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This Is Not A Pretty Story

July 1, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve written a #fridayflash, and I’ve forgotten how much fun it can be! Be sure to check out great flash fiction from all over the world by following the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

This is not a pretty story.

November 16, 1992. Clemson University. I am flying. My new blue and white running shoes pound orange clouds from the ground. The clouds multiply, leaving a trail as distinct as any fighter pilot’s. I rewind and play the intro to Tori Amos’s “Precious Things” for the fourth time, fine-tuning the details of the video I’m directing in my head: A lone girl sits on an underground train. Successive light and shadow flash through the windows, illuminating and darkening her face. The alternation syncs simultaneously and steadily with the music and implied speed of the train. Slowly the changing of light and dark lose their rhythmic cadence until there is no discernible pattern and the scene becomes a rapid chaotic flash of light and dark that ends abruptly. Complete blackness. First line: “So I ran faster…” Cut to—

He comes from nowhere.

“And it brought me here—”

A slam so hard my tailbone cracks. I see nothing but his lips. And something shiny. So shiny, catching the mid-day sun.

“If you scream I’ll kill you.” His eyes. Hard. Polished black marble occluding blue-sky iris. I open my mouth and the shiny object takes shape. “C’mon!” he jerks my arm and pushes me into the only wooded section of Clemson’s perimeter loop.

I remember the sun. Through barren trees. Black flat human shadow with liquidly muted colors. Moving. Back. Forth. Backforthbackforthbackforth. Back. Sweat drips. Mine? His? The crunch of leaves. Reaching. His. My limbs are rock, legs endlessly falling. He picks up the knife. Holds it, suspended, under my right eye.

“You’ll never forget me, sweetie.” Far away laughter. Distilled concentration furrows his brow.


I wake up screaming. Again. My face chasms, splitting the bed. Far away voice. An arm reaches across the divide. “Annie?” I stone, protecting my side. Again.

In the morning light I can barely see it. A nearly four inch rough-edged, floss-sized scar below my right eye, running nose to ear. Eric always says he can’t see it. He wraps his arms around me and smiles into the mirror, meeting my eyes. I brush his arms aside. “I need to go,” I say, picking up the carryall.

“No human being should be reduced to a thing,” my philosophy professor had said my junior year. “Human beings are always ends in themselves, never simply means.” I raise my hand. “What happens if someone treats someone else as means alone?” He pauses for a moment. “I believe the act of treating someone else as a thing—no matter how small or brief—is an act of force. It cuts both ways. Both people lose their humanity in the interaction.” After class I cry in the third floor bathroom in a puke green stall.

“Are you okay?” a strange voice asks.

“I’m fine.” I wipe my tears, blow my nose, and walk calmly out the door.


My mind somersaults the dusk-colored shapes of Willow Street in an elaborate water ballet.

“You’ve hardly touched your food.” His words float with street shapes, freely and indistinctly.

“Annie!” I startle and turn from the window, in shame. It’s our first anniversary.

“Why don’t we go?”

I grab my coat.

Outside, Eric takes my hand. Stopping in front of a metal bench, he says, “Let’s sit here for a minute.”

We are silent, our faces mirror. “I’ve been thinking,” he says, nervously spinning his wedding ring. He pauses. “I need to say something to you.”

The bench begins to split.

“I do see it.” He raises his finger against the glare of streetlight and places it gently on my face, tracing the entire length of the scar. My body shakes. I need to leave. Now. I stand up.

“No, you’re not leaving this time.” He tugs my arm downward. My eyes narrow. I will not be forced.

He lets go. “Please.” I sit down. “Please talk to me. I’m so tired of this coming between us.” His eyes graze my scar. “Tell me the story. All of it.”

I turn away. “It’s not a pretty story.”

“Sometimes we don’t need pretty stories. We need true ones.” Time suspends for one brief moment. He holds me. We both cry together in the middle of the bench, for all the world to see.



25 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2011 9:02 am

    Wonderfully told

  2. July 1, 2011 9:27 am

    Chilling, in more ways than one.

    • July 1, 2011 10:26 am

      It is. I’m hoping things will fall and human warmth will now begin to spread its influence…Thanks for stopping by, Anne!

  3. July 1, 2011 9:42 am

    Welcome back! And with a corker as well. I think it will be alright now, once she tells him

    • July 1, 2011 10:27 am

      Hi there! And thank you. I agree. I think being able to tell the story is one of the first steps to healing. Hope you are doing well! I’ve missed you.

  4. Deanna Schrayer permalink
    July 1, 2011 1:38 pm

    Great story Melissa! And I can personally attest – telling the story is not only the first step, but a Big Step to healing. So glad she’s going to be okay.

    Nice to have you back!

    • July 1, 2011 2:15 pm

      Thanks, Deanna! I’ve been meaning to come visit you! I’ve learned myself that telling the story is a BIG step… 🙂

  5. July 1, 2011 1:43 pm

    Wow, that’s a powerful story. Well-told and beautifully written x

  6. July 1, 2011 4:00 pm

    Sad. Intense. Stunning. Beautiful. All the above. That is quite a story and very well told. This is what flash is meant to be – something that reaches in and really touches the heart. Welcome back.

    • July 3, 2011 2:44 pm

      Jon, thank you. I don’t know what to say. I feel honored. 🙂 The need to tell stories of trauma is so important to me–personally and in the work I do. I’m so glad a flash piece dealing with this turned out to be effective. 🙂

  7. July 2, 2011 7:24 pm

    Wow. Not only have you done the subject matter delicate justice, your writing is beautiful. Gorgeous. I’m kinda speechless!

    • July 3, 2011 2:51 pm

      Hi Stacey, I’m so glad you thought I did the subject matter justice. I had been worried about that. It’s such a tricky thing to do for so many reasons. I’d wanted to do it as well as possible. Glad to know I didn’t completely fall off the high wire. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

  8. July 3, 2011 10:59 am

    Wow, you’ve come back with a bang. Nice work.

  9. July 3, 2011 3:13 pm

    Love this!

  10. July 5, 2011 1:54 am

    What great writing and I sense a healing taking place too. Congratulations on both.

  11. July 5, 2011 9:44 pm

    Write a story of 1000 words or less, post it on your blog (you could create one just for writing if you don’t already have one or put it on Agrigirl) on a Friday, and tweet it (on Twitter) with the hashtag #fridayflash. You also enter it into the “collector”: Hope to see your work sometime. 🙂

  12. July 20, 2011 9:50 pm

    Powerfully told. Not a pretty story, but a brilliant one. So glad to see you back. Peace…

    • July 24, 2011 9:52 am

      Thanks so much, Linda! I probably won’t be able to do it every week, but I will try to get it in as much as possible. Hope all is well. I miss you!!


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