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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Undergrowth

Story by Melissa Bowers (Read author interview) September 16, 2021

Photograph by Dylan de Jonge

He is three years old and thinks the word for plant is planet. I should correct him, but I don’t, because I suspect it won’t last—the same way brefkast and sank you sprouted from his mouth for months and then somehow blossomed properly, even without adequate sunlight. Every time we pass the farmland on that stretch beyond Highway 101, he watches as the tractors overturn the dirt, rolls his window down to smell the tillage. They’re getting ready for new planets, he says, breathing deeply, filling his lungs with the scent of soil.

He is nine and learning about space in school: how our galaxy alone is 100,000 light-years across, and how a single light-year equals nearly six trillion miles, and how there are two trillion galaxies, and out of all those planets how can we believe ours is the only one that matters? I tell him he is not as small as he feels. His doctor tells me she is not seeing enough progress. We’re hoping for visible growth, she says. Brighter spots, happier episodes. I imagine him the way he looked when he was born: shriveled but strong, coated with proof of his own germination. Solid, at least. Something more than a shadow.

He is twelve and I find him in the redwoods just before dusk, kneeling in the brush beneath the trees. With his hands he clears away thick clumps of vegetation—methodically at first, then frantic, the greenery piling up behind him like a hillside. What remains is an emptiness. What remains is a bare patch on the world, as if he has ripped a swath of hair out of the forest. It’s going to be a garden, he says, I’m growing this, see? But I don’t. I can only see what is gone.

He is seventeen and one night he doesn’t come home. I call his friends, his love, our neighbors. I drive the edges of the farmland and shout his name through the wind and park at the mouth of the woods because he has to be here somewhere, trapped just below the surface. With both palms, I press against the ground and wait to feel it give. Instead it swells upward from the roots, it bulges in spots, orblike. Beneath the earth there is the unmistakable hum of something spinning and spinning and spinning.

___________________________

This micro earned first place in the 2021 SmokeLong Grand Micro Contest. 

About the Author

Melissa Bowers is the winner of the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize, the F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer’s inaugural personal essay contest, and her stories are featured as prize-winners in Lunate, Barren Magazine, and Pithead Chapel. She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, nominated for The Best Small Fictions 2021, and selected for the 2021 Wigleaf Top 50. Melissa’s work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, Atticus Review, Fractured Lit, Pidgeonholes, CHEAP POP, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @MelissaBowers_.

About the Artist

Dylan de Jonge is a digital artisan, engineer, entrepreneur and proud owner at ForgedPixel currently working in the creative industry as a front-end web developer with a developed set design skills.

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

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.