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The New Normal

by Karen Schauber

Harper climbs the fence, straddling the railing while he kicks off rubber snake boots, setting his toes free to wiggle and probe. He hoists himself up into the loins of the tupelo tree looming large in front of Mamie’s floating shack. His phalanges grip grey furrowed bark and he scampers up its trunk with the agility of a feral spider monkey. Gnats encircle his head, clambering for morsels of sweat, pus, and blood. 

Mamie watches her wayward son from below, knowing nothing she says will keep him down, keep him home. She is grateful that he will accept food from her, that she catches a glimpse of him from time to time, maneuvering along the switchback of bald cypress, tupelo, and pumpkin ash trees. The sentinels of the swamp his refuge. 

Today Harper has descended from the canopy. Her birthday. She prepares a jambalaya with shrimp and andouille sausage, onion, okra and celery; heavily dousing the dish with cayenne. Smoke infused with the piquant aroma forces its way deep into the bayou, cajoling him home. Mello Yello if he touches right down onto the porch, she promises. 

The last flood took his pa away. The pneumonia swift and decisive. Damned near put her under too. Mamie sent Harper up into the trees, high above the swelling waters, where he would be safe. Didn’t expect the adaptations to take such a fierce hold though. Harper’s new proclivities an improvement to be sure. Prehensile tail now fully formed. 

She packs up the leftovers in the checkered tablecloth and Harper ascends back up into the trees; her heart tucked warm under his jersey.

Karen Schauber is a Flash Fiction writer obsessed with the form. Her work appears in 30 international literary magazines and anthologies, including Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, Carpe Arte, Ekphrastic Review, Ellipsis Zine, and Fiction Southeast. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage, 2019), celebrating the Canadian modernist landscape painters, is her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology. Schauber runs ‘Vancouver Flash Fiction’, a flash fiction Resource Hub and Critique Circle, and in her spare time, is a seasoned Family Therapist. A native of Montreal, she has called Vancouver home for the past three decades. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lead image: “Bark” (via Flickr user Whatknot)