★ ★ ★ ★
Image by Cecile Hournau
‘Monsters Keep Coming’
They went to the park as three but came home two.
Now, nights are sleepless. And crowded. There’s Embarrassment, a surprising and relentless creature, thin and slouchy, wet-faced and wincing. Those ping pong eyes, that diffident sheen. Anger shoves in as well, pummeling the heart toward the point of no return. Yet what a sick, hapless thing—bony knuckles, bloody teeth, loose skin from shameless burning in the sun. If that weren’t enough, there’s crickety Grief, too quick for the swipe of a hand.
Often, for a time, it helps to be on the move. Read a page in a chair. Look out the window at the moon. Sprint the stairs to the bathroom. The monsters can’t keep up. With the exception of Grief, they’re such slow, slouching things. All they want is a place to rest, a patch of flesh to sink into.
The two have kept to themselves. No guests, no phone calls. Separate beds. Some evenings, they have a glass of wine in the garden. Maybe he’ll mention the humidity. Maybe she’ll remark on light through maple leaves. He doesn’t know about her, but the wine works for him. Keeps the monsters at bay.
One evening, he thinks: Has wretched luck led to tenderness? They’re genial, but there’s a stranger-like stiffness to their interactions. He wonders what it feels like to scream.
Before sleep, he opens an email about “significant life events.” Meanwhile, his wife changes into the nightgown she’s worn for weeks. In bed, their eyes drop over grim blocks of print.
A rustle. Through the long thick fog of eventlessness, another monster approaches. Huge and amorphous. Is it Truth? Or Despair? Whatever its name, it stops at a safe distance to kindly inform them that the death of their young boy has made them nobodies.
Michael Cocchiarale is the author of two short story collections—Still Time (Fomite, 2012) and Here Is Ware (Fomite, 2018)—as well as the novel None of the Above (Unsolicited, 2019). His most recent work may be found online in journals such as Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Sleet Magazine, Unlikely Stories Mark V, and Fictive Dream.