Routine by Lincoln Michel
This morning I murder your mother, but then I always murder your mother. You are in the barricaded bathroom weeping or possibly asleep. I use the machete as quietly as I can.
I understand why you cannot kill your mother, but, if I am being honest, it is hard on me too. Even with strips of skin hanging off her flesh like peeling paint, she bears an uncanny resemblance to you. You’ve always had her proud cheeks and slightly sunken eyes.
Your mother dies slowly, moaning all the way down. This is the worst part. I would never admit this to you, but your mother’s moans mirror the moans you made when we used to make love. Although we no longer have the strength to couple anymore, it is when I murder your mother that those happy memories come back to me.
One of your mother’s lopped off hands has alighted on my boot. I pick up the hand and move her piece by piece to the front yard. I move a safe distance away and collapse on the ground.
But your mother returns earlier than normal this time. Her parts recollecting, her long dead flesh willing itself to still more life.
I roll over and pull the machete from her femur. It has dulled on her bones. This time it takes twice the effort, twice the strokes, and this when your mother is only half-reformed.
It was easier to murder your mother when we had the bullets and easier still when we had the shotgun pellets. Then again, what part of life isn’t harder these days?
This time, I find the shovel and dig a pit. My fingers blister on the wooden handle. My legs ache.
I push the parts of your murdered mother into the pit one by one.
I get the gasoline that we foraged from the neighbors’ charred car. It spills on my hands, burning the blisters. I’m too weak to even cry.
I shuffle back to the house, the smoke of your mother in my clothes.
Do you remember when we first came to this house? It was the first home that either of us had ever owned. Our own little cottage in the woods with a big red mailbox and a hammock out back. We thought we had our whole lives ahead of us.
I want to say it was a happier time then, but it was a not all happy times. We fought incessantly and our income dried up along with the creek out back. You were still very beautiful to me, yet cold. I was afraid to wake you when I came home at night.
There was happiness too. There were days we lay in bed together till sun down, covered in sweat. Yet the bad times seemed destined to keep coming back again, the same way your mother must reform and be murdered each day.
I find you in the bedroom. The sun is going down and in the dying light your skin looks almost as blue as your mother’s. How long have you been lying there, still?
Tomorrow, when the remains of your mother dust off their ashes and return, I will have to murder her again. The only way to break this cycle is by failing. If I fail, then you will have to murder me alongside your mother, or else I will have to murder you alongside her, or perhaps, if we are lucky, some other people huddled in some other house will have to murder the three of us together.
“Routine” is used by permission from Upright Beasts (Coffee House Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Lincoln Michel.
Lincoln Michel is the editor-in-chief of electricliterature.com and a founding editor of Gigantic. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Oxford American, Tin House, NOON, Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Believer, Bookforum, Buzzfeed, Vice, The Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. Sometimes he draws famous authors as monsters. He is the co-editor of Gigantic Worlds, an anthology of science flash fiction, and the author of Upright Beasts, a collection of short stories out this fall from Coffee House Press. He was born in Virginia and lives in Brooklyn.
Routine was read by Jonathan Minton for the Short & Sweet Flash Fiction edition on 3rd August 2016