Congratulations to Amy Wright for winning second place for flash prose in the 2020 WNBA Writing Contest!
You can read “Leaves” below.
The leaves crackle underfoot like the brittle bones of extinct woodland creatures as we walk through the towering oaks. Denuded of foliage, the mossy boughs and each knobby twig are outlined against the dull, gray sky. We are silent; not the content, sweet silence of a couple sparking with love, but the sad quiet that presages an argument when it ends.
We take these walks often, as our therapist, Susan, directs to connect our hearts in nature. I have the impression that she reads her advice from some listicle on Buzzfeed or Blinker. We have already tried soul gazing and shared baths. But he hates eye contact and getting into the tub hurts my knees.
“Bunny,” I say, breaking the silence. “That’s three for me.” It’s a game we play, counting the wildlife. He almost always wins. He’s more observant, or more intent on winning; his brown eyes scanning the woods with concentration he usually reserves for video games.
That’s one of our always fights — the video games. His passion, he says, though why a grown man devoted hours to battling monsters in a fake world I couldn’t fathom. I wanted to work on puzzles, or make authentic drunken noodles, or watch television snuggled with our Labrador, Gideon.
“Squirrel,” James says. He snaps a picture to post on Instagram. I assume that his feed is just squirrels, rabbits, and the occasional chipmunk. James looks pleased. He’s taken the lead in our game again. He has on his winter coat, an ugly quilted orange thing, and it irritates me unreasonably.
“Why did you have to wear that coat?” I ask. I frown and kick the leaf carcasses. James’s steps slow as he surveys the forest floor strewn with broken branches and pieces of trash, disturbing my loping stride. I wish I could leave him behind. I like to feel like I’m making progress, that I’m doing something that matters.
The sun comes out and sits on the lumpy clouds like margarine refusing to melt over mashed potatoes. It feels so good that I can almost forget that that fear and loneliness, our constant companions, have consumed us like a nightmare.
I realize James has fallen behind and turn to find him shoelaces-deep in a muddy streambed taking pictures of a mossy log. “Cool log,” I say, trying to appreciate this mundane artifact. “You want to keep going? It’ll be dark soon.”
“Sure!” James says cheerfully. “Maybe we’ll get to the end of the trail.” He says this every time, but we’d yet to complete the long boardwalk hike.
He turns to walk back, and his shoe sticks in the mud. He pulls, and gyrates, but he’s stuck. “Woah,” he says, almost falling. “Hey, can you come help?” He sees my eye roll and adds, “Please. I’m totally stuck.”
I sigh but clamber down the slick embankment and grab a large stick. I kneel and try to carve out the mud around the sole, but it slurps back as quickly as I shift it. I grab James’s ankle and tug as hard as I can, as hard as I want to cry, as hard as I want to heal the morass between us. I lose my grip and am flung forcefully back into the mud with a squelch. I start to rise, slip, and fall backwards again.
James bends to help, but his knees buckle, and he falls beside me with a grunt. We’re both too stunned to move. My boots and legs are slimed and stink, and I can feel wetness start to soak through. James’s shoe has come off and mud oozes over the side. He glances at me and begins to laugh. I stare at him and say, “It isn’t funny.” But he just laughs and grabs my muddy hand with his.
“You’re such a dirty girl,” he says, his eyes crinkling in that adorable way I always used to love. He leans forward suddenly and plants a kiss on my forehead. “I will love and cherish you forever.”
He said this to me at our wedding at a small church near our house. He still said it, and he still meant it, even when I snapped at him. He was steadfast, unwavering, when I often was not. But now I turn to him with all the love my flawed heart can muster and kiss him as the cold earth leaches the warmth from my body.
Amy Wright, aka Bonesaw, is a flash fiction and short story writer from Ypsilanti, Michigan. She teaches wildly popular classes on vegan topics and enjoys making vegan cheese and epic vegan s’mores. She is currently Head of Communications for Penguicon, a tech, sci-fi, and DIY convention.
View the list of all of the 2020 WNBA Writing Contest winners.