This is the seventh story in this summer’s online Flash Fiction series. You can read the entire series, and our Flash Fiction stories from 2017 and 2018, here.
I have a wish. It’s an exceptional wish. But I want you to listen.
I want you to give me what I’m asking you for. Sit down. You’ve come because I called for you. I’m grateful for that.
I’m having trouble with my faith. I’m scared all the time. I’m scared now. Can you tell? I’ll say this briefly. I want you to promise me that they’ll live. The children. My husband. I want them to live. Nothing must happen to them.
You know what I’m talking about. It has to stop. I can’t protect them anymore. I can’t stay awake like this. I need to lay my head down, heavily, the way I could if I knew there would be a new day tomorrow. The morning has to be clear and bright. The light stirring their little bodies from sleep. You must take away the darkness forever.
It’s not an easy thing to do. But it’s in your power.
Let me tell you about the children. Let me describe them to you, so you can see them. So you know who they are inside. You wouldn’t want to harm them if you knew them like I do.
There they are. There we all are, together. At the table in the kitchen. See how they struggle. They’re so small and already they struggle. See the darkness over them. They feel it. But they don’t know what it is. That’s our eldest daughter beside me. Can you see her thin arms in her nightdress? The way she holds the buttered bread in her hand?
Her sister’s sitting opposite. She’s drinking milk from her sippy cup. Her movements are filled with her very own joy. Often, she skips when she walks or runs. Her strong little body is bursting with energy. My husband is sitting next to her. He’s reading the newspaper. Drinking his coffee. Our youngest is just a year old. He’s eating porridge with his fingers. His pajamas are covered in it. Porridge, milk, and jam.
You must leave us alone. You don’t need us the way we need each other.
I’ll tell you their names. Malin is the eldest, then comes Anna and then Johannes. They look like each other. Can you see? I pour the cocoa into their cups. I want to warm them from inside. It’s raining outside. We’re scared in different ways. Malin pulls at her nightdress, sucks on the sleeve until it’s rumpled and wet. She has night terrors. That’s what it’s called when you wake up screaming in the night. There’s no comforting her. Her body turns stiff with fear. Her eyes stare, but she isn’t really awake. She wants me to lie beside her all through the night. I have to be next to the wall and she by the edge. Next to the wall is dangerous, she says. I tell her it isn’t. Yes, it is, Mummy, she says. It’s dangerous, Mummy. Don’t you know?
She’s only four years old. Everything shows in her face. When she plays, it’s like she isn’t doing what she’s doing. She isn’t drawing when she sits at the table with her crayons and paper. She’s playing at drawing. When her crayon draws a line, she’s pretending that she’s someone drawing. She plays at being a little girl drawing a sun, a boat, a snail. She’s always a step removed from the things she does. As if there were no way in for her. As if the world were closed and she were left outside. We all feel like that. We can’t find our way in to the things we do. Only in our feelings for each other do we stand in the middle with our arms around each other.
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Can you see how straight she sits? The forward curve of her shoulders? She’s asking me a question with her eyes and I can’t answer. Do you understand how that feels?
Anna is sturdier. There’s no better word. She’s in charge of herself. You’d have your work cut out with her. But don’t try anything. Her happiness is her own. Everything she’s done, she’s done by herself. She instills joy in everyone she meets. Her laughter goes straight to the best in people. In everyone. That’s the way she is. I wonder if she feels like a stranger here.
Johannes is so small. His little body rolling about in the bed. Perhaps things are easiest for him. You know my husband, of course. You know all about him. His ambitions and his extraordinary will. The way he can persevere. He resists you in a way you never thought possible. Is he the hardest for you to abandon?
Look at each one of us in turn. All five of us around the table. Soon, the girls will slip from their chairs. They never linger at the table. They want to watch a movie. They sprawl on big cushions and watch the same movies again and again. They look at life and the families they see on TV. The way they hike in the woods, shake their mats, scrub their floors, swim in the lakes. It looks like life, but ours isn’t like that.
I don’t know if it can be changed. But I’m going to try. With all my strength, I’ll try. You’re not coming back here. You’re leaving us now, because I’m telling you to. This is goodbye. Don’t ever forget.
(Translated, from the Swedish, by Martin Aitken.)