I stand on the end of the deck, my hand shielding my eyes from the sun. It’s morning still, but mosquito heat is heavy in the yard, and even the peppers suffer, limp on their stems.
I stare at the lawnmower, which is out of gas. The workers next door are pouring concrete, all noise with the white of the truck and its tires, their stereo cracking reception, the grey dust of their work, their cuticles caked in it, sticking to the lines in their foreheads, their thirst as their hands reach through the fence to pet my dog. The tall one nods a brief hello, his face broken up through the narrow slats.
“I had a beagle growing up,” he says over their music. He scratches behind her red ear and after a moment walks back to his work. She stands watching him.
I call her over, but she crawls under the porch, frantic with the smells. My father kept beagles on our farm, caged in chain-link three feet above the ground. I tried to make them sweet, pulling one out to hold occasionally, only for her to arch away. The men would shake their heads, “we don’t raise them for holding” they’d say. One spring, a whole pack was stolen from the pen, and we woke up to no barking, the chain dangling from the crates, and all that emptiness inside. My father, his fists clenched, said that hungry people sometimes come in the night to steal good hunting dogs, that they hunt with them out of season and usually half starve them into work since it’s new men with new commands. When they come, he said, they carry carrion with them, to quiet any barking. Miraculously, one female made her way back about two days later. When she trotted tiredly up the gravel driveway to us, my father let her sleep in the house from then on, and she was fat with love by winter, sitting between my two brothers on the couch, two boys who were finally allowed some softness after stacking firewood day after day. This dog had been through six litters and watched every puppy sold off, so her retirement to a fat house cat was acceptable. Years later, I showed my girls pictures of the farm with its dogs and tractors and the hungry obedience of those hunting dogs and wide-eyed, they asked for that, having not had anything that wild and good, running around suburbs instead of the drafty cabin at the end of the dirt road. And why couldn’t they have grown up there, they wanted to know. I wanted to tell them why I moved us. The schools, the vaccinations, the tick-borne illnesses to avoid, but they didn’t hear me, as we don’t ever hear over our want.
The ‘It Girl’ of Boca Raton
I was slowly approaching sixty, and all the signs pointed southward. My 38C breasts, which had been stalwart advocates for male attention, now required more strategic support. On the last night of my husband’s shiva, Marcia Bloom told me that my chances for remarriage and financial solvency would improve if I relocated to Florida.
“You can get a mansion with a heated pool for $600,000! You’ll be one of the younger women, instead of just another sunburned dyed blonde in a caftan, drinking too much Chardonnay during the day and chasing men on the golf course. If you migrate early enough, those guys will be speeding after you in their carts!”
I imagined myself being handed a billet-doux by a long line of caddies in Lacoste shirts and conjured a midnight rendezvous at the clubhouse card room. Did I believe that playing shuffleboard encouraged the preservation of eye-hand coordination? Was bingo really a thing? I’d have to ask Marcia.
Flowers are blooming, the lake is warming, and the corn is knee-high—in other words, summer is upon us. But at Hot Flash Fiction, in this season of abundance, we’ve picked two new stories that share a darker theme— death. That’s about the only thing they share, though.
In Hutch, by Allison Cundiff, a woman with Ozark roots, goes out to mow her lawn and gets tangled up in memories of her past as she races to rescue the warren of rabbits in her yard. Cundiff expertly weaves memories of the death of a teenage friend, mothering a premature baby, hunting beagles, baby bunnies and the workman next door in a breathless fever dream that weaves effortlessly between the narrator’s past and present.
Taking another approach entirely, in The ‘It Girl’ of Boca Raton, Mindy Ohringer uses humor to tackle a widow’s fresh start. The Long Island woman contemplates a new life in Florida or following in Joyce Maynard’s footsteps, and while she’s still grieving, her humor (and the piece’s) make it clear that her ambitions shouldn’t be underestimated.
We hope you enjoy both these new stories. – Eliza Amon, Editor