Growing Pains

by Avital Gad-Cykman

The sun is absent, we inform the secretary at the principal’s office.

She looks up from below a unified brown curl of her whole hair, and says that it is winter, a season in which bears hibernate, as we have studied, and butterflies develop in cocoons, she thinks, so of course the sun remains absent.

We retreat to the classroom. We won’t call Father this time because Mother is nowhere, and he hardly knows where he is.

A jet makes a boom during geography class, and birds rise from the eucalyptus tree, batting their wings in protest.

We inform the secretary that the eucalyptus looks old and parched and may crack over our heads if nobody does anything to stop it.

Eucalyptuses grow in the driest places and suck humidity from the ground, she says. It will hardly break because of an airplane. But if it cracks, we’ll take the right measures.

The clouds hang low, as we return to our class, and the windows are lined with drops. We take out our books and study English as a foreign language. The dialogue supposed to take place by a reception desk at a hotel sounds false, so instead of repeating it we shout, I love you! I love you! I love you! until the teacher stops trying to hush us. He leaves.

In the resulting early recess we focus on eating, but the sandwich we brought in the morning isn’t right. Something essential is missing. We approach the principal’s office, stop, and observe the secretary and the English teacher as they enter a room we haven’t noticed before. We hear melons breaking and then nothing. We finally know everything about sex.

The sun is still absent, we notice, but the clock shows it’s twelve o’clock anyway. Father must be back from his daily visit to the cemetery. We ask the secretary if she thinks he cracks melons too, and if our mother eats her own sandwiches.

Keep your heads down, the secretary says, and the winter will be gone in a second. There is always something wrong in a sandwich. And don’t worry about cracks yet. Everything will settle in due time.

We walk home, jumping from puddle to puddle, making sure that other children get wet. The sun is still absent, and we need to grow old as soon as possible.

Avital Gad-Cykman is an Israeli living in Brazil. Her flash collection Life In, Life Out has been published by Matter Press in 2014. Her work has appeared in journals such as McSweeney’s, Glimmer Train, Prism International, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Stand (UK). It has also been anthologized in W. W. Norton`s Flash Fiction International, The Best of Gigantic 2009-2014, The Flash and other anthologies.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Growing Pains”?

    I am not sure how fascinating it is, but I started writing the flash because I had the voice of the narrators in my head: lost, solitary siblings interpreting the world around them, communicating the incommunicable in a naïve attempt to prevent more loss and pain. In my revision I took out the quotation marks and put the dialogue in italics to keep the atmosphere uninterrupted. I also clarified earlier than before that the children are motherless and technically rather fatherless, because it’s in their core.
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