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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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