Note: Winner of our flash fiction contest on the theme “home.”
When Mama Calls
Liv is on her back, on the forest floor.
Above, white clouds and blue sky make a patchwork quilt. The moss is thick and soft, and the air trembles with the sticky-sharp smell of pinesap. A spider-web is strung between the swaying branches overhead, and drops of dew are threaded on the filaments of silk like iridescent beads.
Liv’s dream was cold and deep, like winter, but it’s gone now, and Duke is here. His nose tickles her face, making her giggle. Liv gets up. Duke wags his tail, ears flopping as he runs. Liv runs with him, towards home.
She shouldn’t have fallen asleep. She’s done it before: walked too far, stayed out too long, and she knows mama will be worried.
In the meadow, grass and flowers bend in the breeze, tickling her outstretched hands. Liv runs so fast she doesn’t just feel the wind and sunlight, she is the wind, is the light – glow and warmth. She runs so fast even Duke cannot catch her.
Home is grey wood crouched beneath dark spruce, red geraniums peeking out the windows, door hasped. Liv slips inside, treading softly on warped boards.
It’s cold beneath the swaybacked roof. Not a gleam of embers in the iron-stove.
Mama is abed, curled up small beneath the blankets. Her hair is grey, not black, but Liv recognizes her anyway.
Mama’s eyes are open.
“Hello, mama,” Liv says. “I’m home.”
Mama doesn’t answer, only breathes, slow and shallow.
“She can’t hear or see you, not yet,” Duke says and lies down on his rug by mama’s rocking chair.
Liv sits on the floor with Duke and waits. Outside, the forest whispers her name. “You forgot your bones beneath the moss,” it murmurs, but Liv doesn’t need her bones right now. She only needs her mama.
Shouldn’t have stayed out so long, Liv thinks. Should’ve come back sooner. Before her hair turned grey.
Liv and Duke wait together while the forest hums a lullaby outside.
They wait for mama to fall asleep. They wait for her eyes to close so she can see them.
Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She writes speculative fiction and poetry, and debuted as a writer in Sweden in the the 1980s. Since 1992 she lives in Canada, and is currently located just outside Vancouver with a husband, two kids, and a very large black dog. Her English-language fiction has appeared in, or will be appearing in, Flash Fiction Online, Gamut, Capricious, Shimmer, and elsewhere.