Creative Spotlight: “Mush” by Jane Kelly (’18)

 

The Second Laird Miscellany is starting the term with a piece of flash fiction by senior English major Jane Kelly. She has generously allowed us to publish this work, which was generated during her stint in Greg Smith’s Advanced Short Story Workshop. In addition to her interest (and talent) in creative writing, Jane tackled the daunting challenge of the Research Paper option for her English Comps last term. Check out her story below, and be on the look out for her Comps Presentation later this term!

 

MUSH

flash fiction by

JANE KELLY

 

The mug broke and they both froze. Who had thrown it? Maybe no one had thrown it, maybe it had been bumped. He could’ve, he got mad like that, but then again, so did she. Had someone hit the table? Maybe it was just the brush of a hip against a corner.

A broken mug.

She stands with her hands on her hips, lips pressed together. He stands in the doorway, deciding whether to lean against the frame. He leans. She stares. He stops leaning.

***

“What’s something you hate?”

“That’s a heck of a question,” she answers. They’re eating ice cream in the park for their first date. She’s not wearing anything under her dress.

“Everyone hates something. Something stupid.”

She contemplates. Takes a large bite of her salted caramel ice cream.

“When authors don’t use quotation marks in their writing.”

“Huh?”

“Well, it’s annoying, isn’t it? You can’t tell when the characters are talking. Maybe it’s their thoughts, or description, narration until you realize that you’ve missed a whole conversation.”

“That’s the point, isn’t it?” He licks an escaping drop of vanilla.

“I don’t actually think it adds that much.” She takes another bite. He wonders: don’t her teeth hurt?

“I think it’s about flow, about letting everything be part of the story, until it’s all just one big . . .” He makes a gloopy gesture in the air.

“Mush.”

“Mush can be nice.”

“Mush is disgusting, have you ever eaten oatmeal?” He loves oatmeal, eats it every day for breakfast. Within a month, he’ll have eaten his last bowl.

“I hate it,” he says.

***

“It’s so cold outside, everything hurts,” he complains, throwing his gloves, scarf, and hat on top of the radiator. She used to be convinced that this habit would set the apartment on fire, but now she does it too.

“Tennessee is waiting for us to come back,” she says.

“You hated Tennessee,” he replies, struggling with a boot. It comes off with jerk and he staggers backwards, banging into the wall.

“I hate everything,” she says, coming out of the kitchen to watch him fall.

“Fair,” he says.

He walks into the living room and stops. The mug hasn’t been cleaned up.

“I was going to clean that up,” she says, following him. She’s wearing his sweatshirt and a frown.

“I can do it,” he says after a while, sitting down and rubbing the ears of their mutt. It licks his hand with extreme focus.

“Alright then,” she says.

***

Deciding what to bring doesn’t take long. They take her couch. They take his bed. The take the pieces of their life and fit them together into a mismatched puzzle that they intend to finish later.

On the road, states flash past one after another until it’s Montana, they’ve arrived. He’s never seen so much of the world and neither has she. When he drives he leans back and cautiously keeps a hand on her thigh. Mountains and lakes and forests and endless cornfields they both hate pass by and she places her hand on top of his and he can feel the hum that has started inside her. Each breath she takes is an exclamation mark.

When she drives, it’s different. There is an alertness in her he doesn’t see in her any other time, as if she expects the road to disappear.

“Where are we? Where are we? Where are we?” she asks over and over and over.

St. Louis, Sioux City, Deadwood, Lame Deer. When there is nowhere else, they’ve arrived.

Unpacking doesn’t take that long. They place the mugs in the cupboards, the books on the shelves. They carry up her couch, they make his bed. His, hers, theirs.

***

 

It’s not cleaned up yet, but the time will come. Disaster has been averted for now, if disaster is the right word. It’s not like what they’ve built together is the Roman Empire.

It’s late, she’s gone out, she’s not back, and he’s worried. That small series of verbs lined up in a neat row, telling him all he needs to know. All those actions, in all those neat lines, he can’t wrap his head around them.

The door slams.

He nudges the fragments under the coffee table. Now they’re only noticeable if you’re looking for them.

He sees her walk by, that body a brief flash in the doorway.

He wonders if she noticed the shards under the table.

He realizes that this is no longer the problem.

The mutt whines.

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