Rumpus Flash Fiction: “Simoom,” by Anna North

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Rumpus books editor, Andrew Altschul, has edited a new anthology of flash fiction. Fivers: Flash Fiction for the Phone includes stories by Rumpus columnist Kaui Hart Hemings, as well as Lemony Snicket, Joshua Furst, and others. Here’s a sample.

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Simoom
by Anna North

When my sister’s baby was born with no legs, just little toes coming out of her hips, and my brother went out for a drink and came back with viral meningitis, and my father started raving about a railroad yard, my mother blamed the wind. And when my father left and my mother too went crazy and carved into every wooden surface of our house a name that wasn’t hers or his, a name I’d never heard before, I asked what she was doing. She made me get down the dictionary.

“Simoom,” I read, “a hot, wet wind prevalent in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.”

I looked up at her as she ground a double “o” into the cupboards.

“We don’t live in Syria, Mom.”

She hit my knuckles with the flat side of the knife. Later I went down to the river and watched the ice break into chunks and roll downstream. It was the third of January and fifty-nine degrees. Even the birds were killing each other. I stomped on the slushy ground to break up a scrum of Canada geese; they flew off screaming like pigs. On the feathered ground lay the last one, flayed and heaving. I knelt to look at her.

“My sister’s baby has no legs,” I said, “and my brother’s cooking in his own blood. My dad left and my mom is carving up our house with a word I can’t pronounce.”

The hot, wet wind blew a gust in my face. The goose lifted up her head and made a sound like the memory of a goose. I saw that she wanted me to kill her.

“No way,” I said. “Too much of that already.”

I held her in my arms and I took her home, where my mother had carved everything there was to carve. We put the goose in the bathtub and wound her around with toilet paper. We lit a candle next to her head. My mother and I took turns watching her that night. In the morning she was dead, but the wind had stopped, and my father came home smelling like coal and dust and rubber. At first we thought he’d lost his speech; then we gave him oatmeal and he began telling the old jokes again. My brother’s fever broke that morning too. By nightfall he was sitting up and drinking broth from a mug.

My sister’s baby was the only one of our family who didn’t survive the simoom. She died in the evening, silent, while we were looking in the Bible for her name. We buried her and the goose at sunrise, just before the snows came back and locked up the ground again.

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Anna North’s fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, where it was nominated for a National Magazine Award. Her nonfiction has appeared in such publications as the San Francisco Chronicle and the SF Weekly, and she is a regular contributor to Jezebel.com. For more great flash fiction, download Fivers, Vol. 1 for your phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Andrew Altschul was the founding Books Editor at The Rumpus. He is an O. Henry Prize-winning short story writer and the author of the novels Deus Ex Machina and Lady Lazarus. Currently, he directs the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University. More from this author →