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Abita
January 15th, 2014, 04:20 AM
When my mother died of a malignant tumor found too late, I knew there must have been warning signs: she would have signaled the slow mutations with sunken eyes, a tinge of yellowness, frailty - some visible manifestation of the illness before her body’s final resignation. They were there, and I’d missed them.
Worse than my failure to recognize her illness, I couldn’t even recall her in health. I thought back to specific days and events before the endless series of hospital visits, but was never able to remember whether her hair parted to the side or center before it started to fall out, or the way her hands had looked before the skin began to thin and reveal the delicate blue veins underneath.

It’s an unshakeable guilt considering my career, which relies almost entirely upon recognizing details that others miss. Specifically, I study forensic photographic evidence. It began in college when an industry veteran identified my unusual talent for catching hidden details, features so mundane that they’re invisible to the average human eye. I was quickly developed through courses, clinics and classes led by forensic specialists and crime scene photographers, even flown from continent to continent, all in the name of honing my singular, bizarre specialty.

Now, I’m paid to analyze, categorize, number, alphabetize and index whatever is placed in front of me: lurid photos from crime scenes, gas station surveillance videos, photos snapped offhandedly at a child’s birthday party that have since become classified evidence. Eventually the shots are all sorted into the same metal containers, arranged by case file, and hidden behind identical white tabs. I’ve learned to become a sort of machine, distancing myself from the violence and sifting the images presented to me into their discreet components, void of emotion or consequence.

Sometimes though, in the face of a uniquely horrific event, our senses and natural abilities fail us.

Throughout the last weeks of my mother’s life, her body spent after fighting the poisons that for months had been administered as treatments, she remained composed. She went gracefully as always, in her sleep. I woke to a room full of nurses, slumped in a chair beside her bed, my hand clenched in a fist of bed sheets. I was avoiding the inevitable to the last, shamefully unprepared.

Since her death, I’ve tuned in to my surroundings, introducing the intense observation I typically reserve for work into my daily life - as if that could prevent future catastrophe, or somehow compensate for my previous, unthinkable oversight. I often slip into daydream on my way home, watching the houses slide past with their even white siding and identical plots of land. I can capture minute details in one go even though I only see each scene in passing.

One of the houses, the largest in our modest neighborhood, always stands out. It was built recently, shortly following my mother’s passing, massive and immaculate. The family who lives there has a young girl whom I often see tumbling around the yard, the child just as tidy as her surroundings in a neat jumper and white shoes tied with identical bows. A potbellied beagle teeters behind her, his gate no doubt slowed by many years racing to catch fallen crumbs.
“Pristine” is the word that often comes to mind when I see that house. “Predictable.”

Driving by one evening, I saw the girl trailing in a jagged line on tiptoe behind her mother. She appeared to float, weightless; her toes seemed to barely graze the ground. Her mother guided her toward the front door with a hand gently clasped around the girl’s finger. If not for her mother’s hand, it seemed as if the girl might float off into the evening air.

I glimpsed a pair of shoes hanging over a telephone wire in the lawn behind them. They were deathly still, stuck there indefinitely – scuffed up tennis sneakers that would have known no place in that home, surely thrown there by some passerby. I imagined the thrower’s shoulder muscles rolling back in preparation, a hand closed firmly around the thin laces. Then the calculated release, the shoes flying to their destination. It wasn’t luck, really, that landed them squarely on the wire: the force and direction of the pitch, the nature of the wind that day, the weight of the ragged sneakers, all determined the end result. The tips of the laces dangled limply now, struck into inevitable immobility, thin grey lines outlined in the sky.

Weeks later, driving by the house, the usual scene unfolded but the Beagle was missing. It was the first day since I could remember that he hadn’t been outside when I passed. A small, home-made cross already jutted from the ground beneath a tree in their lawn, peeking above the grass. I recalled the dog’s graying face and baggy eyes.

I pictured the girl the night before, above the pet’s heaving belly on the sterile counter, the lapse between breaths growing longer and longer. Maybe they’d been told the little dog suffered an incurable disease, or organ failure. More likely he was just old.

I saw the girl’s face, turned away, resisting full awareness of what was going on. Her bone white shoes would hang from her mother’s arm, brushing the woman’s sides as she held her daughter against her shoulder. Given her age, it would have been one of her first close encounters with death: a shock that she couldn’t put into context, that she wouldn’t comprehend until the ride home from the vet’s office, beside an empty crate in the backseat.
I remembered the girl before tragedy had struck, her feet gliding across the lawn, unknowing. I remembered her mother guiding her, the cross ready and waiting, hidden from view.

glenn84
January 15th, 2014, 10:31 PM
Powerfully emotional story. I particularly liked the connection you made between the MC's mother and the little girl's dog; the inevitable heartache that comes with losing those you love, pet and mother alike. Well done.

Abita
January 17th, 2014, 03:23 AM
Glad you liked it Glenn!

Kevin
January 22nd, 2014, 06:08 PM
This is very well written. The scene and thoughts regarding the mother's death are perhaps too well done for a *mere mystery. I recognize something there...particularly I couldn’t even recall her in health.

The tie-in/parallel between the little girls anguish, projected or not, excellent. Also the description of the last moments and the unstated source of such 'knowing'... The foreshadowing/sense of coming menace again, very well done. The shoes on the wire have a certain menacing connotation of outside observance and notation by 'bad elements'... Innocent, ephemeral child, already nearly floating away...poignant.

nit-picky things: not much (and please discard at your own discretion)...

was built recently, shortly following - slightly awkward - could just opinion or taste :) ...had been recently...after

one of her first close encounters with death-one of? hmm.

to become a sort of machine- I get it but...how to say it...'sort of' is sort of murky(?)

*perhaps it is my prejudice, or my ignorance but I have certain notions about 'murder books'. Certainly, I don't wish to offend and I accept that I could be way off here in limiting the genre.

Abita
January 22nd, 2014, 06:32 PM
Thank you for this thoughtful critique, Kevin. I'm glad the parallels, and the foreshadowing of the shoes came across. I'll re-look at the lines you pointed out.

And I have to agree when it comes to murder books... I'm not really going for traditional 'genre' writing.

Thanks for taking a look!

khanover
January 27th, 2014, 09:26 PM
The part about the MC's mother just about brought me to tears, I recently went through something similar so I could absolutely relate. The words grabbed me, and didn't let go. There is a lot of grief in that excerpt, it is a very emotional piece...not knowing what you have in store for the next series of events, my only concern would be is this sets the scene for a very somber mood. This might be what you are going for like I said I don't know what is next. That being said, very well written and I would love to see where that goes.

stephpend
January 29th, 2014, 04:38 AM
This was very powerful. When the MC said s/he couldn't remember Mom in health, I wondered if that meant the disease progressed so slowly that there wasn't a sudden change that would have alerted someone who clearly specializes in looking for details. Much like the girl who realized her dog was sick or old right when he was about to die, the MC was floating, happy and safe because of the mother until the moment of realization when everything changed. Did I get this right? I don't have anything constructive to offer; I just wanted to share what I got from it. Also, what is "flash fiction?"

TheWriteStuff
February 7th, 2014, 01:57 AM
This was a very nicely written piece and I only have a few suggestions for your consideration:

1) The segment describing the main character's calculating nature seems too long. In a flash fiction piece like this it takes up a considerable percentage of the story and I think you could get away with a shorter description of this trait as it comes through in the details the main character notices throughout. You've shown it to us, so you don't have to tell us.

2) My other suggestion is to lengthen the second section about the girl and the pristine house and the dog. It is very interesting but comes and goes so quickly. I'm sure there is more to be said about the family and perhaps you coudl have more time pass in this section to develop a longer term picture of the family dynamic.

3) One final idea is to tie in the character's experience with his mother's death to the girl's experience with the dog's death by mirroring language in the start and end of the story. Maybe the girl is returning from the vet and the main character wonders if she remembers how the dog looked in health?

Hope this helps!

Olly Buckle
February 7th, 2014, 02:21 AM
Nice little piece, a few minor points.

my hand clenched in a fist of bed sheets That does not quite work, 'my hanfd clenched in a fist, full of bedsheets' is my nearest
his gate no doubt slowed by many years racing to catch fallen crumbs.One for the 'Confusing homonyms' thread, gait.

She appeared to float, weightless; her toes seemed to barely graze the ground. A bit like Kevin said about 'sort of machine', things are much stronger iif you don't qualify them with vague adjectives; 'She floated, weightless; her toes barely grazing the ground' may not be the literal truth, but neither would anyone take it literally
It was the first day since I could remember that he hadn’t been outside when I passed.'since' is redundant, and potentially confusing, since you could remember what? Or just since you could remember? I know the dog can't be that old, but you see what I mean?

MsPilgrims
February 18th, 2014, 01:24 PM
Beautifully portrayed. Excellent writing skills. Everything's in its right place. A memento of grief and sorrow for the ones we lose on the way. I particularly liked the comparison between the mother and the dog and the perceptive eye of the observer. In a way, everyone is the same, after all.

Thank you for sharing!

Elle94
March 3rd, 2014, 09:07 PM
I found this a very poignant and provoking piece, and in so few words it really is impressive! The narrative offers a mere hint as to the abstract and conflicted personality of the MC; s/he seems quite a clinical and stoic character, perhaps someone accustomed to being in control of a situation, confused and frightened by the sudden loss of their mother. And I think that this is presented brilliantly through the attention to detail in the passage about the little girl and her dog. In fact, it is done so well that I have to agree with TheWriteStuff's first point; the insight into the MC's career is a little too much information in such a short and concise piece of writing. Perhaps if you were looking to extend this passage (and I sincerely hope that you do/have) then the mention of how his/her skills relate to the work place could be released to the reader later on, leave them desperate to understand the character better.

It is a great piece and has a wonderful, thought-provoking impact! :)

W M Gardner
June 3rd, 2014, 06:10 AM
I like your description in this story. Good job.