KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Flash Fiction: 515 words

Sitting Shiva

by James Claffey

Mornings, cod liver oil on a spoon. The St. Brigid’s cross beside the front door, tacked to the Holy Water font. The bit of sponge in the well of the font yellowed and crusted, never changed in all the years we’ve lived in the house. This shrine to saints and sinners, from Our Lady’s statue in my bedroom, and her arms benevolently spread to forgive my sins, to the unlabeled bottle of clear fluid in the bureau in the dining room: Poitín. Beneath the sensible underwear in my mother’s dresser drawer, a starting pistol, in case of robbery. Always a biscuit tin in the press. Kimberley, Mikado, or Coconut Creams, but inside, the chocolate cake with sliced Glacé cherries circled about the top. Black-bordered envelopes of dead relatives’ faces on laminated Mass cards, “Pray for the repose of the soul,” or, “Dearly Beloved,” and the thick stack of aunts, uncles, cousins, and distant relations secured by a large rubber band. Cause of death went largely unreported, hushed conversations late at night, tut-tutting and shaking of heads. “He was a young man, in his prime, too.”

The pot mender’s hoarse cries as the cart trundled up the tarmacadam road, the pulling nag with its unkempt mane and the tinker atop the cart with hat angled to keep the sun out of his eyes. Those days a swarm of young ones would follow the horse and cart, its pied piper calling out for business. Regretful words from snooty housewives, afraid to trust the tinker’s craft. “Be careful he doesn’t touch your hand and send a blush withering through your innards.” A neighborhood dog yelps at the palsied horse, but the creature simply lifts a hoof and shakes its mane at a cloud of flies. On the floor of the sitting room paint-by-number books are spread open, crayons and markers littered about, whilst we press noses to the windowpanes and cower when the tinker looks our way. The bust of some ancient pope sits on the marble mantelpiece, guardian of our small world.

When the rain falls heavy the garden floods and the dug beds turn into moats protecting the grass square in the middle. Panic if the water reaches the doorstop. A knitted doorstop keeps out the breeze, but mildew and time rot its insides cancerous and it disappears in the Sunday night dustbin. The coal men heave sacks of black nuggets onto their wide and bowed backs and strain to deliver their loads into the shed beside the dormant rhododendrons. How the cigarette lit stays stuck to the lip as ninety pounds of coal tumbles into the open door. Magpies preen glossed feathers in the branches of next-door’s apple tree, the pecking interrupted by their now-and-again chatter. When old Mr. Fagan dies of loneliness the polished hearse sails up the road and top-hatted men carry him out in a mahogany box. We light a candle in the window for the repose of his soul, and his house sits Shiva for many a year before a childless couple moves in and mourns their own losses.

James Claffey
Issue 12, Summer 2019

hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, California. He is the author of a novel, The Heart Crossways (Thrice Publishing, 2018), and a collection of stories, blood a cold blue (Press 53, 2013). His work also appears in Flash Fiction International (W. W. Norton and Company, 2015) and The Best Small Fictions 2015 (Queen’s Ferry Press). He was also a finalist in The Best Small Fictions 2016, and a semi-finalist in 2017.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Interview With James Claffey by Jonathan Cardew, Connotation Press (September 2017)

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