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Flash Reprint: Katie Cortese’s “Swallowed”


by Katie Cortese


I didn’t really know the girl, so I’m not as sad as I should be. And any­way, time makes things blurry. There are peo­ple who’ll say Maria Alvareño never lived here in Phoenix, or maybe that she never existed. All I know is I was in the stands with my boyfriend Lenny when she made that back­wards Hail-Mary-sec­onds-tick­ing-down shot from half-court. She was pretty enough to make Lenny want an eye­ful. We lost the game, sure, but Maria won over the crowd; espe­cially los chicos.


Girl got eaten by an orange. Lenny saw it too. We were behind the Cir­cle K wait­ing for his brother to pick us up. There’s an alley there and Maria came down it with two guys, rolling oranges down the road so they’d spray juice every­where and leave this dark trail behind like a sticky shadow. I was gonna make a joke about the sticky trail when Lenny’s face blanked.


I looked over and saw Maria hop­ping around on those long, bas­ket­ball legs and scream­ing so rough my own throat felt raw. Nor­mally, I wouldn’t want Lenny to watch since the skirt she had on just hopped along with her, but by then both of us were past car­ing what color her under­wear was. Maria was wav­ing one arm around. First thing I saw was how much shorter it looked than her other arm; next thing is that where her wrist should’ve been there was only a round orange blob–with teeth, like nails.


Thing ate like a fuck­ing piranha, up past her elbow, drops of blood falling pit­ter-pat to the road. Just a lit­tle orange ball, chow­ing down. It moved fast. We heard it snap­ping her bones like fresh stalks of cel­ery. It ate until the scream­ing stopped, then swal­lowed the scraps.


I didn’t know her. The orange thing stayed in the street for min­ute, grin­ning at us through its red­dened rind, but before me and Lenny could get up to run it had rolled itself into the gut­ter.


Poof: per­dido. Never to return.


There are some who say Maria deserved what she got; girls whose novios had watched her play and for­feited their hearts. As for me, I don’t eat oranges any­more, but then I never liked them much. For me, any­way, it’s no great loss.



Note: This story orig­i­nally appeared in the sec­ond print issue of NANO Fic­tion (Vol­ume 1, Issue 2, 2007), and was included in that journal’s print anthol­ogy: We Like It Fast: Writ­ing Prompts and Model Sto­ries from the Edi­tors and Con­trib­u­tors of NANO Fic­tion (2014).


Author’s Note

This story was the first piece of flash fic­tion that I ever wrote and it came out of an assign­ment to write “an impos­si­ble story.” I was liv­ing in Tempe, Ari­zona then, and I was expe­ri­enc­ing my first Feb­ru­ary there, which is when the cit­rus trees start bloom­ing and the whole city is suf­fused in a per­fume that I still dream about where I live now, in com­pa­ra­bly less lush West Texas. There were so many lit­tle white petals every­where that one day soon after I’d got­ten the assign­ment, I started imag­in­ing the sur­plus of oranges and kumquats and lemons that all those blos­soms would pro­duce, way more than any­one could eat. I pic­tured heaps of fruit clog­ging gut­ters and rot­ting on lawns (which is what ended up hap­pen­ing with the grape­fruit tree in my back yard), and before I knew it this story was born.


Katie Cortese Headshot.jpgKatie Cortese is the author of Girl Power and Other Short-Short Sto­ries (ELJ Pub­li­ca­tions, 2015), and holds an MFA from Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity and a PhD from Florida State. Her work has recently appeared in Gulf Coast, Black­bird, The Bal­ti­more Review, and else­where. She teaches in the cre­ative writ­ing pro­gram at Texas Tech Uni­ver­sity where she also serves as the fic­tion edi­tor for Iron Horse Lit­er­ary Review.


FF.Net Edi­tor Com­men­tary (Ran­dall Brown) 

The sur­real just hap­pens, with no warn­ing. When it arrives, it’s treated as it was always there, in the world, wait­ing. This piece, for me as a flash writer, serves as a great model for mak­ing the sur­real hap­pen. Orange you glad you read it?

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