“Left Behind” – Fiction by Kaj Tanaka

The Dream (The Bed) – Frida Kahlo, 1940

The grand finale of our Summer 2017 issue is Kaj Tanaka‘s brief yet profoundly haunting flash fiction “Left Behind.”

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MY WIFE AND I HAVE BEEN DREAMING THE SAME DREAM; we wake up at the same time these days, thirsty, sweat-drenched, frightened. In the dream, we are walking the streets of the town where we grew up—different towns but the same feeling. We are walking the streets alone. We go into a bar we have never seen before, always the same bar, dimly lit, with red glass lanterns on the walls. A person opens up a hidden door in the back which leads down down down down down down down down down down.

We wake up at the same time, ashamed, confused, sick, unable to fall back to sleep. Sometimes, after the dream, we watch internet TV until dawn; sometimes we lie in the darkness, pretending to sleep, not talking. Sometimes we curl up together silently, like snakes. This is a metaphor for our relationship. We are both plunging into darkness equally, privately, even as we fall more in love. We sleep together, we wake up together, we share everything, and still the dark is rising.

When we die, we want to die together. We want to be in bed when a hurricane strikes our small coastal town; our room will collapse around us, crushing our bodies in equal measure. We are terrified that this will not happen, that one of us will be unlucky and somehow survive, that one of us will be left behind in our ruined house.


At our dinner party tonight, my wife sits between her two friends, one arm over each friend; she puts her feet on our coffee table and leans back. I pour the women more tequila because that’s what they have been drinking.

I take the men into the kitchen with me, and two of us smoke cigarettes out the window. My friend Max washes a few dishes. Everything in the kitchen is covered in a thin layer of grease because of the pork belly from dinner. Max has a joint in his hand for some reason, and we are smoking it, and we open some more beers.

I sit on the floor of the living room for a long time. The women on the couch finish off the bottle of tequila. The pipes rattle wildly in the corner as if they are about to explode. It is winter. Someone puts a Slayer record on, and it is brutal and it is lonesome; everything is moving too quickly.

Soon my wife is asleep on her friend’s lap, and I’ve had enough. I say it’s time to go. When everyone is gone, I carry my wife to our bedroom, and I fall asleep as quickly as I can. I do my best, but by the time I wake up, half drunk, covered in sweat, my wife has been awake for nearly an hour, alone in the darkness, crying. When you die, she says, when you die—I tell her I am sorry. It’s because of the party, I whisper in the darkness—you went ahead of me, and I wasn’t able to follow you.

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KAJ TANAKA’s writing has appeared in The RumpusElectric LiteratureThe Masters ReviewNew South and Midwestern Gothic. He is the nonfiction editor at BULL Magazine.


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