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Drowning on Main Street

Story by Amy Cipolla Barnes (Read author interview) December 19, 2022

Art by SmokeLong

When Mama returned from the grocery store on Tuesday, she told us the beer factory had flooded our town. She said she walked through waist deep liquid after her car flooded too, occasionally falling in, finding her mouth filled with dirty booze that tasted of road and tires and oil. She was able to walk only twelve steps before nearly drowning but she managed to make it home with the groceries because she loved us.

We believed her because we heard about something like this happening in the news; a molasses tank overtook a town, water towers and dams burst, a flour factory burned for days. We believed her more because something like this had happened to her before. The cigarette factory next to the Piggly Wiggly burned down and she inhaled the smoke of a thousand cigarettes in the space of one errand and one afternoon. She still managed to make it home in time for dinner because she loved us.

We believed her because there were strange, stranger men that liked to rip off stranger women’s clothing as they walked on the sidewalk, like it was a game, like it was hopscotch or dodgeball. She was one of those women they didn’t know but attacked anyway and she somehow managed to make it home that time too, to get us on the bus in the morning, smelling of smoke with her dress crushed and upside down.

We believed her because she said she once saved the town by growing extra big and walking on buildings to fight a giant monster from another country like plastic boxing figures on a platform. We believed she was larger than life to keep us safe at night by fighting off that monster that kept her out past dark on a Tuesday even though she loved us. Because she loved us.

We believed her because she had Bible pages wallpapered on her bedroom walls and the stranger men that weren’t strangers anymore came to visit to loudly read the Bible walls to her. We believed her because they told us they were pastors and not strangers and brought us teddy bears and ribbon candy in fancy boxes and hair ribbons in fancy colors.

I touched her shoulder that Tuesday of the flood, but it was dry.  I kept touching her and her shoes and her neck and her face and even her lips were too.

Her mouth smelled wet. Like gym sweat and the restaurant where she worked after Daddy left. Like rain but old rain, Tuesday rain.

“How are you dry?” I asked her.

She didn’t answer.

She was already asleep on the couch.

I had to believe her. My sisters were hungry and the groceries were waiting and melting on the counter.

I made dinner. I woke my mother and helped her out of her dry day dress into a nightgown and hung her clothes and underwear on the clothesline in case they were wet and I couldn’t tell. I fed my sisters dinner. I put my sisters to bed. I put my mother to bed. I read her scriptures off the wall and off the medicine and amber bottles on her bedside and sang her a lullaby that she used to sing to us when she got home before dark.

I turned on the television with the sound down real low like a whisper and watched for any news of the beer factory disaster or of monsters on Main Street fighting in the dark.

About the Author

Amy Cipolla Barnes is the author of three collections: Mother Figures (ELJ Editions, 2021)Ambrotypes (Word West LLC, 2022), and Child Craft (Belle Point Press, 2023). She has words at The Citron ReviewSpartan LitJMWW JournalNo Contact MagLeon ReviewComplete SentenceGone LawnThe Bureau DispatchNurture LitX-R-A-Y LitMcSweeney’s, -ette review, Southern Living, Cease, Cows, and many other sites. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, long-listed for the Wigleaf Top50 in 2021, 2022, and 2023, and included in The Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor, Narratively Chief Submissions Reader, and reads for The MacGuffinThe Best Small Fictions, The Porch TN, and CRAFT.


This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2022 of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2022

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