KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Flash Fiction: 973 words

Shut Up and Eat Your Kale

by Leslie What

“Come on, kids,” said their father. “It’s the top of the order. You two go fight in the other room.” Today was a long day. One project was going poorly. His boss rode him for missing so much work. He kicked off his shoes, loosened his zipper, sat in his armchair to fiddle with the remote.

His children were PhDs at ignoring him. The rise of their voices outpaced the TV volume. The children argued over whose stuffed animal was stronger, who would draw the first bath, who would name the puppy both wanted but their mother did not. The older child, Jenny, won every time.

“Honey!” their father yelled. “Can’t you do something?”

“Not my problem,” said their mother from the kitchen. She stood with arms crossed and hands tucked beneath her elbows. Her backlit silhouette hovered ghostlike in the doorframe.

Their father dragged his armchair closer to the TV.

“One week of the year,” he said. “Is that too much to ask?”

“What about me?” asked their mother. She unfurled an arm like a flower petal and pointed to the stairs. “Do I get a week?” Her day was hard, too. A patient had coded in the operating room. A surgeon had treated her like a cleaning woman.

“Jenny,” said their father. “Would you go check on Grandma?”

Jenny shook her head. “Grandma called me an ugly goblin,” she said.

“She doesn’t always know what she’s saying,” said their father.

“What is a goblin?” William asked.

“You’re an idiot,” Jenny said. “Don’t you know anything?” She punched her little brother’s shoulder.

William cried until their mother swooped in to calm him with a kiss to make it better. “I’m hungry,” William said.

“Should I order in?” their mother asked.

“One more inning,” said their father. “Then I’ll make hot dogs.”

“Hot dogs!” William said, monkey-clinging to his mother’s neck. “Yum.”

“They shouldn’t eat garbage,” their mother said. “Hot dogs are 40% saturated fat. Nitrates cause cancer.”

“Are we gonna die?” Jenny asked. They’d watched Grandma turn from snowman-fat to scarecrow-skinny.

“You don’t get cancer from eating one fucking hot dog, one day of the year, during Game-fucking-One of the World Series,” said their father.

“He said the F-word,” Jenny said.

“Maybe Grandma would like a hot dog,” said their mother.

“Maybe she would,” said their father. “Maybe she’s tired of tofu-kamut casserole.”

“So, make something different,” said their mother. “Kitchen’s thataway.” She lowered William to the rug and ignored his ouches when Jenny pinched his leg.

“Fine,” their father said. “I’ll fix a salad.”

Jenny arranged her brother on his back and sat on his belly.

“Mom!” William said.

“Best of seven,” said their father. “Four games tops. Is that too much to ask?”

“That’s not all you ask,” said their mother.

Jenny bent her elbows, lifted her arms above her head in an affected ballet position. When the next batter struck out, she pulled the knitted blanket from the sofa and mashed it over William’s face.

Her brother flailed, an overturned turtle.

“Leave him alone,” their mother said.

“Didn’t Grandma knit that?” asked their father. He retrieved the blanket, folded the corners together.

William said, “I could still breathe, you know.”

Jenny grabbed the remote, flipped the channels.

“Hey,” their father said. “I’m watching something.”

“It’s boring,” Jenny said.

“Boring,” William said.

On days when the windows stayed closed, their house smelled like a plastic bag just before the bread got moldy and was tossed into the trash and there were no more sandwiches until their mother went shopping.

“My turn to hold the remote,” William said.

Jenny, who never did what William wanted, hid the remote in her waistband.

“No fair,” William said. “Mom!”

“If things were fair, Grandma would live someplace they could take care of her,” said their mother.

“We take care of her. Hand me that remote,” said their father.

Jenny switched to the game before giving it back. “Does Grandma like baseball?” she asked.

“Nobody likes baseball,” said their mother.

TV people sang, “Take me out to the ballgame.” Their father muted the sound, stood, shuffled to the kitchen. Cabinets banged. The refrigerator door opened, slammed shut. “Do we have iceberg lettuce?” asked their father.

“I don’t know. Do we?” said their mother.

Their father returned, sat down to watch the first batter strike out. His team was behind by two. He hurried to the kitchen during the next set of commercials. The salty, smoky smell of hot dogs replaced other smells.

“Mmmmm,” William said.

Air horns screamed from the TV. Their father rushed in to watch. His team was rallying.

A bell rang from Grandma’s room. “Shit,” their father said. He started for the stairs, cocking his head for a sad look toward the television. “Shit.”

“Shit,” William said.

“Your father said, ‘Shoot,’” said their mother.

“No he didn’t,” Jenny said.

Their mother disappeared, reappeared with bowls filled with green strips. “Have some salad,” she told the children. “Before hot dogs.”

“Do we have to?” Jenny asked.

“You have to,” said their mother.

“I hate salad,” Jenny said.

“We don’t say ‘hate,’” said their mother.

“You do,” Jenny said. “You say it all the time.”

Their mother gazed upstairs. She scrunched up her face. She sank into their father’s chair and picked lint balls from her pants. The children could not tell if she was angry or sad.

“This salad tastes like poop,” William said. He sniffed his fork.

“Shut up and eat your kale,” their mother said, twisting her body so she could stare away, out the window. She turned away, and it was as if she were somewhere else, as far away from her children as anyone could be while still sitting in the same room.

The children ate their salad, at least they pretended to.

Leslie What
Issue 11, Spring 2019

is a Nebula Award-winning writer of fantasy and literary fiction and nonfiction dubbed “the Queen of Gonzo” by Gardner Dozois, former editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction. Ms. What is the author of the novel Olympic Games (Tachyon Publications, 2004) and a collection of stories entitled Crazy Love (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2008), which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

More than 80 of her short stories and essays are published, appearing in Asimov’s, Bending the Landscape, Best New Horror, Calyx, Flurb, Fugue, Lilith Magazine, Midstream, Parabola, Sci Fiction, The Clackamas Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road, Unstuck, Utne Reader, Witpunk and other anthologies and magazines. Her work has been shortlisted for the James Tiptree Award.

Ms. What has served as nonfiction editor at the literary journal Silk Road and (with R. A. Rycraft) co-edited the anthology Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging (Serving House Books, May 2012). She was the first fiction editor for Phantom Drift: New Fabulism.

Author’s website:

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

The Elephant Man’s Love Child, micro-fiction in Daily Science Fiction (1 February 2011)

Dog Eat Dog, micro-fiction in Serving House Journal (Issue 1, Spring 2010)

Milkweed, micro-fiction in Serving House Journal (Issue 2, Fall 2010)

Big Feet, a short story inspired by a miserable cross-country flight; published in See the Elephant Magazine (Issue 2, Love and War in the Slipstream)

All of My Love, L. Timmel Duchamp’s review of Crazy Love in American Book Review (Line On Line, Issue 30, Volume 2, pages 5L-6L, January/February 2009)

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