KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 5: Spring 2016
Micro-Fiction: 487 words

Life List

by Beth Sherman

The flicker landed on a branch of the twisted pine and began tapping the trunk for ants. It’s my favorite woodpecker—brown with dark lines on its back and a red crescent on the nape of its neck. Braden took one look and spit in disgust. “That’s all for today. We might as well pack it in.”

I don’t give up so easy though. There were 30 minutes of daylight left. A lot could happen in 30 minutes.

“Let’s wait a little longer,” I said, watching the light drain from the sky. “You never know.”

Braden threw the Peterson’s on the ground. He was given to fits of petulance lately, not that I blamed him. His expression was fierce, his face contorted, either from pain or disappointment.

We’d been bird watching in Costa Rica and Central Park, along with dozens of places in between. But since the accident we were limited to our backyard, less than a quarter acre. I say we although the truth is I was free to go anywhere. One time, I thought I saw a cliff swallow on the way to work and it felt so disloyal that I closed my eyes and almost hit a school bus.

“Could you pick that up?” he said.

The flicker continued eating ants, its beak hitting the trunk in short, rhythmic bursts.

I bent down and handed him the Peterson’s, my attention focused on the bird so that when he flipped to the back and began ripping out pages, I didn’t realize until it was too late.

“Stop it,” I said, lunging for the book. But his upper body was in good shape and he was stronger than me.

Tears dribbled down my cheeks. We’d spent years building our life list, faithfully recording each sighting and starring the really rare ones. It was a part of us, like the child we’d never have and though so much was lost—sex, income, trust, maybe even love—the list was something we still shared. Now it was scattered over the grass, like confetti.

I ran inside and grabbed a pen and the only paper I could find, the receipt for a dozen colostomy pouches.

My memory was increasingly faulty—most things that had happened to us I’d rather forget—but reconstructing the list seemed possible.

“Doesn’t matter anymore,” Braden said, slumping down in his wheelchair. The defeat in his voice made me tired.

“It matters to me.”

I looked up at the pine tree. The flicker had gone. There was hardly any daylight left.

“That time in Costa Rica, on the terrace, was it a stripe-tailed hummingbird or a violet-bellied?”

I could picture iridescent green feathers, the whirring of tiny wings, how Braden and I held our breaths while our hummingbird trembled in the air.

“Stripe-tailed.” I wrote it down, approximating the date.

“You’re a fool,” he said, not unkindly, and I knew he was right.

—Finalist in the KYSO Flash Triple-F Writing Challenge

Beth Sherman
Issue 5, Spring 2016

holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her fiction has been published in Portland Review and is forthcoming in Blue Lyra Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, and Joyce Quarterly. Her poetry appears in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Synecdoche, Lime Hawk, Portland Review, and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem, “Minor Planets,” for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. She has also written five mystery novels (Avon Books, Harper Collins).

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