Welcome to the February installment of First Sunday Short Fiction. Please enjoy the story, and remember, if you want to submit a story of your own, you can find instructions on our submissions page.
Visitation by Michelle Simkins
Flashing lights, tow trucks, white Honda on its roof, red stain spreading over the pavement. Both lanes blocked. He pulled his car to the shoulder of the road and cut the engine. He would probably be here a while. His gaze fell on a sun-bright gleam in the weeds by the road. He stepped out, the air in his throat like icy little knives, and watched his breath drift over the hood of his dented Dodge. He surveyed the litter among dried stalks of yellow dock poking through the dirty snow, until the gleam caught his eye again. He pushed aside a waterlogged copy of Field and Stream to reveal a tiny disk of rich gold worn almost completely smooth with age. In spite of the chill of the day, the gold felt warm in his fingers. He tucked it into the pocket of his jeans, and looked up to see the tow truck drive away. The police started directing traffic past the accident site. He climbed into his car and went on his way.
Huddled under her blankets, hiding from the draft pouring through antique windows, she heard a sound outside like a man moaning in pain. She put her pillow over her head, but guilt prodded her from her bed. She stuffed her cold feet into snow boots, pulled a parka over her nightgown, and stepped outside. The night air burned her sinuses and made her eyes ache. Her flashlight caught a frantic movement by the fence. A tiny bird, brown and speckled, fluttered uselessly against a length of fishing line tethering its foot to the chain link. The bird went still as she worked at the line, though she felt its heart speeding under her hand. When the bird was free she stood and released it. It skittered across the ground and up her nightgown. She froze with surprise, felt little sharp nails and soft warm feathers flit up her leg, and then, nothing. For a moment her heartbeat drowned out the other noises of the city night. Wondering if she was still dreaming, she trudged back to the house and returned to her bed.
Two lattes. One mocha. Sprinkle of cinnamon, sprinkle of nutmeg. All morning the demands of the coffee shop crowded last night’s too bright dreams from his memory. He ignored the burning of the little coin in his pocket. He couldn’t leave it at home, these past six months. He looked up at the quiet voice asking for hot chocolate, saw it belonged to smooth dark skin and shining dark hair, and a full-moon belly under a pale cotton dress. The coin flared in his pocket and his heart flared in his chest. She had to repeat her order twice, but she smiled at him. The circles under her deep brown eyes didn’t make her less beautiful. He read her name when he swiped her debit card, spoke it as he handed over the cardboard cup and lid, watched her walk awkwardly from the shop. His hands lost their certainty whenever he thought of her, and he felt lucky to still have his job at the end of the day.
She wasn’t sure if it was the baby or the secret that weighed her down more, but the secret frightened her most, because what if it meant she was insane? The first week of throwing up she’d remembered the goddess Coatlicue, who stuffed a ball of feathers under her dress and found herself pregnant with no explanation to satisfy her murderous children. When the pregnancy test had revealed its pale blue plus sign, she’d remembered Leda, visited by Zeus in the form of a swan. No one would ever believe her. She made up plausible explanations in her head, but there was no one to ask questions anyway. She’d come to the city seeking anonymity, not realizing how entire her isolation would grow. The boy in the coffee shop was the first person whose eyes had looked at her face instead of her belly since the thing had swelled to titanic proportions. She went back to the coffee shop on Saturday, and the boy with the light brown eyes and tattered gray sweater came to her table during his break. He remembered her name. He showed her the coin and told her about the dreams of beings too bright to look upon. She told him the story of Danae, seduced by Zeus in a fall of gold. Then she told him her story and waited for him to leave. He took her hands, warmed them between his own, and believed her.
The night of the first freeze, she squeezed his fingers until his bones creaked; and he fed her ice chips from a plastic cup. The new baby girl shone like the gold coin from the roadside, but the nurses and doctors made no comment. Maybe they couldn’t see the glow.
That night she dreamed the god came to claim the child, and woke in a cold sweat. She sat in a rocking chair for hours, holding the baby tightly in her arms, afraid to sleep.
When she told him her dream, he pulled the coin from his pocket and turned it so it caught the cold light from the window. He kissed her and left the hospital. He drove to the coast through a storming afternoon, thinking of holy wells and sacrifices. He stood over the water with the burning coin in his fist. As he threw the coin to the waves, he prayed it was enough. The wind snatched the wish from his lips and carried it to the gods.
story ©Michelle Simkins, 2011
artwork ©Claudia Olivos, 2011. Used with permission. Find more of Claudia's visionary work at Olivos Art Studio or at her Etsy store, and don't forget to follow her on Instagram.
About the Author:
Michelle Simkins runs Hagstone Publishing from her home office in Portland, Oregon, where she writes obsessively about herbs, trees, and encounters with the numinious, creates quirky knitting patterns, gardens haphazardly, reads voraciously, clumsily attempts to learn the Irish language, and watches too many reruns on Hulu with her wife.
Learn more about her work and her various obsessions at her website or follow her on Instagram.