Flash Fiction by Emily Deibler
Rosalie had been having a reasonably fine day before her four-year-old daughter vomited in her lap.
Rosalie had suggested to Anatole that they visit the Desfourneaux’s little house by the sea. France, after the abolition of capital punishment, never called on him, and he so often fretted about money; the twentieth century was shaping up to be a peaceful era, more tranquil than they had hoped. More than for herself, she relished Anatole’s peaceful warmth as he brought up Marcy and their nephew, André, still not quite the age where he’d start sprouting up.
The day was overcast, the clouds stretching thin above the beach, but the grass by the vacation house was greener than Rosalie remembered green could be, and the sand shone pale like a river of glittering serpents.
Most comforting of all, was seeing Anatole out of his suit. When they were at home, or in rare trips to the cinema, he always wore black till he went to rest, till he fully became hers.
“Maman,” was all Marcy said, and her sick spilled in Rosalie’s lap. It went slowly. The world was only them. She had the faint feeling of Anatole’s words rolling over her as Marcy finished and Rosalie stared blankly at the skirt of her bathing suit.
Rosalie murmured to Anatole. She forgot the words as soon as they left. She stood, picking up Marcy, who lolled against her as she walked to the house. Marcy, groaning Marcy, mouth pressed to Rosalie's shoulder like a maggot to a wound, festering, stirring a fever. She hated herself, that that cruel metaphor came first. Mostly at night, as Anatole snored, such thoughts would come, every wrong on the world buzzing in the head and seeking blame. Marcy, little smiling Marcy, sneezing as Anatole placed roses in her hair, and all Rosalie could do was imagine herself draining away every year.
Poisoned. Rosalie set Marcy on the side of the tub with the intention of helping her undress. She’s been poisoned. She thought, then sat herself and Marcy in the tub with their bathing suits on. Two birds and all.
Don’t be ridiculous. The warm water caressed her skin. She tried to keep the level low, so Marcy wouldn’t drown. Who would poison her?
Was it my milk? Rosalie had let Marcy feed from her earlier today, though she planned on stopping the breastfeeding last week, last month, three years ago—procrastination at its finest. A part of her knew she shouldn’t let Marcy keep doing that; Rosalie had weaned André by his second year, and even then, that had felt late, but she hadn't wanted to feel dry and empty, hadn't wanted what her body went through with Roger to just—
He was born in our bed, and he died there.
“The water,” Marcy mumbled, eyes fixed on the tub rim.
“Yes? Is it too hot? Cold?”
“Mayme dips—ditsy—ah, dissy lookin’ t’long.”
Rosalie wanted to push Marcy’s hair behind her ear. She didn’t. “Oh, poupée, I’ve heard of becoming sea sick, but . . .”
They were quiet. With the professionalism of a doctor, Rosalie washed Marcy’s chin with a cloth, applied cool water to her cheeks and neck. When the water turned cold, their suits stuck to their skin, no more than they had in the ocean, though the wind had partially dried them before Marcy became sick. Rosalie applied rose-scented talcum powder to Marcy’s cheeks and neck, hoping it’d soothe her. She dressed them both in shifts, leading Marcy by the hand to the master bed, the room basked in a sea of blue, from sly turquoise to a disquieting indigo.
Once Marcy looked at the bed, as if she hadn’t slept in a week, her limbs found life again, and she crawled into it, burrowing under the covers like a content, nesting dove.
Rosalie hesitated. She didn’t want to sleep next to her child. The last time she did, and did so every night, it had killed him. She had been certain no matter her mistakes, no matter her inexperience, he would be alive next to her the following morning.
But Marcy stared, and the smells of roses, clean linens, and lavender soap made Rosalie’s eyes droop. So, despite herself, she climbed into bed with Marcy, resting on her back, telling herself she wouldn’t sleep, not responding to Marcy curling into her side.
She was in the water, and Marcy was gone.
“Marcelle?” she called. “Poupée?”
She turned, and she saw a faint outline on the beach as the stormy sky darkened. Someone was waving. The yellow dress, the dark hair, it was . . . her eyes stung . . .
The first thing she knew next was tobacco and roses. She opened her eyes, and the room was darker. The lamp on Marcy’s side clicked on. Rosalie squinted. Her lungs were in her throat.
Anatole was there. It was dusk. She had fallen asleep. Merde. Marcy was still. Anatole was patting her head as he did when she was a baby. He wouldn’t be doing that if she was dead, right? He would know more than anyone when life left a body.
But that wasn’t a body. It was her daughter’s. Hers.
Love was too trite a word for that content affection crossing his features and reddening his cheeks when he looked at them both. His girls, she supposed he thought.
“Is she still breathing?” Rosalie said. His smile twisted into a confused line.
Why would she run to me? Why not Anatole? Wouldn’t she feel safer with him than with me?
I’m poison. I can’t let this happen again.
Anatole said, “Yes, of course.” Rosalie’s eyes adjusted to see the rise and fall of Marcy’s body. “I don’t . . .”
“I made her sick. Somehow. My milk. Breast milk—it must sour eventually, doesn’t it?” She untangled her shift. “You rest with her. She trusts you more.” Suddenly, she felt exposed, her breasts swelling with their curdled gift. Disgusting, abnormal, rancid. Spoiled.
She swung her feet to the floor, fists twisting in the sheets. “Where is André?”
“Playing in his—the guest room.”
“I need to see how he is, ask if he’s—well, or if he . . .” Marcy shifted, nose roving against the sheets like a badger rooting for flowers. Teeth seeking purchase, always seeking, always sinking. When Anatole went over to Rosalie’s side, she raised both hands. “You deal with her.”
Marcy stirred, making a groggy sound between a croak and a moan.
I can’t let her be with me. I can’t let her die.
Rosalie put her head in her palms as she stood. Anatole’s hand on her shoulder. She twisted away.
“Mon Dieu,” she said, voice breaking, “just—let me be!”
Without another look at Marcy, she ran off.
A native of North Georgia, Emily Deibler is a published poet and author. Her short story “Deer in December” was published in TL;DR Press’ Halloween 2018 Horror collection, NOPE. She has also published her poems “Turkey Hunting,” “Patty,” “Samantha,” and “Daughters of the Sun.” Her debut novel, Dove Keeper, came out in October 2018. She can be found on Twitter at @emilydeibler. She is a regular contributor to Marías at Sampaguitas.