“Transmutation” – Fiction by Alison McBain

Giant Redwood Trees of California – Albert Bierstadt, 1874

From the dissonance between nature and suburbia comes “Transmutation,” Alison McBain‘s contribution to our Winter 2015 issue.

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MY MOTHER GREW UP ON THE MYTH OF FARMS. “We’re from good, peasant stock,” my grandmother told her when she was young. The legend of the strong salt-of-the-earth, a fabrication of too many times reading the Bible. Even so, she was raised in a suburb, surrounded by the soft baaing of cars and the gentle crowing of car horns. Her family killed and ate the fresh meat of the long city blocks, grew up with the metallic sheen of industry dripping down from their dreadlocked hair, the hippy unwashed stink of progress and renewal.

That left my brother and me stranded between words and reality. When my mom got married, she had earth-stars in her eyes. She turned her sights to the mountains, to the rabid screech of raccoons fighting over garbage. She packed up the family and we drove out along a narrow dirt road that wound around redwood tree trunks so large that it took half a day to come out the other side.

I didn’t care about distance, especially when the bluebirds sang maniacally in the trees. The only birds I knew were pigeons, safely coated with gasoline dust, hopping around on twisted club feet. These shrieking birds flashing about with their iridescent flags of wings were too much of an alien takeover of the planet of my life, insidious as little green men with ray guns. I foretold Hitchcock and shut myself up in the princess’s tower.

My brother knocked on the door, took me by the hand and led me outside. He picked up a caterpillar and gave it to me–it turned into a monarch butterfly and sipped gently at my skin with its proboscis. “You see, Angie,” he said.

I nodded. I could see what he meant.

Out in the garden, my mother was putting down roots. She dug her fingers and toes into the soil and called out for us to help her when the rain didn’t fall. We watered her using a green watering can with faded blue plastic flowers around the handle, but it was cracked down one side, and the water leaked out in a constant tap-tap-tap. “Just wait ’til your father gets home,” she warned.

I ran to the door when I heard the key turning in the lock, and there was Papa! Papa! although we called him Dad in sophisticated grownup fashion, pretending to be bored. He walked right by us as though he couldn’t see us, petted the cat on the head, but we just laughed. Sitting at the kitchen table, laughing and laughing with us until his head fell forward in exhaustion, too tired to stay in the conversation.

In the morning, the bussing van came and drove us away. Looking back at our home through the dust-rained window, I could see my mother had turned into a redwood tree, her arms covered in indifferent bristles. But my father had fallen farther from sleep, had fallen right off the edge of the world and disappeared.

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100_0856ALISON McBAIN lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters. She has publications in Flash Fiction Online, Saturday Night Readerand Cairn Press‘s anthology Blood on the Floor, among others. Earlier this year, she also received the Patricia McFarland Memorial Award from Flash Fiction Chronicles.  You can read her blog at AlisonMcBain.com or follow her on Twitter @AlisonMcBain.

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