We are so excited to share with you “Spies” by Timothy Schirmer today—selected as the Third Place winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. “Spies” takes you into the heat of a family broken by divorce, exploring the disjointed relationships between parents and children. With poetic punch, Schirmer’s complex story quickly takes shape around avian imagery and untidy emotions.
“Honestly, I don’t have the stomach, the way they curl around your fingers, and you have to cut them into tiny pieces before they’ll stop moving. ”
I was nineteen when my mom remarried. It was the smallest wedding I’ve ever been to. They wanted it outside, in God’s country. Her God. The sky was clear and the air smelled of pine trees. The mountains were a red clay color and they surrounded us in elegant formations. The minister wore all black and I think that bothered my mom because he looked too formal, he looked like a priest with his shirt buttoned up so tight. In a cage that sat on the ground the minister had with him two white birds. My brother tapped me on the shoulder and he whispered, “What’s happening with the birds?” I said, “I’m not sure.” They were fluffing their feathers and making soft hooting sounds in their throats.
When we were boys our mom told us she was an atheist. Sometimes though—on rare occasions—she could be overheard saying to someone, “My church is at the top of a mountain.” Or, “My church is when the sun comes up and I’m on my bike.” Back in those days she was a triathlete. She would wake in the dark to run and bike and swim each morning before work. Her muscles looked like stones under her tanned skin. Now, once a month I go to a gym and I check for this inheritance inside myself. I still can’t jog for more than ten minutes without laser beams of pain in my chest.
She wore a simple dress that ended at her knees. It was white with shoulder pads and beads on it. That’s the first thing my dad wanted to know, and that’s what I told him, almost verbatim. I only mentioned the shoulder pads because I remembered once when he said that shoulder pads make women look like middle school quarterbacks. Then he asked my brother a different question. Our strategy was to answer him honestly, but with scant, colorless details. We were like captured spies, obtusely cooperating. Though there wasn’t much to tell. It had been a small, quiet wedding.