This Borduas prompt was chosen for a Facebook post at Vancouver Flash Fiction, thanks to editor Karen Schauber. Here are four very short stories that the prompt inspired!
The Ekphrastic Review
Welsh Nanna talks about resurrection. Conversation circles, cycles. Mum and I prepare dinner around her monologue. Dad comes home two hours late. The night is warm, humid as spring rain falls outside and bruise coloured cloud cover traps the earlier heat of day. My eczema flares up, freaked out by the shift in temperature. My topical steroid cream is two years out of date. Nanna watches me scratch the raised, weepy skin on my hands as she discusses designs for the family burial plot.
“I think grey gravel around the edges will look nice.”
“White marble for the headstone, engraved.”
“It’ll be difficult to keep clean.”
Her face pinches inwards as if the thought offends her.
“Black is too harsh, too morbid.”
Memories of Poppa’s funeral play on the kitchen wall behind the fake-blonde halo of her head. The day before his service at the church, where some thirty years earlier my parents were married, mum takes us shopping for nice, colourful blouses. Nanna didn’t want people wearing black. It was too sad, ugly. She told us not to cry.
Late into the night I baked loaves of banana bread for the wake. Relatives flew in from interstate and while everyone went out for dinner I remained home, knowing they’d ask me questions about a life I wasn’t living. As I mashed slimy circles of banana in a plastic bowl, I thought about how much I missed the man I barely knew. Childhood memories seemed so far away, as if they weren’t my own, mostly the scent and simple flavours of rice pudding. It was Poppa’s specialty, his guilty pleasure in a house full of vitamins and supplements.
During the service my uncle sang a song in homage to Poppa’s brief time as an opera singer. His voice wavered and he paused, coughed, tried to continue but couldn’t. Finally fat tears flooded my face and my lap with grief. Nanna’s face was dry as she scanned the crowd of familiar and not so familiar faces.
Now, slumped at the kitchen table mum rubs away goose bumps on my arm.
“Give me a hand?”
I think about my husband, working late with people he hates in a job that never ends. I watch Nanna point at samples of lettering. Dad’s face is bored, blank. Mum busies herself stacking the dishwasher and I follow soon after. Nanna leaves within the hour, faffing around in the doorway, gossiping about my aunty and her unpleasant, feral neighbours until dad raises his voice.
“Look, it’s getting late, mum.”
He sighs when the front door closes, filling his glass with wine and retreating to the study. Mum sits in front of the TV with a magazine of crossword puzzles. I run my finger over the stack of papers on the kitchen table. Poppa’s name is penned at the top of the page with black ink, confusing cursive. I squint, seeing the edges have bled, smudged like Poppa’s tattooed forearm.
Don't Turn Around*
At the intersection of dread and opportunity, split decisions are made. Freeze, throw up your arms, confine yourself to your own self-prescribed rectangle of limitation. Peel out, speed through the darkness like the blur of a race car, and go. The light is green, intersection empty. The road ahead is, as of yet, undefined -
*quoting Elvis Costello
Go! Run The Green Light!
Hurts too much to cry.
Hurts too much to pee.
Can’t. Hurts too much to breathe.
Had the safety plan for months.
Now got 45 minutes, half crawling.
Masks. My ‘Be Kind’ ones? Not.
Grab stuff for the cleaners.
Cover, just in case.
Advil. Take another one now.
Drop off clothes. Try not to
Miguelito will be there, Zoom
Give him my mini
Give his mom my tiny
Layers, boots, ponytail, hat, scarf, sunglasses.
Cameras in parking lot. So,
leave car on side street near
—and keys in the engine.
It’ll get stolen. Yes!
Note? Why. No note.
Hat and sunglasses off.
Get on #4 Bus.
Underwear, toothpaste, brush, tampons.
Crosstown to the Metro.
Friendship watch from Steph. She never knew. I’ll tell her when...
Catch The Blue Line.
Hidden Cash. ID.
Credit cards. Debit card. They’re joint. Throw them in the toilet.
Exit, tie ponytail, put hat
and sunglasses back on.
into main bus station.
Done. Not done.
Hand sanitizer. Tissue, water bottle. Protein bar.
Buy one way ticket. Pay in
Finished. Nothing else fits.
Heavy against the bruises.
Hard to climb up into the
Can’t turn around to look
back. Too painful.
Maybe that’s a good sign.
One last check.
Nothing odd, nothing suspicious,
He’ll search for me. Then he’ll search for it.
Which one will he want to find first?
Rolled it in my pj’s.
Never going to slam me to the ground again.
Never going to leave me in pain again.
Never going to silence me again.
Never going to trap me again.
Throw open the door
Never going to...
and hear it scream--
Go! Run the Green light--
Art Inspires and Empowers
“I do not care for modern art, Cassie.”
“But art inspires! Marlene, you must be more open, learn to enjoy new things.”
I scowled. “That’s the argument Jeff was using to convince me to marry him.”
“Hey, going to a modern art exhibit is just expanding your horizons beyond the classics. It does not require a redo of your life. Though, it just might inspire some new ways of thinking.”
“It’s 1959. I’m already modern enough,” I countered.
Cassie laughed. “Besides, Jeff won’t be there. He hates modern art.”
Cassie knew I wanted to avoid Jeff as much as possible. We were the only two women architects in the design firm, High-Low Creatives. We worked together, roomed together, and together fended off the unwanted advances of the male engineers and architects. Jeff’s persistent pestering to live with him and his enthusiastic support of the firm’s current project to push a road through a wildlife reserve and supplant flora, fauna, and a community of hundred-year old homes with tacky “luxury” modern homes was roiled my stomach.
I wanted to leave the firm, to do something extraordinary for myself and for the world around me. I had no other source of income and needed to support myself and my pets. I needed investors to back my great ideas. Problem was, I had not yet thought of an investor-worthy great idea that fit my ideals.
Once we arrived at the exhibit, Cassie flitted from painting to painting. I wandered aimlessly until I saw it, Composition 44 by Paul-Emile Borduas, 1959. At first, I was about to dismiss it as the sample of a house painter—green or black? But it drew me in. Green and Black. Life and death? And then I gave a little squeal of delight. Life over death, yes, green of life over asphalt.
I pulled Cassie over. “This painting is the key that will bring us investors for projects that will be doing good for animals in the wild, and people in cities. I’m going to start calling the wildlife organizations tomorrow to see if they are interested. If I get any nibbles, I’m quitting. Will you come with me?”
Cassie looked at the painting. “You are brilliant! We can call the overpasses Habitat Highways when we build them for animals over roads that go through forest areas. And when we build the overpasses for human pedestrians, we can add plants, make them into greenways over a city’s asphalt and macadam. They’ll be safe crossings to preserve life and habitat for animals and give human city dwellers a more verdant, humane environment.”
And so it began. We became the first architecture firm to specialize in saving lives—human and wildlife from the onrush of traffic with our green -enhanced walkways /migratory passageways over highways. An art-inspired idea that empowered us too.
The Ekphrastic Review
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