KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Flash Fiction: 897 words

Kettle Moraine

by Jajah Wu

Like a leaf falling. There was no visible break.

Outside the summer was dying tenderly over the sunny grass. The trees were still green, but the deep limp green of late summer, waiting for the reds and golds to start spilling into them. By mid-morning, the sky came into focus, bright and clear.

Near the Wisconsin border, she had to pull over and let breakfast remerge in a bitter rope of toast and coffee. She washed her mouth out with some bottled water and spat a feeble arc into the crabgrass. Good luck to you, she thought at her spit.

But she felt better afterward. She wanted to drive and drive, shoot straight for Canada and never look back, but she was still exhausted from yesterday’s operation, and her body felt heavy and strange.

Don’t go too far, cautioned the voice in the back of her mind, the voice that had gotten her through the past few weeks. It was a chilly, rational voice, and it never let her cry. She decided it was right and elected, in lieu of Canada or the North Pole, to drive to a state park a few hours away, mostly because she liked its name: Kettle Moraine State Forest. Kettle Moraine. It sounded like a song on her tongue.

As she drove, the landscape flattened and unfolded in an uncomplicated line of farmhouses and grain elevators, and she felt herself sink into the hollow fullness of her insides.

She had forgotten what it felt like to drive alone. It made her vaguely excited, but also lonely. In the city, she took trains around, and when they needed to drive somewhere, she sat in the passenger side of Oren’s sporty two-door. Oren would eschew paper maps, diligently following the Google Nav on his phone while listening to leftist political radio shows. Often he would get lost this way, hammering his palm down on the steering wheel whenever the hosts made a particularly resonant point, and consequently, missing turnoffs. She would sit with her arms wrapped around herself, looking out the window.

She craned her neck to watch a multitude of sheep before the hills swallowed them. Sheep, cows, horses, goats. It didn’t matter how often she saw them. Every time, she marveled at their improbable size, their aliveness. Sometimes there would be a lamb or a foal, and her heartbeat quickened, as if she’d witnessed a narrowly missed disaster.

She shuddered, but steadied her hands and kept driving.

Of course, she wanted none of it. The absurdly pretty babies her old school friends were producing at civically approved rates sent not so much as a maternal shudder through her frame. This pregnancy was an accident. And she was glad that it was over now, in a gut-cramping wrench, in a slip like a coral-sponge tongue.

Like a leaf turning red. The fetus that she fished out of the toilet hadn’t begun to develop any distinguishable features. No tiny fingers protruded out of the soft bleeding mass. No eyes, or sockets of eyes. And the cruel pain in her pelvis stopped.

The nurse, who could not have known that she had almost made her mind up to get rid of it anyway, was consoling but distant, like a Norman Rockwell painting. And the chilly, rational voice in her head was teaching her how to breathe, coaching her to move slowly: step-step-step, telling her to collect her things carefully, to call a cab, to sit still to stave off nausea, to microwave soup and eat it alone, to vomit in the toilet, to not call Oren. To—in a word—endure.

Hours later, as she sat on a log, deep in the woods of Kettle Moraine, she remembered something about her mother. This would be after she had buried the coral-sponge tongue by a young poplar. This would be after she let the miscarriage fall into the soil, like a rope into the abyss, to swing in space where there was no bridge. This would be after she admitted to herself that she had not forgiven Oren for his absence.

She remembered that not long after she was born her mother found herself pregnant again, at the start of China’s one-child policy. Without much regret, her mother turned herself in for the abortion.

“I didn’t mind it,” her mother said, “we already had you, and we couldn’t really afford a second baby then. So they did the procedure—” and here her mother’s voice turned to one of reverent surprise: “—but as soon as it was done, I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried. I couldn’t help it.”

She asked her mother what she did next. “Oh nothing,” came the reply, “I stayed in bed that day, and I got better. It’s strange to think that he’d be just a little younger than you now, if he were alive.” Her mother looked at her fondly.

And then, the chilly rational voice deserted her, and she swung wildly into the abyss, whiplashed between birth and death, time and choice, mothers and blood. And she hung there for a long time, waiting for the bridge to appear. When it finally did, the late sun had left the air, but the gathering pines freed her from all voices and sounds except the voices and sounds of the forest.

Jajah Wu
Issue 1, Fall 2014

Lives in Chicago, IL. She writes without the help of her two cats. She is the founder and co-editor of the paper ’zine The Liberated Liberator, tagline: Absolute Veracity Since 1647.

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