KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Flash Fiction: 701 words


by April Johnston

“Mommy, I have a question.”

“Yes, baby.”

“I need to put Ira’s head in the freezer.”

“That’s not a question.”

“Sorry. Can I put Ira’s head in the freezer?”

“Who is Ira?”

I think this is a doll or a stuffed animal, but I watched a lot of “Bones” and “Law and Order” reruns in the last months of my excruciating, bedridden pregnancy, so I’m not convinced she hasn’t dug up skeletal remains and named them.

“He’s my snowman, and if we don’t put his head in the freezer before spring, he will melt.”


At five, my daughter already understands the power of being a beautiful girl, so her explanation is followed with a perfect pout, her pink lips pushed out as far as they will go, baby fat tucked up under cheekbones. She’s also inexplicably learned to bat her eyelashes and teasingly refuse kisses by turning her head and tossing her matted, brown hair—which she stubbornly refuses to comb—but she knows these don’t work on me. Pouting is best.

I weigh the inconvenience of storing a head in my freezer for the next six months against the tearful scolding I know will get if I say no (“You say I have to try and love all creatures, and I love Ira”). I decide there is room among the frozen vegetables and quarts of peach cobbler ice cream.

“OK, you can put Ira’s head in the freezer, but you have to wait until after school because we’re late.”

“Yes!” She pumps one fist in the air the way my brother has taught her to do when they play kickball in the yard.

But somewhere between dropping my daughter off at school and unlocking the door to my windowless office, I forget about Ira. Not until all 28 papers are graded and I walk across campus to buy a latte do I realize the sun has come out. The white that has covered the world for two weeks is creeping away, revealing wide patches of green and brown and gray.

“Crap. Ira’s gonna die.”

I race through my 2 o’clock class and run a red light on my way home, but I’m too late. Ira—pathetic little Ira—has tipped over like a shriveled old man who can’t hold his liquor, and his head has shrunken to the size of a golf ball.

For a moment, I panic—What will I tell her?—and then I remember I am the mother. I can tell her whatever I want. I can remove Ira’s torso and pass it off as his head. I can hold his tiny, frozen skull in my palm and angrily blame it on global warming (“Al Gore warned us, but we didn’t listen”). I can explain that lecturing young adults on proper grammar is more important than rushing home to rescue a man made entirely of snow, dead sticks, and one wilted, orange vegetable.

But my brain won’t let me choose a cover story. Instead, it spits out the consequences on a loop: If I throw a pile of snow in the freezer and call it Ira, will she become selfish, always expecting to get what she wants? If I don’t, will she spend her entire life wondering who will disappoint her next?

This is the reason I demurred for so long when my husband begged for children. I didn’t want to be responsible for molding a human being, for knowing how to massage tantrums and fears and desires into a personality. How can you be sure they’ll turn out the way you’ve intended?

“You can’t,” my husband tells me when I call him on my cell phone from the front yard, where I kneel over Ira’s remains.

It is my decision, and so I decide to limit my culpability, as any good district attorney on “Law and Order” would. I scrape snow from Ira’s torso and pack it around his head until it grows to a respectable size. Then I drop it in a plastic bag and set it in the front of the freezer, where my daughter can see it every summer morning when she checks to make sure Ira is still with us.

— This story was a finalist in the Newport Review Flash Fiction Contest; this appearance in KYSO Flash is its first publication.

April Johnston’s
Issue 2, Winter 2015

work has appeared in Newport Review, Monkey Puzzle, Oklahoma Review, Journal of Microliterature, and Cobalt Review, among others. Her stories have been performed on stage twice, once at the Denver Civic Theatre and again at the University of Denver. She has an MFA from Carlow University and teaches journalism at West Virginia University. Read more of her work at:

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