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  • Writer's pictureMarías at Sampaguitas

Flash Fiction by Chella Courington

The Orchid

Jenny doesn’t recall when she quit listening to Ana, who is now leaning against the cupboard door, describing yet another nude dream. Her grayish-blonde hair tangled into the usual bird’s nest. Last Christmas Jenny gave her a satin pillowcase to protect those fragile strands, but Ana rarely uses it.

“I walked in stark naked, and they were all dressed.”

“Oh my,” Jenny says.

After five years she’s learned how to appear engaged as Ana goes on about her dreams. Jenny hears the rise and fall of Ana’s voice. The change in volume, the shift in tone. The way she lisps where an s and z sound like th in thunder, her tongue catching between her teeth. Cute, even sexy, on first meeting at a yard sale. Ana chattered about Sienna Dinnerware on the lawn—salad plates and saucers fringed in green, hidden by blades of grass. In cut-offs and a U of Florida t-shirt, she looked like Drew Barrymore with her tilted smile and shapely legs. Ana picked up every piece of china, holding it to the sun, commenting on how the light seeped through the cracks. They never bought anything and talked until the sky turned pink.

The next night they spent together and every night since. At first, cradled by each other. Now, air and cotton hold them.

Jenny pours the filtered water into two glasses. Finally at the end of her narration, Ana spreads peanut butter on an English muffin. Weaving around the kitchen, Jenny carries her oatmeal and water to the table and Ana comes later. They reach for their iPhones. Jenny starts to read to Ana from “Modern Love” in The New York Times and hears Ana tapping, probably doing the day’s crossword puzzle. Jenny looks at her—Ana’s head bent down, her thumbs moving quickly.

In the center of the table, a pink Phalaenopsis. Quiet sounds of their morning routine.

“She looks sad,” Jenny finally says

“What?” Ana says.

“The orchid. She seems unhappy.”

“It’s a flower. Not a she. It has no feelings,” Ana says without looking up.

“According to a study at the University of Melbourne, plants have feelings too,” Jenny says. “They react to stress by changing their shape and texture.”

“Nonsense,” Ana says.

Jenny rubs the bottom petal then feels the soil, pouring just enough water into the clay pot to humidify the roots. Her mother used to toss plants once the bloom was off. When Jenny turned thirteen, her mother sent her to Miss Howard’s School for Girls in Waycross, Georgia.

“This orchid’s been with us as long as we’ve been together,” Jenny says.

“So has the couch,” Ana says.

“I never liked that couch,” Jenny says. “It’s too plaid.”

“That’s what I like,” Ana says. “I hear bagpipes when I sit on it.”

She takes her plate to the sink. A dab of peanut butter is stuck to her lower lip. As Ana tells why she loves bagpipes, Jenny watches the peanut butter move up and down.

“You’ll be late for your spin class,” Jenny says.

“Orchids are too much trouble,” Ana says and strides out. “Too fussy.”

Jenny listens to the retreating footsteps and moves her plant to the window. Sipping her coffee, she stands there, waiting for the front door to shut, while the morning sun shines through the window and warms their skin.

Chella Courington’s poetry and fiction appear in anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly and New World Writing. Her flash novella, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), is featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction. A 2020 Pushcart and Best Small Fictions Nominee, Courington (she/her) lives in California.

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