This story was selected as a finalist for The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize 2017. It was published in 2018 by Fiction Southeast (online).
“Free: Poison Apple, Gently Used”
Read this story on fictionsoutheast.com.
The following two pieces, “Maria” and “Cheerios,” were both published in the 2016 edition of The Mill (print). They are works of flash fiction (generally defined as stories under 1,000 words) by Sydney M. Crago.
Civilian, Convicted of Treason, Executed by Italian Military, 1942
Please, mumbled into wrinkled pillowcase, breathing the smell of wildflowers and sun from happy summer, from wind that dried it, and something sharp, human, that stings the nose. Say please, Mamma told me when I asked to be done scrubbing laundry, You have to be kind, child, ask nice, Mamma’s eyebrows raised, waiting. Please, may I be finished, Mamma, little eyes wide hoping for a yes, to be free and run barefoot through grass. Very good, polite, you may be finished. Grazie, Mamma. Run away with me, he said, begging, when the pillowcase was still crisp, before letting him sleep next to me, before promising those coffee-brown eyes, rimmed with red and panic, I would keep him safe. Not even tell Mamma, hush darling, please, we hide here in my room high up the stairs where no one comes, very safe. They won’t find you. Grazie, Bella. Sweat soaking into pillowcases, restless sleep, stomping boots on streets below in search of the solider who knows too much French to be a good Italian boy. Rank boots and socks piled at the end of our bed. I will wash them in the morning; sneak them into the laundry, past Mamma’s eyes. Just Pappa’s, Mamma. He will want clean socks on leave, our Pappa. His hand rustles sheets, finds my hip, from his dream he says, Bonne, Belle. Big, callused hands pull a blade of grass from my hair, Yes, Pappa, very good.
Pull the box from the third shelf on the wire rack in your too small kitchen. Set it on the counter you can reach without moving your square-toed, dress-shoe clad feet. Hear your wife’s hair dryer whirring down the hall. Look out the window at the sun peaking over the apartment building next to yours and the potted cactus, which sits on the window sill, opposite your window, in a big kitchen, with no wire racks and a countertop that looks like granite. Sigh. Reach for the cabinet door with the white, chipped paint on which a grocery list for the week is taped. Remind yourself for the thousandth time to repaint the cabinets. Pull out a bowl on whose depths Winnie the Pooh is barely visible after a few hundred washes. Open the cereal box and pour some on top of Pooh Bear. Listen to them clink as they pound his plastic face. Hear the suction release as you swing open the fridge door. Reach for the two-percent milk amongst the Tupperware containers of leftover pasta, meatballs, and mashed potatoes. Listen to the shuffle of the cereal as each piece pushes against the bowl’s sides, forced upward by the rising milk. Carry the bowl and the box to the table covered in coffee rings and crumbs, which you forgot to wipe up after dinner last night. Dip your hand into the paperboard box. Crinkle the bag as you pull up a handful of o’s. Stuck, one is stuck under the leather band of your watch whose hands point out the time: 7:06. Release the o’s onto the highchair tray for your teething son. Watch him pull a spit covered hand from his mouth and paw at the cereal. Tumbling o’s plink on the tile as they roll to hidden corners where the broom will never find them. Admire his tiny fingernails, the ones you watched your wife so carefully trim last night, as she sat cross-legged on the living room floor, holding your curly-haired baby in her lap and murmuring a song with words you did not know to a tune you’d heard a thousand times. Kiss the spot of his head that still seems a little soft. Smile. Sit down to eat your bowl of cereal; realize you forgot your spoon.
Note: The author maintains the rights to both “Maria” and “Cheerios;” neither can be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.