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Story by Maria Poulatha (Read author interview) August 12, 2021

Art by Paul Bulai

Content Warning: Sexual abuse

It does not feel like a violation to poke through the leaves of a plant and sink a finger into its soil to test its moisture. My finger is an explorer blazing a trail through a dark indifferent jungle. Yet I feel like a doctor, coldly inspecting a cervix to see if it’s dilated, purposefully breaking water. When we were children in the village, we would poke a finger up a chicken’s backside to detect an egg on the descent. My mother didn’t send me to do this, to forecast the next meal. I made bets with the boys to see which chicken would lay first, and if I lost, I had to give up two marbles or pull down my underpants. I would cheat by feeding my chickens red pepper beads rolled into dough to stoke their idle insides. I wonder now why the chicken sat for inspection, if our prying fingers, like the doctor’s, sped up her daily labor.

Perhaps the chicken, with her short memory, was as bewildered as I was, sitting on my uncle’s hand, his finger propping me up from that strip of bathing suit when he carried me out to deep waters for a swim, prying open my childhood with a blank face that made me dismiss it as an absent gesture, a convenience like the grip on a six-pack between two extended digits. When the finger slipped under the crotch of the suit, I understood that things slip. I told my mother that I almost drowned trying to swim back, and she struck me and told me to stay away from deep waters then brushed the uncle under a rug like shards of flea market china.

The rug is stuffed and lumpy and people trip over it but everyone knows it is there for a reason. As divertissement, my mother adorns the house with plants, checks their soil, adjusts the water, trims their spoiled edges. When they are all satisfied, she picks up her handbag and heads off to the store. She doesn’t worry that a wayward finger might prod her plants or that the plants may set fire to the house.


This micro was a finalist in the 2021 SmokeLong Grand Micro Contest. 

About the Author

Originally from New Jersey, Maria Poulatha has been living in Athens, Greece with her husband and daughter for the past twenty years, working as a dancer, choreographer and small business owner. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Split Lip, Gordon Square Review, Sleet and Athens News (where she won the ‘Long Summer, Short Story’ contest).

About the Artist

Paul Bulai is a photographer from Romania.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Two

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