KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 4: Fall 2015
Flash Fiction: 994 words


by Janey Skinner

Most people, by which I mean seven- to twelve-year-old boys, have a certain fascination with my species. It’s understandable. They don’t expect someone who looks like me to be a carnivore, so they love to bring me flies. Especially Alfie.

I prefer flies to be, well, flying. If one pauses on the rim of one of my mouths, it merely has to tickle my moustache. I close my jaws around its brittle exoskeleton and let the chewy burst infuse my whole being with protein and delight. But if Alfie wants to bring me the stunned wreck of a fly barely breathing and drop it down my gullet, I won’t complain.

Over on the bookcase, the spider plant tosses her babies over the edge regularly, her arms stretching down as if her progeny could burrow their feet into the soil under the Persian carpet. The boys’ mother, now and then, snaps off one of the babies—whether to transplant or compost, she never says. I can hear the spider plant worrying about it after dark. Transplant or compost, transplant or compost. She’s a bad mother. Perhaps she takes after the lady of the house.

The lady of the house is my most constant companion. She brings in strangers for fifty-minute conversations between the two upholstered chairs, and sometimes her guests cry, but she never raises her voice or laughs at them, the way Lionel does when Alfie cries. When they leave, she types on her laptop and peers at the screen with the intensity of a tarantula on the hunt.

Lately, she spends less time with guests and more time with the laptop. I’ve seen her burst into tears as her fingers scamper over the keys, just like the visitors cry when she leans in toward them, sympathetically. I don’t know if it’s true sympathy—as I said, she’s a bad mother. It’s possible she has been pinching the guests to make them cry. I’ve seen Lionel do that to Alfie, and Alfie to a friend. I would ask the spider plant—she has a better view from her perch—but I don’t want to get her started. She’d want me to commiserate with her last pruning and confirm a hypothesis or two about the fate of her scrawny children. I strongly suspect the lady of the house has not transplanted very many of them. But that’s not what the spider plant wants to hear. Good heavens, no.

It has been at least ten days since any of Lionel or Alfie’s friends have been over, poking their fingers at my mouths. That’s something to be grateful for, although it does diminish Alfie’s enthusiasm for bringing me flies. Alfie is off his game, as far as hunting. He seems to be molting, and his eyes have developed such a shimmery violet color around them.

I hate to say it, but the lady of the house seems to have stopped feeding the boys. Alfie has been flopping down, limp as a digesting snake. She picks him up and carries him upstairs. She did it again, yesterday, and it wasn’t even dark out. Lionel came in by himself after school and poked a little lint ball into my mouth. It tasted awful, but I ate it, by force of habit. Then he curled up in one of the upholstered chairs and bawled. All by himself! No visitors, no lady to listen. Not even Alfie, who was still out with his mother.

When the family went away last summer and the lady of the house didn’t tell the cat-feeder anything about us, I shriveled to a small knob. Alfie made a huge fuss when he saw me. I was carried to the kitchen and sat down in an inch of water to drink my fill. By then, the spider plant’s arms looked absolutely anorexic. I can still see the fanning out of thin dead spider leaves, bleak at the base of the bookshelf. The strands of Alfie’s hair on the sofa remind me of that now.

Alfie brought me a fly this morning, the first one in days. When he leaned in close to watch my jaws close over his offering, I noticed that someone had stuck a tube in his chest, like one of those spouts they hammer into a rubber tree to let the sap run out. Is that why he looks so wan lately? Is someone draining his sap? Could the lady of the house be milking her own offspring?

But then why would she cry about it? She taps on the computer and cries. If she wants to eat her son, she’s succeeding—so she should have nothing to cry about, as far as I can see. Unlike me, who already misses the way Alfie used to bring me a bit of his hamburger after dinner.

Then again, maybe she’s like the spider plant, who just this morning tossed two of her children over the edge of the bookcase—one a lovely pale chartreuse, the other one jaunty with lime stripes. She can’t help herself. If she’d just keep them close, within the confines of her own pot, the lady of the house wouldn’t snip them off. But she simply can’t stop herself.

So when I say the lady of the house is a bad mother, I grant you, she may not want to be one. But just look at her, sunk into a club chair and staring at the boys hungrily, while Alfie’s hair falls in chunks onto the checkerboard between him and his brother. He looks as waxy and pale as she looks flushed.

Yet, just this morning, he teased one finger over my whiskers to see if I’d flinch. He laughed like a yellow-naped parrot when I did. The boy has more fight in him, if he can just get through this molting. I can’t imagine he’d let himself be devoured alive, no matter what kind of mother is after him.

Janey Skinner
Issue 4, Fall 2015

is a writer and community college teacher who lives in Northern California. Her career has been quite varied, from human rights work in Latin America to violence prevention and public health consulting in California. Her story “Tangle” appears in Law and Disorder (a Main Street Rag Short Fiction Anthology, 2014). She is currently working on a novel. She attended LitCamp, San Francisco’s juried writers conference, in 2013 and 2014, as well as the Napa Valley Writers Conference in 2011. She is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Brown University.

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