Published Spring 2015 in Fine Linen.
The wind made a sound like the house was clearing its throat, and the rain, which had been falling all day, started coming down in sideways sheets. Erika wandered around the house, touching the walls, feeling for something, but she didn’t know what. Out the bedroom window, she saw the hawthorn swelling with buds. She had to get out. Parker had been gone too long. She had stopped counting the weeks.
Her red slicker kept the rain off her head and torso, but her pants were soon soaked, the water headed for her mud-streaked boots. None of it mattered as she tramped on the sandy wet road toward the trees. A gust whipped the hood off her head but she ignored it. The rain pelted her face, prickled her hair, the wind sucked the warmth out of her. Her glasses were useless, dotted with rain, so she bent her head and looked over them at the blurred dark line of trees.
She kept plunking her boots down, one then the other, but the trees kept their distance, the field lengthening with every footfall. Her hair was soaked but she didn’t bother to right her hood. It felt good, the driving rain sharp and stinging on her face. She hadn’t felt anything since Parker left, but she didn’t want to think about that. The thought followed her, nipping her heels like a wild dog. One heel kicked off to run, but the other caught the edge of a gully and she came up sharply, panting, off-balance.
He had left for work before dawn, patting her cheek with a gloved palm. Gloved, like he couldn’t even stand to feel her skin on his. After all these years. How long had he been gone? At what point did she accept his absence? Maybe when he’d been gone as long as he’d been present. She kept moving faster, breath rasping in her throat. The trees, if she could just reach them, but they stood off.
Had there been signs? Had she missed them? Cold rain slithered down her neck and she cried out. It hurt. Her lungs were near bursting with the unaccustomed effort. The goddamned trees, so standoffish, the bastards. She’d show them. Erika yanked down the zipper on her slicker, slowing just enough to regain her breath. With a snarl, she threw off the coat. The wind picked it up and waved it at her in farewell. Or good riddance. Now the wind ate into her sweater. She tore it off, a blue flag taking flight and then pitching into the sodden ground.
Fine, she thought, her bare skin burning with the cold. Like a child, she kicked off the boots, watched them end-over-end and drop with a satisfying wet thunk. Pulling at a sock, she lost her balance and went down, flopping into the sandy soil with surprising ease, an earthworm returned to the earthen home where she belonged.
The edges of her skin smudged with the dirt, her brown hair formed into patterns of sticks and leaves. Erika opened her mouth and took in the soft, wet sand of the path, swallowed and pushed her face into it. She had to get out of the rain and the ground wanted her. Fuck the trees, she thought, I’m taking the ground. Head first, it sucked her in, bit by bit, tight at the shoulders, slipping easily to the hips, then tight again, feet the last to go.
The house sat empty for some time. Everyone forgot the lady who had lived there. No one saw that last flip of a foot going down. Nobody minded. Erika was safe, reborn in the soil, a thousand microbes her friends, the rain filtering through her, the darkness a pure comfort.
By Beth Browne
Published in Summer Shorts II, by Durham Editing and ebooks, June 2014
She parked at the bottom of the driveway, because of the snow. It had been high summer when she had first seen the tiny house. He called it his “Aerie” because it perched on a mountainside and resembled a nest, messy and rough, with a tangle of brambles around it. The elation she had felt when she’d first seen it had been replaced with a heaviness accentuated by the deep snow piled up at the sides of the very long but well maintained dirt road. West Virginia was like that, with achingly steep hills, brushy roadsides and the silent sky slipping through the trees as you drove. Sophie felt as cold as the snow, powdery and blowing on the rocky drive.
Easter Island Man
By Beth Browne
Published in The Rain, Party and Disaster Society, Issue 1, vol. 1, December 2013
On the way there, the conversation is subdued. Driving on the interstate, I pass a truck pulling an open trailer on which is tied a small, shiny black car with rear wheels so big it is raked forward at an impossible angle.
“What is that?” I ask.
Patrick looks up from finding directions on his Blackberry, craning his neck to watch it pass. “That,” he says with a pointed pause, “that is an embarrassment.”
“Ugly Yellow Chrysanthemums”
By Beth Browne
Published in Flashquake, Vol. 7, Issue 3, Spring 2008
The woman at the Whole Foods Market café table looks stricken. She also looks like the writer, Anne Lamott, pre-dreadlocks. Her streaky hair is short and pulled back from her face with a wide black band. She has that dull stunned look of someone who has just watched her house burn down. A man comes and sits with her, his back to me. Blue jeans, five o’clock shadow and wire-rimmed glasses. Something about the thrust of his chin bothers me.
by Beth Browne
Published in Main Street Rag Literary Journal, Summer 2010
It is hot enough, so I slip into the woods behind the beehives and strip. Even in the shade, it is still hot enough to be naked. I leave my hair tied up. Bees don’t like hairy creatures that might be bears come to plunder their honey. By now, they know I am not a bear and have no taste for honey, but it’s no sense taking a chance on confusing them. I don’t want to be stung. I want them to save their venom for the vital they will perform.
From behind the hive, I pry the lid off with a putty knife I brought along for this purpose. They are wicked smart, these little bees. They caulk their home tight with wax and propolis. They swarm out in a rage and then they see it’s me and they calm down. When I first got the bees, I sang to calm my own fright, but I soon saw how they liked it and now I sing just for them. They prefer lively tunes about young maids seduced by wicked young men.
I sing to my little bees about the ways of our world, about how the women toil and the men are useless. This appeals to the bees because they are nearly all female, the males kept fat and lazy for sperm deposits only, the women being in charge of things.
I have no way of testing it, but I believe they are catching on. When I sing of young Tommy McLaughlin, they grow agitated, flying up and buzzing past my ears as if to say, “Yezzzzz, we know about malezzzzz.” I catch them on my arms and let them tickle the small hairs as they explore. I feel them light on my back and hips, but I pay them no mind and they rest a bit and then fly off in search of nectar, pollen and water.
When I sing of sweet Molly Malone, they settle and rub their faces and angle their heads in a posture of consideration. The bees on my skin feel my heat through their feet. They taste my sweat and my fury. They take it in and make it their own. They know who loves them and who is the enemy.
What a grand day it will be when he finally comes and meets my sweet bees. They will cover him like fur with their tiny bodies, thrust their sharp appendages through his worthless skin and feel the ultimate release of poison throbbing deep. Letting go of their little sacs of death, they will fly to me and I will cradle them as they slip away to the music of his tormented anguish.
When all the songs cease, I will retrieve my clothes from the damp leaf carpet, shrug them on and make my way up the field to the house, which was always mine anyway.
“The Wild Flight of Bookshop Chair”
By Beth Browne