Lydia Gwyn ~ Two Flashes

Head in the Sky

My moth­er named the pines, each pine that came to mind. Pitch and short­leaf. White and loblol­ly. Spruce, red, table mountain.

Our bea­gle came back after weeks away. It was­n’t the first time she’d run off. She arrived on our porch with run­ny eyes, her ears full of ticks–bloated blis­ter white. The eczema on my hands itched for days before she came back. Itched more than usu­al. I tried not to peel off the patch­es of dead skin, not to scratch at all. But the rash felt hot as though it had sprung from some fevered region in me and want­ed to be opened, so I scratched all the healed skin away while lying in bed one morning.

Longleaf, slash, sand, and red. When she ran out of pines, moth­er moved on to decid­u­ous trees. Ironwood and ash, catal­pa, birch, and oak. Banyan. Jacaranda. Some of these trees lived in oth­er regions of the world, but some grew around us in our yard and in the woods. Cedar, wal­nut, sour­wood. I imag­ined the dead stood between the trees, watch­ing us live our lives with­out them. My broth­er, my aunt, my grand­moth­er, my grand­fa­thers. Fixed at the bound­ary line of our rent­ed land. A land full of some­one else’s cows, some­one else’s fog in the morning.

Maple and ailan­thus and mul­ber­ry. I brought my boyfriend to see the trees and to walk in the creek in the woods.

In the back­yard, we released bal­loons on the birth­days of the dead. We count­ed down–my boyfriend, my moth­er, and I–and let them go all at once. I would always watch my bal­loon bub­ble away from my hands and become a head in the sky, then a grain, then a speck. Let it fly, I would think. The sea­sons arrived in cir­cles, spring-sum­mer-fall-win­ter-spring-sum­mer-fall-win­ter, with birth­days all the time. Soon I would leave for col­lege, and only moth­er would be left to release the balloons.

Down the road, a dal­ma­t­ian named Blackberry had attacked a child while the child played in her own yard. The child received four stitch­es in her lip. Her moth­er told my moth­er, the stitch­es made thumb-suck­ing dif­fi­cult and that maybe the dog bite was a bless­ing that would break her sev­en-year-old from the baby­ish habit. Both moth­ers rocked on the porch in the rock­ing chairs that came with the house. Did you know you have sug­ar maples in your yard? My moth­er told the oth­er moth­er. You should tap those.

Another neigh­bor owned chick­ens and let them have free rein. Hens pecked along the ease­ment of their home and wan­dered in and out of the road. They were cop­per and white, some were blonde. I looked at them from the win­dow when­ev­er we drove by. So close to the car. Don’t the own­ers care? I thought. I watched the wob­bling red hearts at their throats and felt so fragile.

No Airport, No Planes Arriving

I used to close my eyes and think of an old man stuck in a bed. This was back when my par­ents would call me Acorn. Back when we lived in an old farm­house, in all the years before third grade. The bed the old man was stuck in was too small for him to sleep com­fort­ably. He’d shift and turn like a jig­saw piece try­ing to find its fit. There were no win­dows in my thoughts, and the room was a dark box just big enough for the bed. The man was scared. He knew he was dying, and he was con­fused. Where was the per­son who used to take care of him?

My par­ents called me Acorn for my brown hair and brown eyes and small size. There were acorns every­where in that land­scape of my ear­ly life. Acorns in the yard around the house, on the play­ground at school, and acorns in the paint­ing that hung above my bed.

The paint­ing was a present from my uncle, giv­en to my par­ents the day I was born. I used to look into it in the morn­ings when I was awake but still too tired to get out of bed.

In the paint­ing, a young girl is walk­ing through a for­est, and the for­est is filled with light. The light came from a translu­cent angel stand­ing behind the girl and fill­ing up most of the pic­ture. Her smil­ing face was part of the three tops. Her open arms the branch­es. There were ani­mals hid­den through­out the paint­ing. Owls, squir­rels, song­birds, chip­munks, a fam­i­ly of deer. And also acorns. I used to try to find all the hid­den things and count them.

The girl in the paint­ing looked like me with her brown braid­ed pig­tails and small fore­head. She wore a brown plaid dress with a white apron tied over top. She was not the kind of girl I could ever imag­ine wear­ing high heels.

The thing is an old man real­ly did die in our home. He died in the room that was then my par­ents’ bed­room decades before we moved in. I know this because my father told me the sto­ry of how the man lived alone and was found by rel­a­tives. He also told me of how he woke in the night once and saw the man, how he wasn’t dream­ing. I used to try to pic­ture what he saw: the man stand­ing at the foot of his bed wear­ing an old-fash­ioned white night­gown, hand on his stom­ach. I pic­tured the man as translu­cent, though my father nev­er said.

I thought of this man often as a child, espe­cial­ly when I was sick. I’d pic­ture his skin yel­low­ing, and then I’d think of the yel­low cook­ing oil my moth­er used, the yel­low ban­dana she tied around her hair when she fixed food or washed her face at night. I’d think of the yel­low bot­tles of formalde­hyde my father kept in his biol­o­gy class­rooms and the yel­low-tinged riv­er that ran through the down­town of the city where we bought our groceries.

Father said the riv­er was pol­lut­ed with chem­i­cals from the tan­nery. Chemicals I could smell when we drove over the moun­tain and down into the town. It smelled like decay­ing bod­ies, not some­thing poured from a bot­tle. When we stared into the riv­er, we could see sudsy bub­bles float­ing on the sur­face like some­thing per­co­lat­ing beneath.

The town was small. No taxi ser­vice, no art muse­ums, no air­port, no planes arriv­ing. Just gro­cery stores and church­es and gas sta­tions sell­ing lot­tery tickets.

Aside from the old man enter­ing my thoughts, I always knew when I was sick because I’d have the same dream each time I had a fever. I’d dream of a giant black tire, rolling down a grassy hill, squash­ing a daisy. In the dream I was the daisy. And I was also the tire. And the hill and the air. I watched the daisy’s stem bend and snap and felt the strain in my neck. I felt the fat pres­sure of my tire body, the bulge and bounce as it moved down­hill. I felt the worms in my soil body, their blind searching.

Often when I was sick, my moth­er or father would come into my room and rock me, even when I was too big to be held that way. They’d scoop me up and my legs would dan­gle over the cra­dle of their arms and my feet would touch the mat­tress. After a while, I could feel their bod­ies tir­ing. I could hear the sub­tle creak­ing of the ten­dons in their wrists, the yawn of their mus­cles. I was nev­er one to fall asleep quickly.

Lydia Gwyn’s sto­ries, poems, and essays have appeared or are forth­com­ing in F®iction, The Florida Review, Pensive, Poetry Salzburg Review, and oth­ers. She is the author of two books of flash fic­tion, You’ll Never Find Another (2021, Matter Press) and Tiny Doors (2018, Another New Calligraphy). She lives with her fam­i­ly in East Tennessee.