TWO FLASHES

fiction by Daniel Uncapher

Construction Paper

Three nights ago I dreamed about construction paper, and when I woke up I discovered a ream of it under my bed. I tore off the cellophane wrapping and fingered the rough, colorful pages. The smell was just like I remembered it from kindergarten.

I called Terra into the room and we spent the whole morning playing together, ripping off random shapes and arranging them on the floor into exotic animals and strange people, like a man with a pink head and a green body. She got a pen and drew him a face, with my eyes and my glasses, and when we were finished we recycled it all.

*

Two nights ago I dreamed the solution to that day’s crossword puzzle.

Terra and I did the crossword puzzle together at the kitchen counter. I didn’t tell her that I already knew the answers. Was I developing some kind of power? Was it really possible?

The final word was, just as I dreamed it would be, locomotive, and with that I secured my abilities. I cancelled the babysitter and took Terra to work with me, doting on her while my coworkers looked on with disdain and my boss, who once called me uptight, made sure to explain that it wasn’t exactly bring-your-kids-to-work day.

Their detractions didn’t affect me at all. I felt nothing but sorrow for them, for these tiny people who dreamed pure fiction while I, in my deeply mysterious way, dreamed into being a brand-new world. They would go to sleep and dream some scary nonsense about their boring pasts, if they dream at all anymore, while I would go to sleep and dream up the future.

*

Last night I dreamed up a white man, which scared the both of us awake. I scrambled up against the wall and he crawled out from under the bed like a centipede, each of us too startled to actually scream.

“Who are you?”

“I don’t know,” he said, with the kind of Midwest accent that Midwesterners think isn’t an accent. He was probably my age, maybe a few years older, but, ectomorphic and confused, he looked a good deal younger.

“Where did you come from?”

“I don’t know,” he repeated. “Do you?”

In fact he looked like a twelve-year-old boy, curled up in a ball on the floor with the cobwebs and dust bunnies, and my surprise melted into motherly concern.

“You can sit on the bed here if you’d like,” I said, starting to feel powerful again.

The white man stood up and looked around the room. “I think I should go,” he said.

“Sit,” I said. “We have a lot to talk about.”

He sat down and tried not to look me in the eyes. “So, do you have a boyfriend?”

My laugh surprised him. “I have a daughter. She’s 6.”

A flash of concern in his eyes, a wince at the edge of his frown. “Do you work?”

“Do I work? Do you?”

“I don’t know,” he stuttered, getting angry. “I don’t think so.”

He looked even smaller now, like an eight-year-old, and I imagined him out in the world, popping in to Terra’s office to tell her it’s not exactly take-your-kid-to-work-day one day, uptight the next, and all the while glancing more than once at the hem of her skirt, or the right rear pocket of her jeans.

“This is too much power,” I said. “I’ve gone too far.”

“Can you call me an Uber or something?”

I stood up. “Sure,” I said. “But I use Lyft, and they usually take a few minutes around here.”

He followed me into the kitchen, where I sat him down facing the window and told him to watch for the Lyft. I ran my fingers over the knife block and picked out the smallest, cleanest one. I could probably do the job with my bare hands, I thought. It would be like strangling a toddler. But I’d learned before not to underestimate people like him, and I wasn’t about to take any chances.

“I’m sorry,” I said, plunging the knife into his throat. “But I brought you into this world, and I think I’d better take you out.”

There wasn’t a struggle, and the kitchen sink caught most of the blood. I had the body bagged up and dumped by the time Terra woke up, just in time for the morning crossword to arrive. We got stuck on 21 across and couldn’t finish.

 

Human Materiel

In Southernalia, where the water tastes like Sudafed and the clouds stretch across the sky like saltwater taffy, Dannie has taken an interest in caterpillars. She’s thinking about the personhood of living things, about the difference between sexual and natural selection, about evolution, about metamorphosis; how something could randomize its existence from a caterpillar, via chrysalis, into a butterfly, dissolving and rematerializing without any advice.

Inside the house Saheed is making coffee. Dannie is allergic to cockroaches so she can’t drink the stuff, but Saheed, who is allergic to cochineal beetles and therefore can’t enjoy carmine (i.e. E120 or Natural Red 4, which means he can’t eat fake crab or drink Ruby Red), drinks enough for the two of them. It’s late in the day to be drinking coffee but Saheed, having just read the evening news, has learned that Ryan Reynolds got married at a plantation, and so Saheed has some thoughts of his own. He’s thinking about how the hell could anyone get married at a plantation. Can you imagine, he’s thinking out loud, getting married at a crime scene?

Dannie’s being watched by a squirrel sitting on the neighbor’s fencepost and she’s thinking about how long it’s been watching her, about how many squirrels there could be out there, about what kind of a network they have in the tree limbs and power lines, about how it must glow like an interstate highway at night. The squirrels in Southernalia are as fat as the people and Dannie’s incredibly proud of them, glad for squirrel society for figuring it out—a roof over every squirrel head, three square squirrel meals a day, no real expectation of sudden death at every crossing (at least not any more than Dannie, who carries a concealed .380 in her purse). She’s thinking about eating squirrel, which is something people do in Southernalia, but not her; and never Saheed, who follows a very particular diet.

Saheed, full of caffeine, is thinking about album covers. He used to love music, he remembers that clearly, but that was before he met Dannie, who only likes animal music, or something called whale songs. Dannie likes to listen to whale songs and think about life on other planets when she dances and, while there’s something to be said for the whale songs, it’s not exactly what someone like Saheed would call music. Dannie used to appreciate album art, like Saheed, but only because she didn’t know anything else about the bands, which was unlike Saheed. Saheed receives an alert on his phone—The Atlantic has a new article on the practice of harvesting cochineal from cacti with deer tails, which is something Saheed has taken an interest in. He forgets about album art.

I love Southernalia, thinks Dannie, and I love Saheed, but there’s something they’re failing to see and that frustrates me. What does he want to talk about? Does he want to talk about sex? People talk about sex. People have preferences, people make decisions, people lead and yield. We look stupid but it feels okay. And the faces people make—such ugly, abominable faces, and yet for Saheed, with his mirrors, the faces matter. Saheed reeks of self-hate. It comes from his upbringing, thinks Dannie. No one should have to develop at such a young age. But that’s Saheed and I love him. She picks up a caterpillar and holds it under her nose. She imagines licking it, holding it between gums and her lips, letting it crawl inside her. She doesn’t know why she’s thinking that, and she doesn’t know how to make it stop, but she still prefers it to Saheed’s mirrors.

Saheed, standing in front of the hall mirror, entertains the question himself. I love my life, thinks Saheed, and I love people, I really do, but what is going on? And Saheed feels that it’s okay to ask that, because we all must feel free to ask questions of the people and places that we love. But it’s true that if Saheed didn’t love Southernalia and if he didn’t love Dannie then his questions, word for word, would nonetheless acquire a very different tone. So, his face buried in his phone, he opens his Notes app and records the observation: it’s okay to question the things that you love. Which, thinks Saheed, to use to the colloquial meaning of the term, begs the question: what questions do they have for him, and how should he answer?


Daniel Uncapher is a PhD in Creative Writing student at the University of Utah. His work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Tin House Online, The Carolina Quarterly, Penn Review, and other venues.