FLASH FICTION CONTEST
by Tara Carnevale
Our house, the one strangling in ivy, is trapped on a stretch of unpaved road that has no name. The street starts with one name and ends with another. Our house, in the middle, is neither here nor there. It has a number that is not the end of one street or the beginning of the other. No one can find it without getting lost. Sometimes, I stand behind the one window in the house not cinched with ivy and watch them try to find us. I watch how they rev right by. I wait for their calls. I tell them to drive back, back, farther, farther back. Farther back than they think they should go. It is there that they will find us. It’s been months since I’ve had to give directions. Maybe years. No one comes looking for me anymore.
I used to get lost, too. I would keep driving past the house. I pretended not to notice the ivy’s leafed fingers beckoning in my windshield. I waited to see how far I could get before they dragged me back. I got farther every time, but never far enough. The street is long and riddled with traps. Potholes that hold tight to tires and bumps that make the car clatter up and down and back and forth. I wasn’t going anywhere fast.
The ivy has been growing thicker. It’s growing quicker and greener. It undulates even when there is no wind. It stopped rippling long ago; now it surges, it crests, it swells about the house. When I close my eyes, I can hear it. It makes a noise that is half roar, half moan. I find myself, throughout the day, ululating with it.
When I tell my husband about the evergreen waves, he increases my daily dosage. He watches me morning and night when I place the one, two, three talced pills on the tip of my tongue. He smiles when I swallow. When I frown back at him, he tells me to smile too.
I show my teeth.
He tells me they’re making me better.
He tells me time will tell.
He tells me I will see.
I stopped responding long ago.
You would be a madwoman without them, he says.
You’d be lost, he says. You’d be scared.
I nod and call him doctor.
I hate when you call me that.
Old habits, I say, because I’d called him my doctor before I called him my betrothed.
He takes both of my hands in one of his. He says, Look, you’re feeling better already.
I tell my head to nod up and down. I’ve decided not to tell him that the ivy has barricaded the front door. I’ve decided not to tell him that I cannot remember the last time I left the house. I do not tell him that this morning I found yellowed burrs nested in my hair. They were small and puckered and impossible to crunch.
I force a long-shuttered light to blink in my eyes. I present him with my lips. We say good-bye. I shut the garage door so quick I hear it thud against his heels. I have not told him I know the only way out.
I’m beginning to think he already knows. Nighttime, he doles out four pills and funnels them into my hand.
He hands me a bottle of water and says bottoms up and charades laughter while I guzzle. He watches me for a long time after I have swallowed. When his phone rings, I shrug and stumble upstairs. By the time I have tongued the pills out from behind my bottom teeth, they are shredded and bitter and hardly pills at all.
I feign sleep until he is draped slack and loose in the bed.
I go downstairs and pace around the house. Window to window to window. I push each one open. The ivy outside is so heavy the windows move only haltingly. I have to push and bang to get them to budge. Sometimes, I find streaks of blood palmed in the window panes when I come back around. It gets cold in the house. I walk until my feet are numb. I walk until the cold has enshrouded the house, and me in it. I walk until I can barely move at all. Too late, I try to close it all up. I go from window to window to window again. Or I try. Mostly I just stand still and watch. I watch as the ivy writhes inside the house. The tangled mass of it shudders across the floor. It is green-black and immense. I get up the stairs on my hands and knees. I feel the hunger of it behind me. It has come to hunt me down. I get into the guest room and find the one window that is not ravaged by the ivy. I push it open so hard, the glass bangs against the wooden shutters. From my perch on the window ledge, I can see the tips of the oak trees all the way across the unpaved street. I see the slope of the hunchbacked hills miles away. I hear the distant purr of the driven highway. The snarled mess of it rears up behind me and throws a shadow over me. In the quicksilver moment before there is nothing, I have it all.
Tara Carnevale lives and works in New York City. She received her BA in English from Colgate University and her MFA in fiction from New York University. She is currently at work on her first novel.