Simon Jacobs had an idea for a recurring series: flash fiction pieces in which the characters reenact famous works of art. Being a home for art and lit to meet and clash and mix, Paper Darts couldn't say no.
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The last time I remember you in the house, after your first year of college, I passed through a room that you were occupying and found its furniture splayed with others, helpless in summer glow. When I asked for introductions, you gestured lazily to your friends en masse and said, “These are my fellow outcasts”—like this was a life I’d once expelled you from, a dead thing you only returned to for spoils—and I was reminded that your record of history was not to be trusted. It was hardly the first time you’d tried to mask me over, and I coped with the moment, the word as I had with many others, by imagining its physical bounds: I imagined the facsimile of another son ghosted in wax, slurried and then fired in a kiln and filled with hot metal, which once cooled I’d hammer away, leaving the full figure behind, literally “cast out”—yes, this was what he’d meant, correct, exactly as I had fostered him, filed down sprues and all, no sign of the mold left on him.
And it was inevitable, fated. Phaeton careened through the sky, not knowing the way. The horses ran wild. He veered too close to the earth and set it aflame, he cast his smoke-stung eyes frantically to the western horizon he knew he would never reach; in his panic, he dropped the reins. High above, knowing the earth would be destroyed if he didn’t intervene, Zeus, king of all gods, struck Phaeton dead with one of his famous thunderbolts. He fell. The story ends with poplar trees on a riverbank, metamorphosis of grief.
The timeline does not work in my favor any way you slice it, no matter when I finally put the pieces together: You were pregnant and I ran for the hills.
When I did find you again, fully six months after I’d busted, it was at the mouth of a cave a mile outside of town. Peter had led me there. I’d found him prowling through the ruins of our old building like a Lazarus back from heaven, and when he fled from me, I followed. You were buried beneath a strata of six blankets with a book open on the ground by your feet, resembling nothing so much as an obdurate boulder in a river, the scrubland parting around you, the baby imminent, and the hour upon us. We had never been more than five miles apart. You greeted Peter first, but by the name of one of the elder gods. You had no words for me, and I didn’t deserve them.
We high-tailed it back to the city. The rickety shopping cart was your chariot, and I was the traitorous beast who pulled it.
I am poking around the very fringes of the ruined city long past smoldering, far from you, when the first wave of nausea hits. I think to myself, “Oh, it’s just morning sickness,” almost automatically, before I have this terrible sudden realization that it is Actually Morning Sickness, like the mother-incumbent kind, and I plant my hands on my thighs like a runningback braced for impact and just sort of teeter there, rocking back and forth, but nothing comes. My insides swarm and then settle, as if after a tidal wave that forced the evacuation of a small coastal fishing village but, disappointingly, never made landfall.
The sun cracks over the rocky horizon. I have grown accustomed to my witchy existence out here since your departure and the literal crumbling of our home of years: My days are spent in quiet communion with the land, in study (Starhawk, spellbooks I dragged out in a busted shopping cart), finding harmonic patterns in light cast through the projections of spirey old buildings and the interplay of shadow and scraggly tree branch. I’m probably one grim hand puppet away from sermonizing to the birds. There’s a makeshift rubble cave that I snuggle into at night, not because I have to.
Over time it had become increasingly difficult to qualify our desires outside of the paintings. Thus, scarcely after we’d mentioned the child, there came the Father.
On that auspicious day, I’d masked my hair with an avocado, olive oil, and lemon juice mixture I read about on the internet to give it that extra shine, after letting it grow out for months. You appeared in the mirror behind me, leaning against the bathroom doorway and peeling cheap latex monster gloves off your fingers, fresh from the Halloween store. You stretched one of the rubbery red fingernails out and let it snap back. “I feel like a trick-or-treater.”
“Pieter van Laer invented the concept of the monster glove before anyone else had even fathomed the technology,” I said. “He was a revolutionary.”
“More like a Rosemary.” You took in the sight of me luxuriously dragging a comb through my wavy locks, smooth as butter, while simultaneously contorting my face into grimaces of terror. “Your head smells like a bowl of guacamole.”