Today, we are thrilled to publish “A History That Brings Me to You” by Katie M. Flynn, the second-place winner of our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers. This story astounded us. It toggles between the point-of-view of a twelve-year-old girl whose parents are in the midst of a divorce and a neighbor across the way. The manner in which their narratives coalesce—and differ—is what makes this story so beautiful.
“Her father. That’s who her mother had been on the phone with. She knew that tone, that specific tenor of anger—only for him. Her mother hated him, the girl realized. Her mother hated her father. And then she knew it: he would have had to have done something truly terrible to make her mother hate him so, for her to carry this much rage.”
The Watson girl had only been missing a matter of minutes, yet she could feel the tension mounting, the disaster taking shape. Her cousins were calling her name loudly, angrily, like she should reveal herself, but there was no way she was going to do that. At home she’d given up on hide and seek. All the spots in her flat Tulsa house had long ago been scouted and discovered. Her mother had to pretend not to know where she was, and that wasn’t any fun, so the Watson girl played other games. But here, in Mankato, Minnesota, in a game that sprawled her aunt and uncle’s two-bedroom apartment and the mortuary below, hiding spots abounded. At first, she’d wandered the showroom, running her hands along those shiny wooden caskets with their silken insides, considered climbing in. No, that would have been too obvious. So she pushed past the door her uncle had specifically said not to open, the only room in the whole place where she wasn’t supposed to go. It was obvious why, the dead woman lying on a table, her pores showing like caverns through unevenly applied foundation, her cheeks green despite the clownish pink blush. The girl gently poked the woman’s cheek. Then she tried to lift an eyelid, which didn’t come easily, until she saw why—a flesh-colored disc, spiked and holding it in place. She pulled away, the eyelid half raised to terrifying effect, the spiked disc poking out.
She climbed into the waiting coffin, which she assumed belonged to the dead woman, who was not old in the way of a grandmother, but middle-aged like the Watson girl’s mother and very slender in her pale blue skirt suit. The girl liked the color choice, the shade of sky, and it made her like the woman, and she told her so, “I like you,” before she closed the lid, marveling at the chill the white silken fabric pulled from her skin. She was alive, in a dead woman’s box, and she knew she shouldn’t be there. Still, she didn’t get out. She did, however, reach down and remove her shoes, placing them on her chest so she’d be the only thing they’d dirty.
She could hear her cousins, those giants. They were teenage, the girl a senior who played center on the high school’s basketball team and had colossal thighs, always in shorts. The boy was only a year younger and stocky, a football player and a bit of a lady’s man, she’d heard her aunt say to her mother over their afternoon cocktail. He liked to tickle the Watson girl, who was twelve and still had the arachnid legs of a child, to get on top of her and make her laugh until a little pee escaped, a type of torture. He was handsome in a mean way and she was afraid of him. She could hear them on the other side of the door, trying to decide what to do. They agreed to check the yard out front, and she heard them go, and she was glad.