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Flash Fiction Reprint: Elizabeth Brinsfield’s “Water-hemmed”

Eliz­a­beth Brins­field


There is a win­dow in my mother’s attic that opens from the floor. When I step out into the warm night and descend three sto­ries and run all the way to the train bridge where you tagged my name, I will not be afraid of peo­ple. I grew up in this town. I will not be afraid of ghosts. I am one. The trees have vel­vety bark here. The maple leaves are green and soft like vel­vet and softly lam­i­nated on ele­men­tary-school walls. The train bridge is low and part of the track that runs to the famil­iar city. Below the bridge slope weeds and branches, vines, a whole world of famil­iar crea­tures. It’s clear to me how I am going to get to my name, what I will have to go through. Every day, I type my map on paper.

But my mother, her route is com­pli­cated. She is going for the blur and the round­about. It’s not from sub­stance alone. Her blur is thought. Every day, she walks out the same attic win­dow into cir­cuitry. She pre­tends to for­get and for­gets to pre­tend. She reads and pre­tends to read. She stares at an empty fire­place. When finally it rings, she answers a tele­phone. I cut her nails over an empty basin. I search for any­thing to feed her from her kitchen.

It is thick sum­mer, all trees. I am run­ning a bath of air. I am run­ning on cut grass and side­walk, in the mid­dle of pave­ment, head­ing east toward hills, toward the bridge where you tagged my name. There is a small steep forest beyond these streets. At the top, there will be city lights.

I walk into the open field. I arrange my mother into flow­ers, the flow­ers of my old dresses. I arrange the flow­ers along these roads and run with the bou­quet. My legs start to hurt—I am not that young any­more. Before I drop through the forest, I will sit on the curb, like I did when I was with you and walk­ing around this town in the mid­dle of night, in the mid­dle of school, and we stopped to rest, and you con­fessed you wrote my name with a bot­tle of spray paint under­neath the train bridge. I wasn’t sure about it. My flat shoes wet with spring, my damp fin­gers folded into fists.

I will tell you what has hap­pened to my mother. Like you did, I will con­fess every­thing at the curb: the sound of phones and type, how I could hear them even over the whir of the car when she was dri­ving me to school, when her car-phone rang on her way to work, and she answered it to find out what was hap­pen­ing in her day. The han­dle of her phone was the size of a rat. The rat is still run­ning around in her brain. I don’t know how to get the rat out of a brain—do you? Where there was an open field, there are now tun­nels made by the rat in the shape of fig­ure eights.

When I am in the front yard, and I look up to the attic, I watch the win­dow­panes become water-hemmed. The train bridge is not too far from here. I can climb up it to get out of this river. If you aren’t sure which one I am, I will be the girl-ghost. I don’t know if you will remem­ber my name. We can look to where you wrote it.


Note: Orig­i­nally pub­lished in the­New­erY­ork.


Author’s Note

I wrote “Water-hemmed” in response to poetry by Eric Baus, specif­i­cally the poem “Mir­ror Seed.” The speaker says: “I fell into an open field” and, speak­ing of birds, “I arranged them into flow­ers.” I copied these lines in my note­book, and from there my piece unfolded quickly. For the title, I bor­rowed the word “water-hemmed” from an unfin­ished poem I’d writ­ten years ago about my birth. I was born and schooled in New Jer­sey, and we spent week­ends and sum­mers sail­ing on the Chesa­peake, but as an adult I’ve lived in the West and now the Mid­west. My writ­ing seems to find focus in feel­ings of nos­tal­gia for my home­town, its trees and peo­ple who are lost to me, plus that time I spent on the water.


Flash Fiction Writer ElizabethEliz­a­beth Brins­field grew up in New Jer­sey, has her MFA from Mon­tana, and lives in Iowa. 

One comment

I liked water-hemmed because the words pulled me right in, giv­ing it atmos­phere that made we won­der, is she real, whats really hap­pen­ing, whats com­ing next? Since I don’t write in this style, I get sucked right in and loved the ten­sion, thanks.

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