A Flash Fiction Piece
They shuffle their bare feet through the uncut grassy fields and resist the urge to cry out in laughter from the tickling sensation.
They burn the soles of their bare feet as they cross over onto the pavement, dry and hard and baking under the summer sun.
They cool their bare feet when they skip through the tiny puddles on the other side of road.
They muddy up their bare feet when they slog through the dirt, which fastens their toes together as it dries.
And now they’re walking as if their feet have fallen asleep, unsure in their steps so they slow to a crawl, like a group of senior citizens being dropped off at the local library. And when they look down they conclude they need to scrape away all the mud and dirt and hardened soil from between their toes.
And they think this will help them walk better, faster, more sure of themselves.
And a knife is taken out, by whom exactly, it is not known. But it’s shiny and long and skinny, like the bald-headed addicts who emerge from the barn down the way, past the river, to get their cigarettes. The sun glistens off their sweat-smeared foreheads.
And they take turns with the knife. But because it’s warm, their grip is slippery. And because their feet are still a little asleep, they don’t have a good grasp of where everything is. And because of all the mud and dirt and clay, they’re not quite sure where the Earth ends, and their feet begin. So they start to carve out space to wiggle their toes free, but instead of freedom, there’s blood and pain and crying. Cries even louder than the ones that come from that one house, just before the barn, with the old man who likes to drink moonshine all day and beat his wife and children at night.
They take turns trying to recover the individual toes, but all those toes look alike in the pile in the middle of where they stand. And it resembles a campsite with tiny, thick branches piled up, ready for the fire. But this moment needs no fire, the blood is the kindling and the pain is the flame and the shock is the heat they need to keep going.
They look around at each other, silently hoping that one of them will have an idea—a plan of action that is somewhat coherent. But rationality hardly exists in this situation. They don’t come up with any ideas, no words, even. Just grunts and moans and crying. They take the knife and throw it deep into the brush behind them, like it was the key piece of evidence in a crime. But the only crime here is savagery.
And they’re in so much pain now that they forget where they were going in the first place. There must be something past this field, outside of this this place, this so-called town. But there is no time to think. The pain is sucking the energy out of them. They are quickly losing power. Second-guessing is a luxury they are not afforded.
They try and walk, and soon, one by one, they all fall. Most of them lean backward in anticipation of falling forward. This prolongs the inevitable. They hit the ground and mix in with the earth and grass and blood. They try to get up, but give up after a few attempts.
They smear their faces with the blood that is mixing into the earth, hoping that instead of fighting and losing, maybe they will gain something larger than the loss of toes.
They soon part ways. Survival of the fittest and all that. Some refuse to give up and begin to crawl back through the mud and water and pavement and grassy field. But this takes time and energy and, one by one, they each reach their point of refusal. The refusal to go an inch further without the help of someone or something.
One of them picks up the toes and puts them in his pocket. No one notices. As they each make their way back in the direction they came, the one with the toes in his pockets whispers to no one in particular, “I can remember how, when I was young, I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind…”
And then he begins to speak louder.
He’s the educated one, the one that went to college. He studied and kept his head in books while everyone around him raked and shoveled and gathered and cut and carried and tended to the land that was deemed good only for the forgotten few. No one paid him much attention; they figured it was a phase, and that he’d come back to the fields and join them. An extra pair of hands would make lunch time come quicker, and would allow them to watch the sun set without a tools in their hands and cramps in their backs and knees. But he didn’t stop and neither did they. It was thought that only one of them had a choice, but none of them could stop moving forward.
His words confuse those who hear them, but it’s a distraction from the throbbing, pulsating pain coming from the bottom of each of them. They hear each other replace the crying and screaming with prayers and pleas for help, but they all know that no one is coming for them.
And then they all make it back to the pavement. They are tired and hurting and the blood has dried and their feet are newly formed stumps. This realization is the breaking point. They all give one last bit of effort to roll over and onto the road. They know the county doesn’t take care of the roads, and because of this, the brush on each side of the road is waist high like some sort of backcountry nature-made guardrail.
They don’t expect anyone to come and save them because this patch of road has long ago been forgotten by the state, and is now only used by the few farmers in the area to go back and forth from their acreage to the landfill. The newly built highway extension has made these types of roads useless the destination is a small town like this. But this no one’s ending, just an area to pass through. They all know this, but they continue to pray and struggle to sit up. They go back to back with one another so no one is left exposed.
And the educated one says, “Memory believes before knowing remembers,” to no one in particular, as he squints his eyes, staring down the long, straight, flat road ahead of him.
As the sun beats down on them, they grow tired. Physically hurting and mentally drained, the group can’t understand what he’s talking about. They roll their eyes collectively, and excuse his rant because of the pain and the weather.
But he continues. Faulkner flows through him. He is living the life of the ink in between his covers. They all are. All of those elaborate texts, with the changing points of view and dozens of characters and Southern living mixed with equal parts pride and disdain.
“It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.”
He gets up, struggling to maintain his balance. He looks around slowly before yelling out louder than the screams from before, “My daily life is an acknowledgment and expiation of my sin.”
A flock of birds jumps out of the thick brush and takes to a flying formation, zigzagging through the clear, humid air and out toward the mountains. He knows the power of this. He knows that words, to him, are what wind are to the birds. In that moment, his feet do not bark out in pain. He feels closer to his surroundings. He feels like floating away and not coming back.
He begins to stumble away from the group, down the road. They yell to him, asking where he’s going. He stops and turns and looks at all of them, huddled together on the ground.
“That’s what they mean by the womb of time: the agony and the despair of spreading bones, the hard girdle in which lie the outraged entrails of events.”
Despite being in the flat lands, they all hear an echo ring out after the words are spoken. He reaches into his pocket, and drops all the toes onto the pavement. Including his own. He salutes them, pivots, and continues to shuffle off, down the empty road, in search of what nobody knows. Not even him.
Banana Pitch is honored to publish new work by Patrick Trotti. He is the author of the novella The Day The Cloud Stood Still (Ever Books, a Pteron Press Imprint) and the collection Come Tomorrow You’ll Regret Today (Tailwinds Press). He writes short stories, flash fiction, novels—we’re super into his one-act play, Remember When? So much good stuff. Check out his website and tweet him up at @PatrickTrotti
Casey Mattson is an illustrator and musician from Oakland, CA. His art can be found here, and his music can be found here. We suggest listening to his jam “Sherry Kids” while reading this piece. Take a moment, relax, enjoy.
As always, if you want to submit to Banana Pitch, we’re open to ideas and we want to see whatcha got. Click dis.