“Out of the Fields” by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw—selected as the Second Place winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest—is a tender, melancholy exploration of the relationship between step-mother and daughter. In only a few hundred words, Cofrin-Shaw delivers a rich emotional experience of loss and love through the perspective of a tenuous and fragile relationship.
“Comatose? I say. She was shaking earlier and then started breathing heavily, but she was not comatose. ”
I don’t know where the name Lucy came from. I imagine it meant something to Isabelle’s mother; Lucy was her dog. I used to wonder why she didn’t take the dog with her. Sometimes my husband calls Lucy the name of his ex-wife when he doesn’t know I’m around. He sings it out softly when they’re leaving for a walk, or whispers it as he pets her nose early in the morning when he goes to start the coffee.
Isabelle is sitting very still in the passenger seat with the dog taking up her whole lap. Lucy stopped shaking, Isabelle tells me. It’s true, the dog isn’t twitching anymore. Her body’s curled up like a stone with her face and paws hidden, so that the subtle rise and fall of this stone as it breathes is somehow surreal.
This is the first time my husband’s ever left me in charge of his daughter for more than a few days and it’s getting easier and easier to make mistakes. I didn’t tie up Isabelle’s hair when we were baking and now the ends hold clumps of frosting. When I lean too close I can feel the heat from Isabelle’s sunburned shoulders, though I know he won’t ask after forgotten sunscreen.
Each house we pass is a slight, grey smudge on the street, like small piles of driftwood staggered at low tide. The houses are old, but ours is made new by too many appliances and too few books, remains of the woman that came before me. Neighbors have been disappearing quickly, I’ve noticed, no doubt due to four cases of cancer that popped up within a few years of one another and caused families to flee, fearing the pesticides from the fields. I’ve only lived here five months, but sometimes I feel these pesticides in my breath, falling from my skin in the shower.
Stop that, I tell Isabelle. She’s shuffling around to scratch her neck. Try to keep the dog still, we don’t want her throwing up all over the place, I say. I don’t mean for it to come out cold. I’m trying to be warm toward the girl, but sometimes I slip.
There are empty fields out of both of our windows with dust rising from their bones. Up ahead are the same tall buildings that can be seen from our front yard. Isabelle used to draw those buildings before bed, speckled yellow dots as lighted windows. She revealed them to her father once and said it was New York City. With one hand petting Lucy, he explained that New York was too far away to be seen, and those were only the tall buildings of the University a town away.
When we arrive at the clinic, a woman in green scrubs takes Lucy from my arms. I follow her into a room with a cold steel table and she asks me when Lucy first became comatose.
Comatose? I say. She was shaking earlier and then started breathing heavily, but she was not comatose.