Monday, August 11, 2008

Boy, A Cat, A Lifeboat by Claudia Smith

That day, she picked him up in front of the red-and-orange house and he ran to tell her about the submarine he'd built, with a periscope. Later, he'd told her about the cat. "It was a tiger," he said. "A real one." His sleeping bag was soggy, soaked with something. The teacher said she didn't think it was urine. They weren't sure how it had gotten wet.

That night, she slept on the sofa. Her boy lay on the floor beneath her, zipped up in the tiger, smelling of dryer sheets and baby shampoo. This is another part she will not forget. They were in the ocean, a long a rippling ocean, and she was the tiger and she was also a boat, cradling him. When she looked up at him from her tiger-head prow, he had grown taller, taller than his father. He stroked her fine white nose, and she felt her belly rumble. It was a pleasant dream, the kind of dream you try to remember after waking, but can't keep with you.

Fourteen years later, the boy swam in the ocean. He was a strong swimmer, but something happened, and he drowned. She did not know this, no one but the boy knew this, and the girl who died with him, but he was caught in a giant plastic cover that had fallen from a freighter. This plastic tarp was the size of a sea monster. As the boy was carried out to sea, he began to feel calm. He looked over and saw the girl. She was named Abra, and he had met her two days before, at a bar. She was a camp counselor. He knew three absolute truths about her; her favorite drink was a White Russian. She had one blue eye and one brown eye. She'd proven this to him by taking out one of her colored contacts the night they'd met. And she was a runner. She had a runner's body, the kind that always seems dressed, even when naked.

Abra didn't quit. She gasped and struggled, a tiger, a tiger, he thought, even as he was sinking. She reminded him of someone. He thought of his mother, and of another girl, Tammy. He was certain Abra would live, sure of it, and then he died. And Abra died, also, not long after.

For years, after, his mother recalled the dream she'd had when he was in preschool. She took a pill advertised by moonlit butterflies, to try to sleep, to dream it again. She dreamed about the girl, Abra. She and the girl's mother, Anissa, emailed one another often, but had never met in person.

Anissa and the boy's mother corresponded for three years. Anissa recalled her daughter's love for Scrabble, and her pretty ways. Her daughter had been a champion of chess. Her daughter was unpopular in high school. Her daughter had backpacked across Ireland.

Anissa took pills, too, and she dreamed the tiger dream.

Did you see him? The boy's mother asked. They were chatting in Gmail.

I saw him,

Don't lie to me, did you see him?

I saw him. He was tall, and his eyes were gray, and I was holding him; I was the tiger. I was longer than a football field, I was a tiger, and then I was a blanket and then I was a cocoon, all around him. And I was sinking, and I saw Abra and I loved her and wanted her, the way a man wants a woman, not the way a mother wants a child.

I will try; his mother typed to her. I will try to dream of her.


The mothers took all their pills, and went to bed. The one in Omaha, and then the one in New Jersey.

Claudia Smith has had over a hundred stories published in several journals and anthologies, including Sou'wester, Failbetter, Norton's The New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories From America and Beyond, Juked, Elimae, Night Train, and Wigleaf. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her chapbook, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts, won the New England Bookbuilder's Award. The collection was reprinted as part of Rose Metal Press's anthology A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short-Short Fiction By Four Women. More about Claudia and her work can be found at her site, claudiaweb.

1 comment:

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