Yesterday’s Chore List

by Tara L. Masih

Lora Lee looks down at her hand, suspended over the back of yesterday’s chore list. She holds a pencil with not much lead left in it. Just a fat shiny end to the stub, smooth from use. But she is focused on her hand and not on the fact that there is no good point to write her note with. Her skin at the crook of her thumb and first finger looks dry and wrinkled. The deep creases a thousand mad tributaries across a dry flat land. She remembers a nursery rhyme about a woman and an alligator purse.

She wonders when her skin took the brunt of her life. Pencil poised, the chores on the other side of the scrap paper remain uncrossed off. What happened to keep them from being finished still lingers around her in the dense farmhouse air and musty gingham curtains.

Look, she had said to her husband when she found the remains near the tilled garden. Look! She knew she sounded shrill, accusatory, as if he had left them there for her to stumble on.

Must’ve been a fisher cat, he shrugged in his noncommittal way. Or a fox. I’ll get the shovel.

She’d heard cries the night before, high-pitched, shrieks really, making their way through the cool, dark, dewy yard to their open window. The cries were odd, not something she’d heard before, sort of like the cries of bats, but louder. She was wide awake to any misery that wanted to join hers at that moment, and she took the cries in and made them her own.

The remains were obscene, the two connected hind feet of a baby rabbit. That was all that was left. A clean scissor cut, right above the leg bones. No blood, no fur; no scat from its predator.

It turned her stomach. It reminded her that she was out there alone, no neighbors for miles, no car of her own.

When he came back from the shed with the rusty shovel, he scooped the sad heap up and thwhack! it hit her near her groin. She yelled for the first time. His eyes narrowed.

Carefully, she works to make the flat lead leave everything behind, her aging hand, insisting.

Tara L. Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (a Skipping Stones Honor Book), and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows (a National Best Books Award finalist). Her flash fiction has been anthologized in Word of Mouth, Brevity & Echo, and Stripped, and was featured in Fiction Writer’s Review for Short Story Month 2011. Awards include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations.

What’s on your “writing” chore list these days?
Much like the character in this brief story, “yesterday’s writing chore list” tends to get left undone. I’m juggling too many things at the moment. But at the top of the list is finishing a short story I completed research for, and finishing a novel. The novel is definitely a “chore.” A hard one. Anyway, those are my summer challenges. Flash fiction, for me, is a series of wonderful brief respites between the task of writing longer prose.

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