July 6, 2018

Three Flash Fictions by Melinda Giordano: "Bump in the Night", "It Knows Not What It Does"and "Her Neck (“La Toilette”, 1742)"

Melinda Giordano is a native of Los Angeles, California.  Her written pieces have appeared in the Lake Effect Magazine, Scheherazade’s Bequest, Whisperings, Circa Magazine and Vine Leaves Literary Journal among others. She was also a regular poetry contributor to CalamitiesPress.com with her own column, ‘I Wandered and Listened’ and was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. She writes flash fiction and poetry that speculates on the possibility of remarkable things – the secret lives of the natural world.

Bump In The Night

I live near a park flooded with tar. It is bound with thick lakes linked together in a chain the color of onyx, dark and bruised. Its currents are hidden and dense, circulating like a mole beneath the city – the slow, knotted arms digging below streets, houses, lamps, cars.

Once, animals in their primordial stage had stumbled into the sticky murk to suffocate, to have their essence dissolve into the depths. Now the tar is rich with their marrow, vertebrae, ribs and teeth. It bubbles and winks – its surface is awash with petroleum rainbows; its depths are restless with the stifled lives of prehistory. Their cartography maps the destruction of the Pleistocene – the smiling skulls, the hooked fangs, the rippling spines.

The vents of asphalt and oil travel for miles, clogging pipes and roots, a torment to the plumbing of the city. They are under my home, where 25,000 years ago there was rain and fog, where forests grew high to disappear into the maw of vapor and cloud. I live where the mists once dried into savannahs covered with pale grass, choking in the heat of a vindictive climate change.

I walk over the concealed pools – stagnant and viscous – that lurk under my floorboards; the assorted square feet of plywood and nails. The slow tides of melted wood and earth twist around the buried foundations of my house. The composition is stained with the animals’ DNA – the fabric of extinction.

Sometimes the floors will creak with the protests of myriad interred lives; when I walk, a chorus of voices follows me. And when I sleep, I dream of the monsters, prehistoric and whole, striding towards their extinction. I watched the march that would only end when their flesh had curdled and melted into the ancient earth.

Awake or asleep, the sounds of detached bones invade my thoughts, an unfocused bumping like the spars of a wrecked ship caught in aimless waters. I sense the invisible grazing herds, the feral, bloody hunts. I live with these phantoms that have relinquished their earthly lives and are trapped within a ghostly jurisdiction. I live with the things that go bump in the night.


It Knows Not What It Does


In a way it is such a modest admonition. It is true that the recipient of such a judgement should cease its damaging ways immediately. And yet the word also indicates a type of bemused shock; an alarm that is both subdued and charmed.

But I was not bemused or charmed – or any of those slow-moving emotions. I was surprised and angry. And yet this was the first word that came to mind.

My verdict was directed towards the cat. She has always looked to me like the very essence of Pet, for which I hope she will forgive me. Yet she is indeed a very soft and rounded girl. All muscles and instinct, a velvet trust inherited from her ancestors, have been hidden under a life of grooming appointments and bowls of salmon broth. All of her wild gifts were forgotten.

A bell hung from her throat, like a dainty insult. And she wore a collar bearing a name that she did not want. She is a domestic animal, yet her blood is unquiet with an undefined threat. She still moves like a subtle hellion.

I see her most days. Usually she is in possession of a square of sidewalk, waiting for the warmth of the concrete to saturate her tamed flesh. But on this morning she was especially attentive, and this time I was not included in her hard, golden stare – which occasionally has been my honor.

And then she began to move. Not run…but to move with the noiseless bearing of a hunter; a half-forgotten locomotion commandeered by the silent, mindless intent of a sociopath.

I tried to warn her intended victim – a mourning dove, foolish, oblivious and feeding – but its escape was a low, depleted flight. I watched the savage miscreant’s launch into the air, the arch of her torso and the extended, hopeful limbs.

I saw the gleam of her claws as they singed the dove’s feathers; I saw her gaze expectantly into the sky. And I stood awhile, waiting to forgive the pet that knows not what it does.


Her Neck (“La Toilette”, 1742)

It is a small picture, full of small incidents: fragrant of pastel and powder; a vessel of delicacy and uselessness. Chaotic yet elegant, secretive yet coyly voyeuristic, it is a view into a lady’s room as she prepares to spend her day as decoration and distraction. Part salon, part dressing room, part breakfast room, part bedroom, it is where she concocts her toilette: and indeed, that is the name of the painting, ‘La Toilette’.

Painted by Francois Boucher – no stranger to illustrating the foibles of pretty ladies – in 1742, it is a reflection of French society within the warmth of a lady’s aristocratic home. It was a time of Louis XV and Pompadour, Lyons silk and red heels, Voltaire and Versailles: a time of languid enlightenment and sleepy elegance. And the dainty chaos of a lady’s dressing room was a fit subject for an artist’s roving eye.

‘La Toilette’ lets us view this aristocratic anarchy. Everything here is of the finest quality: pink silk ribbons, china tea settings, velvet chairs, a carved and gilded fireplace, a painted screen. But all is in disarray: the ribbons are tangled, tea is ignored, chairs are covered by fur-lined cloaks, the fire is smoking and the painted eyes of a saucy youth peer over the screen.

There is a charming disorder to the lady herself: she has not yet finished tying the garter around her knee; her skirts surround her in a blue labyrinth, her bodice is unlaced. Her immaculately painted face, accented by the patch tickling the corner of her eye, turns to her maid to inspect a cap she has brought her.

Yet amidst the indolence and confusion, there is a still center within this feminine storm. And to discover it we too look to the maidservant, but it is not to pass judgment on the garland of linen and silk that she holds. She provides us with the painting’s saving grace, its lonely composure. Like any condemned prisoner, she gives us her neck.

From her slender shoulders, it rises like an ivory column in a slow, gentle curve. Poised and serene, its motion is quieter by far than the maniacal rococo decorations that fill the room. She is a subtle ballerina: her poise echoed by the placement of her dainty feet.

Her lightly powdered hair is pulled up; extending the delicate sweep that began with the tiny, fluttering muscles of shoulders and neck. Curls that have escaped the comb lie along the neck’s subtle twist, further highlighting its sculptural movement.

We don’t see her face – only the drapery of her Robe à la française and the curved neck that brings the dizzying room to a standstill. It is the oblique step between the straight line of the shoulders and the coy tilt of the head. With the serene bend of her neck, it is the lady’s maid who brings refinement to the noise and lavish temptation of ‘La Toilette’: its quiet, silken focus – its genteel heart

~Melinda Giordano

Melinda Giordano

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