Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today’s prompt is to give physical form to an idea.
For today’s prompt, let’s take something intangible—like an idea—and give it a physical body.
Remember: As mentioned yesterday, these prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.
(Note: If you happen to run into any issues posting, please just send me an e-mail at email@example.com with the subject line: Flash Fiction Challenge Commenting Issue.)
Here’s my attempt at giving physical form to an idea:
Sweat rolled down my spine and soaked into the lining of my bra. I regretted asking for an outdoor table. Moving north to Maine had made me soft, made me forget the solid humidity of Maryland summers.
I’d thought my fox would feel better outside where it could feel the slight breeze, see all the escape routes, but here it was, gnawing my ankle bloody. I fiddled with the starch-crisp linen napkin in my lap and straightened the silverware next to the bread plate, staunchly ignoring him.
I sat up straight and let my mother kiss both my cheeks. My father took his seat across from me with a soft grunt. From his spot in my mother’s purse, her fox gazed out at me, eyes glassy and stupid, before she swung the bag under the tablecloth and flashed me a sunny grin.
“So happy we’re doing this,” my mother said. “Just like old times!”
My father was already preoccupied with the cocktail menu. I watched my mother smooth her hair and study me. I cleared my throat and gave her a small smile.
The waiter swooped in and took our orders. My parents ordered bloody Mary’s and passion fruit mimosas to go with their egg white omelets and fruit cups; I asked for extra lemon for my water and the deep-fried French toast, extra chocolate sauce. I thought my father would say something, but he just shook his head.
“When’s your flight out?” my mother asked after a quiet few minutes.
“Three days,” I said. My fox paused in his chewing, pleased by the thought of going home, before his needle teeth started picking at my exposed heel again.
“You should come over and have dinner before you leave,” my mother said. “I’ll make pot roast and we’ll sit on the porch.”
“I’m wrapping up this project, Wendy,” my father said, frowning.
“Well, John, you don’t have to be there,” my mother said snippily.
My fox sunk its teeth into my calf.
“What project are you working on?” I asked, desperate for distraction.
My father huffed and squinted out over the golf course. “It’s confidential. But the client is someone you would know.”
I fidgeted with my napkin some more while my fox let out a hollow whine. No one said anything for a while. A few tables over, a young couple were leaning toward each other across the table, fingers intertwined. Their foxes were snuffling each other near their feet, quiet and slow.
“Tell us something, Andi,” my mother chirped suddenly. She waggled her half-empty mimosa at me. “What’s new with you?”
My fox barked once. Might as well get it over with.
“I actually started seeing a therapist,” I said. “It’s been helping a lot, especially with coping with the dissertation process.”
“A therapist?” My father’s brow furrowed so intensely that a close-up photograph might have been mistaken for the Grand Canyon.
“Yes,” I said.
My parents glanced at each other before my mom’s patented smile was back in full force. “I’m so happy to hear it’s helping you. Tell us more about your dissertation?”
“Just a minute now.” My father paused and waited for the staff to set our food in front of us. No one made a move toward to eat.
My fox dug his blunt claws into my foot and dragged his teeth through tough scars and new, tender flesh. His barking sounded dull because his mouth was full of my blood.
“Why are you seeing a therapist?” my father asked when everyone was out of earshot.
My mother jumped to my defense. “She said her dissertation—”
“Actually,” I said, feeling a little brave even as blood soaks my new white sandal. “It’s because I’ve been having a really hard time controlling my fox.”
“Your fox?” My father scoffed.
“Yes,” I said. “A lot of people struggle with their foxes.”
“It’s just a fox,” he argued. “Everyone had a hard time with their fox now and then.”
My mother, who knew as well as I that my father had never had a fox for more than a few days, stared down at her plate, expression flat. I thought about the way she massaged creams into her scars every morning before she slipped into her expensive pantyhose and cashmere sweaters. I thought of the way the medication turned her fox into a drooling, docile weight she had to carry around like the mockery of a Pomeranian.
“Well, some of us need some help with our foxes,” I said. “And there isn’t anything wrong with it. In fact, mine has only gotten smaller since I started going.”
“But therapy is—”
“I didn’t actually ask for your opinion,” I said suddenly. I took a sip of water before picking up my silverware. “And I would like to enjoy the rest of this meal, so I won’t be discussing this anymore with you.”
After a moment of stillness, my mother picked up her fork and did what she did best—filled the silence between us with upbeat updates of what the neighbors are doing. It took my father a few more long moments, but he picked up his fork and refocused his eyes to the table.
I was halfway through my breakfast before I realized that my fox was no longer hurting me. A peek under the table and I noticed that he had let go and pressed his warm body into the damage he’d caused. He breathed slowly, steadily. I reached down and scratched that spot behind his ears, reassuring, reassuring.