A Caregiver’s Return to Her Childhood Home by Katherine Ann Davis
Associate fiction editor Mike Berry on today's bonus story: The way Katherine Davis creates tension through language in “A Caregiver’s Return to Her Childhood Home” is breathtaking. Literally, Davis gives us these long, winding sentences founded on sonic notes that leave the reader breathless and yearning to keep moving with this caregiver and the missing cat in the middle of a wicked storm. The language builds the characters’ impending danger and wrenches the gut with short, staccato accented sentences, which really made me need to know how they’re going to survive, and ultimately, how will we?
A Caregiver’s Return to Her Childhood Home
The light bulbs crackle and buzz, and the microwave heating the cup of milk growls, and you know you ought to just unplug the cord and forget about last time. Forget that you were ever thirteen. Don’t think of the cat carrier that went missing from the basement or of your bodies huddled beneath the spare mattress or of the scratches on your arms and your forehead, or the bloody claws and the mess of fur, the screeches, the sputters, the way she pushed off your chest and bounded through shattered glass and the siren drone, or of the growing distance between you visible only in flashes—later, in dreams—as you, breathless, coughing, willed yourself through the doorway. Forget that you were ever a child, even, and don’t think of your father’s hand circling your wrist to wake you, to touch your fingers against his nostrils and check for your scent after you’d gone to bed and slid your nightgown up to your hips, to pull you into the bathroom and lather your hands in his and spill soapsuds onto the pink rug. And later to squeeze your ankle and fell you to the cement floor with a thud drowned by thunder just as you decided to run away, chunk of glass in your shin, intent on rescuing your friend. Forget everything. Focus on storm windows jammed into rotting sills and candles and matches and backup batteries for your flashlight and radio, and the rain that is hissing, now beating, overhead like it wants to steal more than cattails and hollyhocks and the roof over the garage this time. Focus. Can you hear your father open the screen door? He carries a chipped saucer without the cup he’s forgotten in the microwave and shouts into the overgrowth, lightning is good for the crops, and he chokes on rain that stings his eyes and soaks the foyer walls, and he trips on the porch steps, catches the rail, and hoists himself with the push broom he uses for a cane, intent on rescuing his farm. And then your panicked skids across the kitchen linoleum and onto the porch, and then the clench of your fist around your father’s hand, wet and bony and something sharp—you should’ve helped him cut his fingernails—and then the empty saucer hurtles toward the ragweed, and then the screen door slams shut, and then four feet pound the basement stairs, and then your father trembling, crying, says he’s sorry without saying why, and you think maybe he can’t say why and maybe you’ve forgotten why anyway, and then you stand him on scattered newspapers when the lights flicker again, and you wrap him in the thickest quilt you can find, the one still covered in cat hair.
Katherine Ann Davis's most recent work appears in Broad River Review and Gravel and is forthcoming in Punchnel's. She won Gigantic Sequins's 2014 Flash Fiction Contest and placed third in the Zoetrope: All-Story 2015 Short Fiction Contest. Currently, she lives in Wisconsin, serves as a fiction editor for 3Elements Review, and is completing her first novel.