KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Flash Fiction: 594 words

Painting Tulips

by Laurette Folk

Everything burned in the fire—clothes, dolls, furniture, Papa, Mama. Now we pose in the glass, lace over breasts, over thighs, desirable items. We cannot stay too long in the window because it gets warm in the sun, especially around noon. At night we drink a special tea. We sit around the table, silk robes slinking off shoulders, unfazed. Madame says the tea will keep us clean, as in germ free. The tea is bitter and black, but she sweetens it generously with honey. In the house we eat in the common rooms only. We are not allowed to have food in our private rooms because of ants. Madame despises ants. I have seen them march out of the wood and even fly.

In the foyer, there is red wallpaper in monstrous shapes. There is a crystal lamp with a mirror. There are images of a young Madame—pure elegance in gowns and feathers, a cigarette holder extending from her fingers or a stemmed glass. There is a miniature version of the house with each room and each girl and miniature tables and chairs, settees, beds, armoires, tiny teacups. There is even a miniature upright piano—just like Madame’s parlor piano where she plays Gershwin and sometimes the men sing and the girls dance.

Zwerver. This is what Mama called me. Wanderer. In a blur, the countryside dances. I giggle and you place your hand on my knee. We drive beyond the city to where color is more of a place than a hue. We run amongst the fields, trip, fall arm and arm in the soft petals. It is delightfully quiet without sirens and engines. You spread a blanket, feed me. I watch your face, a different face supine than upright, vulnerable yet docile. A different face from the many supine and upright faces I have known.

I have told you I am a doll whose arms and legs Madame moves as she pleases. I don’t mind: my body is a foreign country. When she taps me on the shoulder, I return to the room where there is a worn settee and a man with animal eyes. I undress and he smoothes my spine, takes my neck between his fingers, as if I were a kitten he could pluck up from the floor.

Matisse says that in order to create, one must offer oneself like a communicant going to communion. Pure and innocent. In my mind, the petals fit together like a gorgeous mouth (you are writing beside me, capturing the same image). I imagine tracing the perfect curve with my pencil, how it emerges into the cup, how the slow, life-giving green diffuses into pallor. I vary my perspective and from afar, they are like a gathering of good people.

Madame says that if we frame them, maybe they will sell and she will give me twenty-five percent. It does not matter to me if she will give me twenty-five percent, only that I have created them, like a woman creates a child or a dandelion creates a seed, and the child or the seed is part of the mother and goes out into the world.

Now the music has begun and the room has darkened. The city retreats into itself, exhales slowly from the day’s exertions. There’s a certain stasis during this time, a melancholy. The man knows it. Afterwards, he will lie for a few moments, look at the ceiling, murmur something useless about his life. I will light the lamp, dress behind the screen, think of you.

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