Randall Brown teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the award-winning flash fiction collection Mad to Live (Flume Press, 2008) and his essay on (very) short fiction
appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field. He has a piece in the forthcoming Norton anthology of hint fiction and blogs regularly at flashfiction.net.
This time, instead of to the refrigerator, I walk around the cul-de-sac. It won’t stop snowing. It’s dizzying, looking up, walking in circles. One can imagine something in heaven shattered, a mirror or shot glass.
Fill in the blank, the doctor said. If only I [blank], then I’d feel better. If only I felt better, I told him, I’d feel better. That’s circular logic, he said. Well, that’s all I got.
Here’s some more advice: Stop listening to Nick Drake.
“What the hell are you doing?” the mailwoman asks me, swerving the truck a bit too dramatically.
“I’m depressed,” I hold my hand out for the mail. That’s a hopeful thing. An indication of an improved outlook. “I say that because I’m supposed to say it,” I tell her. “In case I forget.”
“Depressed about what?”
“Third grade I think.”
She shrugs and away she goes. My hand has filled with snow. I try to squeeze it into a baseball, but it falls apart.
The neighbor is next. I’m walking and kicking white puffs of the dry desert snow. She’s at her overflowing mailbox.
“Yeah. And I don’t want to eat anymore. I can’t eat anymore. I’ll blow up.”
“Don’t tell me.” She’s making her way back to her house. “Third grade still.”
And then she’s gone. It’s grey and white outside. In third grade, I sat in the hall with Kathy Peters. We had our own advanced reading group. We kissed on the cheek. She had a beauty mark. But so what?
A different neighbor’s dog, broken through the invisible fence. “Go home,” he says to me, like that dog in London’s “To Build a Fire.” In third grade, out in that hall, I read about the man in that story who dies because he goes out into the cold, ignoring his dog’s warning, becoming too frozen to build the fire that would’ve saved him, and Kathy Peters, in third grade, tells me he actually dies because he can build fire, and that his building fire after fire since Prometheus stole it from the gods and goddesses to make humanity better than the animals has made this man lose the animal instinct that would’ve sent him home instead of out into the cold. This she says, in third grade, is tragic irony.
And then it’s summer and something happens to me, my father’s genes or my mom’s affair or something all my own doing. I start eating, smelling bad, persona non grata. And now I’m outside walking in snowy circles, thinking I’ve accomplished something by getting out of the house. The dog sniffs at me, then moves on. Sneezes a few times. “Bless you,” I say.
It must be cold but I don’t sense it. The world feels still. Ghosts should visit soon. Inside there’s the pantry, Internet searches for cures and Kathy Peters. It’s depressing to be depressed. It’s chemical and psychological. It’s starting to snow again. There’s the myth of snowflake uniqueness. I am like every other depressed person in the world. The world has become what I believe it to be. The dog returns, licks the snow off my slippers. And I’m thinking of Kathy Peters in a tree watching me up to bat with the bases loaded that spring before the summer between third and fourth grade, and how I swung for the fence and the world matched my belief in it.
Hey. I’m that kid again. Look at me. Running and sliding into invisible bases. I’m wearing slippers in the snow. The dog looks like he has my number.
I take off from third toward home. Here comes the play at the plate. It’s going to be close. I look up, waiting for the sign.