Flash Fiction by Lena Bertone
They'd been sweethearts since childhood and had grown to the same height: five foot two inches. They both had crooked noses and bright blue eyes. Of course they would get married, they felt so content and natural with each other, but they waited until they were twenty-four, when he would take over his father's ironglass-forging business. She had surrendered to retail in a difficult job market and waited for marriage and pregnancy to relieve her of the need to do any work outside the home. But after they wed, her vivacious personality was taken over by depression when she found it difficult to become pregnant, and was made worse when she had a miscarriage, and then the depression took over her body and she was struck as though by a physical illness. She lay in bed and wasted, losing what little plumpness she had, developing a troubling darkness under her eyes. The only thing that lifted her sadness was a pregnancy, practically a miracle, and the couple had a girl, maybe the loveliest girl ever born, and they loved her as much as it was possible to love her. But the physical illness returned, a dark shadow under every bone, and the woman wore away until her condition was clearly terminal. The husband decided he couldn't care for her in that state, it was too much to bear, and gave her back to her parents, his wife and their daughter, and lived on his own, expecting his wife to die. But his wife continued to live beyond her first death due date and then her second, and his daughter grew, and she grew to be breathtakingly, shockingly pretty. It hurt to look at her in the full light of day. She loved her mother and doted on her, caressed her withered fingers and frozen face. She loved her father, too, and would not tolerate an unkind word toward him, though no one else in his wife's family would speak to him. His wife continued to live, though she should have died. It was sad, all the years spent grieving, expecting her to die. She sat in a wheelchair, her limbs wasted, her speech slow, awaiting, like everyone else, her end moment. But instead of ending, years passed, and as they did, her gaunt cheeks began to fill again with flesh and fat and sometimes, when she spoke, words came perfectly formed from her lips. Her breath smelled faintly like flowers. She raised her arms and moved her fingers—she did these things and slowly it became evident that she was improving. Her daughter, by then a teenager, took her for walks in the living room and later on the the street. One day, the woman let go of her daughter's arm and walked a short length of sidewalk by herself, something she hadn't done in fifteen years. Soon after, she was able to style her own hair and laugh using all the muscles in her face. Despite the protests of her devoted parents, the woman took a taxi to her husband's house, wearing a new dress she had picked out and put on by herself. The next day, she called her daughter and told her to gather their things and come, so they could all be together again.
He affectionately calls his girlfriend his Little Wolverine, and she is the least furry among us. Our hairlines are low, but not unnatural; our eyebrows joined but not unattractively so. Each of us has a mustache that she bleaches or waxes or shaves, or in Maria's case, wears proudly, faint brown hairs over the full curve of her mauve lips. We all have The Mole somewhere on our faces, that grows the Lone Black Hair That Must Be Plucked. Stella's mole is below her left eye; Nadia's beside her right nostril. Vera and Lidia have theirs on opposite cheeks, and mine is at the classic forty-five degree angle above the lip.
Maria's boyfriend calls her Wolverine because when she tans to brown, in one afternoon, in her string bikini—that patch of hair on her lower back lights up golden against her olive skin. He offers to shave it for her, but she shaves her legs and that, she says, is enough.
Our hair is brown—the kind of brown that people call black because it doesn't reflect—not red, not blonde, not blue. Our eyes are like that too. The hair by our ears grows long, and as we grow older, more strays appear: chin hairs, neck hairs, chest hairs; freckles and moles pop and then hairs pop from them. Then the color of our hair fades and the color of our eyes fade and all that young hair—on our heads, our legs, our arms, it gets tired of growing. And eventually, we get old and everything fades to a clear gray, even our lips. And this boyfriend of Maria's, who called her Wolverine: he will be long gone.
Lena Bertone's novel is forthcoming from Aqueous Books in 2015. Her journal publications are so numerous that she has to use most of her fingers to count them.