Everything We Had

by Christopher Allen

Mama’s breath dripped sour in my ear. “Mousy, go on to bed.” But I didn’t. I was playing dead, catching kite-whispers—hard with Aunt Birgit drunk, blasting Sturmvogel on the radio. But when the brandy came out, when music shook the shelves, that’s when whispers flew like kites. My teacher at school told me if I caught enough, she’d let me see Aunt Birgit’s boys. Her ex-boys.

Aunt Birgit tripped, landed hard on the couch next to Mama and me. “I’m gonna fill this bottle with bleach,” she said, “and drink until blood comes out my ears,” until she reached the other side of something, I couldn’t hear what. Drunk crazy talk because Erich Honecker took her boys. “My ears!” she shouted, and my eyes opened like What? “Bedtime, Mousy,” Mama said again, but I curled up like too-sleepy-to-move—which was hard with brandy running down my nose.

Father grabbed at Aunt Birgit, squeezed her like a sausage. I liked it when we cried because I knew Father’d tell a joke to cheer us up. And he did. “Here’s a good one,” he whispered, his face pressed against Aunt Birgit’s cheek, “Erich wakes and welcomes the sun with a hearty Good morning! ‘Good morning, dear Erich,’ says the sun. At lunch Erich greets the sun again, and the sun says ‘Good day, dearest Erich.’ After supper Erich says goodnight to the sun, and the sun says ‘Lick my hairy ass, Honecker you pig. I’m in the West now.’

A glass hit a wall. Mama and Birgit exploded. Hard to tell if they were crying or laughing, but I guessed laughing because Father said hairy ass. I wanted to laugh too, but I kept my mouth straight and sleepy so I could catch more kite-whispers. Aunt Birgit was screaming with Nina Hagen now, her mouth slobbering all over Mama’s ear. She’d be in the West soon too, on TV, so those fucking STASI assholes would have to give her boys back—I had to remember every word. Her ex-boys lived six streets away for years with a nice couple who gave me West chocolate if I knew which secrets to tell and which to keep. It’s not hard to know. West chocolate tasted like money and big cars.

I could hear Mama down on the floor, stacking shard on shard. I peeked. Blood leaked from her knees and fingers but she didn’t see it; her eyes were on me. “Night night, Mousy. Go on.” But I didn’t. Mama always said I could sleep through a revolution.

The music went soft, and Father said, “Birgit, you can sleep it off in Berti’s room”—that was mine. When she was gone, my parents danced close and slow, whispered shit shit shit. Their glasses drooped, dripped a carousel of brandy and blood, brown stains on the brown carpet. Father blew brown smoke at the brown ceiling. Everything we had was brown. “A bad mother,” Mama said. “An enemy of The State,” Father shouted, and I thought he’d throw another glass, but he just stared at the walls as if they were covered with ears.

Christopher Allen is the 2015 recipient of the Ginosko Literary Journal’s award for flash fiction. His work has appeared or will appear in Eclectica Magazine’s 20th-anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train and others. Read his book reviews in [PANK], Word Riot, Necessary Fiction and others. Allen lives somewhere in Europe and is the managing editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.

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

Long live the prompt; “Everything We Had” began as a response to a photograph, but I’ve been interested in the story’s broader theme for a long time. I’ve lived in Germany for over 20 years now and am very close to people who lived in/through the former GDR. It was an awful time of mistrust and betrayal, a time of State-inflicted surveillance that divided and ruined families. Such a terrible situation—so of course it’s found its way into my writing.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


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