Love is Make-Believe
My daughter Evol asks me if a flat line in a mirror can ever get splashed. I tell her flat lines in a mirror are a rarity but straight lines can curl after the slightest swivel.
Her caramel eyes carve their disapproval at my current state of affairs, but not before inviting me to her invented Umbria--something like other children’s Narnia but this one actually sounding like an actual place—of frothy waves and sand dunes hand molded into castles.
She curses the sun for having hurt her mama; she says it has a sour mouth the same color as ketchup. She lathers my back with soothing crème and asks me to sing along. Her song’s about an Eskimo girl living in an iceless hut with a heart the size of an iceberg.
My two-piece swimsuit reminds me of those prison bars that held back the girl from one of Evol’s favourite anime series she used to watch with her father.
I think about how sea-glass, sea-shells and grand sand castles look good on a postcard.
When he sailed down south, she knew it was her fault and that she should have been like a sunflower looking dutifully towards the sun, following it, adoring it, worshiping it, but she didn’t. She let the whip of its rays slash at her skin.
So, he left, but not before smearing her forehead with the illusion of a kiss.
“I’ll be back.” They both knew the truth. They both pretended not to look at their mirror with all its flat-lines and straight lines spelled backwards.
My daughter loves to play make-believe.
“Momma, imagine you were a fairy, then you’re a fairy.”
“Momma, imagine the sandcastle has a king and you be its queen.”
“Momma, imagine the water in the hole is my favourite letter soup.”
“Momma, imagine if I were an Eskimo with whales for friends.”
“Imagine Daddy loving whales and those oranges you called mandarins. Imagine if I could not swim but then I can. Imagine the sun giving ketchup mouth to mouth kisses that are not so gross.”
I look at her all grown up in the mirror, fiery braids the colour of sunflowers, and wonder why I spelled her name in reverse.
I imagined her shrinking to the size of a fist ball, finding her way back inside my belly, exploring haunted beginnings, and that one true story I won’t read her at bedtime.
Love is Spelled Backwards Because My Mama Was no Saint
“My mind is a cloud cut in half with a sword, the sword is a thought and the thought is a roll of moving pictures where my defeat and retreat, your un-assembling and demolishing and all encumbering poetry that follows goes on repeat. I so want to punish you and provoke you and tell you all the vile things that slither through my mind during those soul-sucking shock sessions. Oh Mama, if only, you can taste the bitterness of my un-forgiveness, if only, you can feel, Mama. If only you ever had.”
I read the opening of my poem to the deck of cards that used to be hers. The Queen of Swords card falls in my lap.
“Mama doesn’t like my poetry. Mama doesn’t want her ashes in my urn next to the window.” I tell the void inside me or maybe the lady sitting on the cherubs’ throne with the sword in the card.
Nurse Madeline knocks on my door again. She wants to keep my madness quiet.
“Evol, honey, is everything alright? Now girl, I don’t believe in them shock punishments, aye punishments, electric and all, but if you don’t keep it down, I’ll let them fry your brain. Dear, you don’t want me to call Warden Mark and bring the straps?”
Nurse Madeline locks me inside, bolts slide into their sockets. The room shakes under my feet, but it is really me who is shaking, dancing, swaying. I curse the hair that gets into my eyes. Her damn cards fall and trickle one after the other until The Fool card falls right next to its Queen.
“You think I am a fool, Mama? You think I trust easy with that rose in his hand and the sun in his wake? Oh Mama, if only I can hold that sun in my grasp, close my fist around its mouth before hurling it at the wall and watching it break into a thousand little smithereens of golden shrapnel.”
I hold the urn of her ashes and stand on tiptoe.
“Mama, remember when I stood in my own little pool of blood in the yard in front of your idols and drunken boyfriends? Remember the alphabet soup you so laboriously filled with L’s and O’s and S’s and E’s and R’s? Remember the night you doused my loaf of bread with vodka before setting it on fire? But what was your life but misspelled confusion? What is my name, but love spelled backwards?”
The sound of its smashing becomes manic static that transmutes my mosaic of pain.
“Let’s forge a bond with what was in reserve and what should have not.”
“My heart is a cup filled with your lost sea, my arms a wand that fails to bring forth your absent wishes. You were never a demon and I am no saint. MAMA and EVOL should have always been the AM AM of a heartbeat singing LOVE.”
These stories originally appeared in Riham's book of flash fiction, Love is Make-Believe, Clarendon House, 2021. The first was also published by Cafe Lit and People Holding. The second appeared in Mercurial Stories.
Riham Adly is an award-winning flash fiction writer from Giza, Egypt. In 2013 her story “The Darker Side of the Moon” won the MAKAN award. In 2022 she won second prize in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. She is a Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work is included in the Best Micro-fiction 2020 anthology. Her fiction has appeared in over 50 online journals such as Litro Magazine, Lost Balloon, The Flash Flood, Bending Genres, The Citron Review, The Sunlight Press, Flash Fiction Magazine, Menacing Hedge, Flash Frontier, Flash Back, Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, and New Flash Fiction Review among others. Riham has worked as an assistant editor in 101 Words and as a first reader in Vestal Review. Riham is the founder of the “Let’s Write Short Stories” and “Let’s Write That Novel” in Egypt. She has taught creative writing all over Cairo for years with the goal of mentoring and empowering aspiring writers in her region. Riham’s flash fiction collection Love is Make-Believe was released and published in November 2021 by Clarendon House in the UK. She is the first African, Arab woman to have a flash fiction collection published in English. Riham shares her craft articles about writing flash fiction through her blog “Riham Writes” and reviews a new flash fiction collection every month on her FB group “Riham Reads Flash.”
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