All The Lonely People /// a poetic flash fiction

tw: childhood (sexual) abuse, PTSD/mental illness


There’s a ringing in the air that she can’t quite place
a little everywhere, every moment, when she turns her head
here and there, like the calm before the storm, like the rising
of a quake, the seismographic shake, and it follows, follows, follows—

She is twenty-nine years old; she works at a bank; she walks to work and back each day; she pays her rent on time.

She calls her mother on Mondays; they talk about the weather; they talk about when she’ll get married, she laughs it off again—

“Mother. Please. I’ll meet someone, when I have the time. It has to be the right man.” And really, it’s a little more complex, because—

She has things in order now. And nothing has to change.

–it follows and it falls in step, the fear of some unstable
puzzle piece that she can’t find – it lives and grows
in the clefts and cracks of her mind, pulsing in the hollow
cavern of her ribcage, where it whispers, whispers, whispers—

She is twenty-nine years old; she runs on Sunday mornings; she does her groceries on Wednesdays at the local store; she donates to the Mission when she’s got some extra cash, and she keeps meaning to go to the shelter for a cat—

There is nothing wrong with any of this. The picture is intact. So what’s missing? What’s missing? What’s missing?

Does she want it back?

–it whispers things that she can’t hear and she doesn’t want to,
the sibilance erases all the consonance away,
leaves her only with the vowel-shaped impression
of a guilty conscience and a ghost that’s rising, rising, rising—

They don’t talk about it, her and her mother, they never have and never will, they dodge around it in conversation, there’s no call on the anniversary.

The dead have no power over the living. That’s what they say; she is twenty-nine years old and the departed have no sway. She works at a bank. She walks to work and back each day. She pays her rent on time, she wants to get a cat—

–all these little facts like cards in stacks and when one starts to bend she tries so hard to put it back.

Everything’s just fine. Don’t worry. When she calls her mother, she doesn’t hit a dial tone or get told it’s the wrong number. When she talks to her mother, she doesn’t hear another voice, whispering in the background about how she made her choice—

Nightmares, nightmares, stay where I put you.

–it rises and it rises like the tide and salt-born sea
and bone-dust and fossil and petrified-black hearts
and she has managed so far so why not manage more
the mind’s a crystal palace but the body keeps the score—

She is twenty-nine years old; she runs on Sunday mornings; she tries not to look at red flags as invitations and not warnings. The storm’s been over now for years and still new things keep dawning, like how not acknowledging a ghost doesn’t stop its haunting, and—

–has anybody noticed that she never joins the games? Of ‘Never have I Ever’ and ‘Spin the Bottle’ and ‘Truth and Three Lies’?

–have people started noticing the way she holds her keys? Claws at her knuckles, she’s so quick to improvise–

–have they wondered idly why she’s terrified when punished? Like it’s just an excuse for something worse, something hidden in the dirt and crawling words–

–have they ever asked, or thought, about the cut-out pretty hole
that’s left in her mantra when she recites her normal, normal days
there are lots of absent fathers, there’s nothing special here
except the fact that she won’t leave a door unlocked
or that she hasn’t kissed a man without a knifeblade in her heart—

She is twenty-nine years old.

She will hit thirty soon; her father will be ten years dead; she will quit her job without knowing just why she’s doing it; she will stop running, her vigilance too acute; she will ‘think about’ the cat forever but never get around to it; she will keep insisting that there is nothing wrong.

–does she remember? It kind of depends
on the day, the hour, the moment you ask, which shadows shade her face,
which stone she’s last engraved, whether she’s been saved or safe
little illusions keep you numb, shove the corpse behind the door
the mind’s an easy swindle but the body keeps the score.

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