OF MONSTERS is a series of flash fiction exploring what it means to be monstrous, and each piece, small and silver-wrapped, opens to reveal something different. In Dana Diehl’s “Child Star,” monstrousness is fame, and the feeling that your body is undependable, might any moment split like a seam. In “Jane Eyre,” Zach Doss explores the monstrousness of cutting someone to bits and reconstruction, of a love turned scientific and procedural. Monstrousness is having a fish in your heart, is a series a B movies where we’re just waiting to be attacked, is the pebbling in of a migraine, is being a different sort of person in your attic, is darkness, is senility, is the struggle to swallow. A topcoat of witchcraft. The hint of a tentacle in a pool. Monstrousness is being the person who wasn’t good enough to love. Is the dragon you can’t control. Is knowing how powerless you are.
The series is inspired by Melissa Goodrich’s debut collection Daughters of Monsters, a raw and magical book of spells, an honest yet harrowing look at the wonder and threat of the world.
Six months down the road Laura found out the man she was engaged to likes men. “At least you found out now, before you actually got married,” everybody says, like that hurts any less. Certainly and sure, decades of stiff secrecy feel worse than simply years, but what is time? One day when things go flat will everything hurt this bad and all at once?
At a library, researching similar cases, Laura broke down in tears, feeling alone. A library aid, a pasty teenage boy, approached her. The gall.
“Miss,” he says, “would you like me to get you a cup of hot chocolate?”
Laura looks at him and sees he’s staring right at her, not even sideways snooping at the titles of the books on sexuality and divorce lying in piles all around her. She follows him to the café where, though she knows it’s inappropriate, she confesses that her fiancée left her to be gay.
“Well really,” the teenage kid says, “isn’t it he was gay all along?”
“I don’t know how these things work,” said Laura, a tear rolling down her nose and dripping off into her mug. “People say things like, oh, you helped him become comfortable enough to really own who he is,” she said, shaking her head. “Are we always just a part of someone else’s process?” she asked. “When do we arrive?”
The teenage kid smiled. He spun the Sunday paper on the table so the headings faced the side. “I wish it were like pirates, treasure maps. You follow the line, find the X, dig, and receive a box of gold.” He bobbed his head a little as he spoke. “I wish that everything was so heavy, weighted, shiny, final.”
“If you had a box of gold,” Laura asked him, “what would you buy?”
The pasty teenage boy, Armando, thought about people he loved and whether or not they’d want anything. For the first time in his life, he thought about buying a house.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “A new go-ped, definitely, and something for my mom.”
Laura wished everyone was this sweet.
“I’ve got to get back to work,” said the boy. “Good luck with the whole no-more-fiancée thing.”
The whole no-more-fiancée thing, thought Laura. That’s really what this was. A thing: to have and to hold, to love and to cherish. In a bubble bath that night, Laura heard her mother barge in through the front door.
“Brought you KFC,” her mother shouted up the stairs, “in case you want to eat your feelings.”
Laura sunk beneath the surface of the tub, held her breath, blew bubbles. Downstairs later in a bath robe, she rolled a corn cob in butter and her mother started saying, “At least…”
“At least what?” Laura snapped.
Her mother set her biscuit down, bewildered. “At least there weren’t any children involved.”
Laura rolled her eyes. What would you even talk about if things like marriage, children, happy endings weren’t the point? Still in her bathrobe, Laura booked a trip to France, where, in Monet’s garden, she met a girl named Cantelon. Cantelon was backpacking alone, and asked good questions like, “If you were a star, what would you hope to be named, and what would the scientists actually name you?” On a tour boat on the Seine, a group of schoolboys approached the duo, asking for a phone number. Cantelon scribbled something down on the back of a train ticket, and all the boys squealed, then went to wave to people on the riverbanks.
“It’s my sister’s number,” Cantelon explained. “She’ll be confused and thrilled.” Cantelon’s sister had some incapacitating disease, something that kept her heart from being able to handle very much, something that kept her home and still, so Cantelon was out collecting things for her.
“Experiences, flowers, souvenirs, trinkets. And of course photos she can see on Instagram and things,” Cantelon said, over the last legs of a bottle of wine that night. “But what she likes best,” she grinned, “is stories.”
“What stories?” Laura asked.
“Oh, when I fall in love, out of love, almost meet with death, that sort of thing. The tipping points,” she said.
Laura, tired and a long way from home and quickly getting drunk, asked, “What if you’re in love, and then it disappears?”
“Disappears?” said Cantelon. “Never.” She left a stack of Euros on the table and took Laura’s hand. “Come,” she said.
At the spot where the Eiffel Tower was supposed to be was now a field of giant lilies, as tall as a giraffe. Cantelon bent the stem of one of them so its bell came down close enough to look at, feel, smell.
Laura stuck her head inside. “I hear the ocean,” she said.
“Hold this,” said Cantelon, and the women switched places. Cantelon pulled a tiny jar from her pack and used the lid to scrape some of the bicep-sized pistil’s pollen.
“For Catherine,” she said. “Another tale.”
Melissa Gutierrez is an artist and writer living and working in Northern California. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. Find her on Twitter @mmgutz.