawled slowly up its web, likely telling itself to avoid any sudden movements. I put six Honey Crisp apples in the cart and reached for some Anjou pears. “Have you ever gone caving?”
Ang’s head snapped around. “Crawl into a hole in the ground on purpose? Hell no.”
“There’s life in there, way back, where it’s always dark. Bacteria that literally eat rocks. Blind shrimp that swim in pools of water that haven’t seen sunlight in thousands of years, if ever.”
Ang dropped a bag of grapes imported from Chile into the cart. “What does that have to do with me killing a spider?”
“Bacteria take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide while they’re eating rocks. You, me, that spider, the cave bacteria, the cave shrimp, chipmunks, bobcats, and so on—we’re all breathing the same air. We’re all connected.”
“Connected or not, it’s just one spider. If I kill it, something will eat its dead body. Circle of life and all that. Haven’t you seen The Lion King?”
I sighed and looked at Ang. She looked back at me, eyebrows raised, earbuds in, playlist no doubt cued. “Ang, in case you haven’t noticed, the circle of life is getting smaller every day. It’s not a stretch to say that the environment as we know it is hanging by a string—so anything that’s alive, let’s try to keep it alive, okay?”
My story was prompted by Justin Deming of Along the Hudson (spider, scissors, produce section of a grocery store). I’m including Birdsong, one of Justin’s stories, below. Another favorite of mine, too long to include here, is Arena Roja.
Birdsong by Justin Deming
You don’t know me, but I know you.
I know all of you.
I watch you from the windows, but you don’t notice me. Not ever.
You, tall man with the beard, are the first to wake. Sometimes the little girl joins you early in the morning when the sun has barely risen. She helps you brew the coffee, feed the dog, and let him out. He’s kind of nasty, if I’m being honest. He’s the only one who glances in my direction, though. Most of the time he chases me away, and I retreat to the skies.
When the woman and louder child — the boy, the one who cries and clings to her — come downstairs, you all enjoy breakfast. You cook. You eat. You sing and laugh and play. Yet you never see me.
I call to you in the mornings, and afternoons, and evenings — even at night, when the lights are out and the stars guide me to your dwelling — but you carry on with your little ones and your love. Your life.
The days turn into months, the months into years. I try to sing to you. No one listens. You change before my eyes. The boy and the girl grow taller, thinner. She has ribbons in her hair, and he wears a cap on his head. You seem happy.
A third child appears one day, as loud as the others used to be. Now they’re a different kind of loud.
The seasons change again and again. You have specks of gray in your hair. The woman’s has turned silver, wavier.
My bones grow old, worn. Still, I try to sing. One day in late spring, when the trees are in full bloom, I fall from a high branch. I’m too tired to do anything about it. It feels like the end.
But then you appear. You stand over me. You kneel — murmur something. It sounds like music.
And then the girl appears, and the boy. The woman and new child, too.
You’re all here with me. It’s all I ever wanted, but now I’m too tired to sing.
I take it all in — your faces, the trees, the never-ending sky — and close my eyes.
Jim’s Taco Fund
If you love this piece and you’ve ever tossed some coins to a subway saxophonist or a fiddler playing on the street, please consider sending a few bucks my way—a fiver would cover a day’s worth of tacos. Or, for $3, buy me a coffee!
Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.