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Flash Fiction

Precipitate by Silver Webb

Precipitate | By Silver Webb

Leonard had forgotten Christmas. Or he’d forgotten her on Christmas. And it was easier to think that it was one rather than the other. 

Laney turned on her heater, a red enamel stove. Nietzsche sometimes singed his fur on it when he sauntered by, flicking his tail like the baton of a band leader.

She opened the window in the door that led to the moon-dark patio.  

“Rain at 9. Phone says so,” she remarked to Nietzsche, who lurked under the unfortunate Christmas tree. Unfortunate because it was not green, not even silver. It was blood red. The red of dahlias or a femme fatale’s lipstick. A Type-O tree. The kind Dracula might order, were he in the habit of celebrating the birth of Christ. 

It was not that she was in love with Leonard. There was not enough illusion left to weave a romance with. She knew that he failed at most endeavors, that many women had loved him and lost by it, that he cared truly about a few things, and she had been one of those things, for a few minutes. And although she excelled at killing herself in the figurative sense, was actually quite bad at killing herself literally, she had come to Leonard so bruised to begin with, that it was a disappointment akin to summoning one last sigh, after having the air punched out of you by a ruthless fist. No, she was not in love with Leonard. It was that he knew how to have conversations that mattered. 

Laney plugged in the tree. Red as the flaming torch of Hades. Nietzsche blinked at her from his perch under it, dissatisfied and murderous. Laney checked the weather app. 100% chance of precipitation at 9 p.m. Yet it was perfectly still through the window screen, no hint of violent clouds massing.

She opened her email and wrote:

Dear Target,

I ordered the silver tinsel tree. I received a blood red tinsel tree instead. There is not enough time to return it. So I put it up with ornaments. It has been called “Rosemary’s Tenenbaum,” and “Tree of Terror” by friends. When my black cat sits under it, his eyes glow, like the tree is a vortex into hell. If this doesn’t summarize 2020, what does? 

Best,

Laney Brecht

She sent the email, then checked for texts. Nothing. 

It must be terrible for Leonard, to slowly forget everything. But how much worse to be the one who is slowly forgotten. 

It was raining now, the weather app said. She heard only the lone drip of the garden hose among the darkened camellias and bougainvillea, the lemon and orange trees in terracotta pots, even the rosemary plant that Leonard had gifted her. 

“What’s its name?” she’d asked.

“It needs a name?”

“I think that would be nice.”

“Aida, then.”

She wondered if she was like Aida, like the rosemary. When he forgot her completely, when it came to that, would it kill her? Would she die for lack of sun? That is what Leonard was, something warm and illuminating. Oxygen when she couldn’t find a breath.

The downside of being quiet and stoic is that everyone assumes that if you ask for nothing, you need nothing. Except Leonard. He never assumed. She told him once, “I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t considered suicide.” And he nodded, said, “Suffering is the way we write, the way we paint, maybe the only reason to do either.” He’d given her one of his hugs then. Warm and deep, not in a hurry, not afraid. 

Laney’s pulse sparked at a blip in her email. But it was from customer service, not Leonard.

“Well, let’s see what they say, Nietzsche.” 

Dear customer, we’ve refunded the $25.59 for your purchase. We’re sorry it didn’t meet your expectations. 

Laney felt cheated that it only took two minutes for their bots to initiate a refund. 

She wanted to call Leonard, tell him about the blood-red tree, the irony in grasping for a sense of connection from an automated reply, the modern alienation of looking to her phone rather than the sky to tell the weather. And they would proceed to have a conversation that mattered.

But if she called him now, it would go to voicemail, she could predict this better than any fortune teller. She put on her socks with the peppermint stripes, slipped under the covers, placed her phone on the pillow opposite hers, the one a lover might’ve occupied. If she had a lover.  

The sound was like the prickle of skin, if the prickle of skin could make a sound. Rain. A few drops of it. Finally. Off kilter, snickering and snapping, the kind of jazz people say they understand, although they do not. Miles Davis rain. A blood red nail tapping against glass. How futile, to describe something as simple as water falling from the sky. 

She texted, The rain sounds like eggs frying and popping in a pan. Merry Christmas, sweetheart. XOXO. 

Leonard would check his texts in a few days. In a week, he’d call, say, “Was I supposed to call you?” And she would ask him what he’d been doing on Christmas Eve. Drinking brandy, she thought, and watching Fellini films, and forgetting, forgetting, forgetting.

As if it was in a hurry, as if it knew the weather app had been stalling, lying on its behalf, the rain suddenly bloomed and ballooned into something musical, hitting the roof, a humming, luminous sound like distant applause, a symphony swelling, then a furor, something ruthless, like the fist that had stolen her breath. In the dark, it must be washing away dirt, flooding the patio, floating the fallen camellia’s away. When the sun rose tomorrow, brilliant and warm, it would light on cherry-red bricks, new-born palms, a Rosemary named Aida. All the verdant world wiped clean of memory’s dust, gleaming and new. 

About the Author:

Silver Webb is the editor and founder of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her nonfiction has been featured in Food & Home, Still Arts Quarterly, The Pacifica Post, and other websites. Her fiction and poems have been accepted by Peregrine, Burgeon, Danse Macabre, Underwood, and Pink Panther, as well as the anthologies The Tertiary Lodger, Delirium Corridor, and Running Wild. She has participated as a panelist at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference and the Santa Barbara Library Local Authors Day.You can find more details at silverwebb.com and santabarbaraliteraryjournal.com.