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Hot Flashes: The Flash Fiction of Claudia Smith

Claudia Smith

Claudia Smith of San Antonio, Texas concludes the third season of the COMMUNIQUE Flash Fiction series with a reading at Rust Belt Books this Thursday (May 1) at 7pm. Smith is the author of The Sky Is a Well and Other Shorts, from which the following stories are taken. Sky… was the winning entry for the first annual Rose Metal Press Chapbook Contest, judged by Ron Carlson, and has sold out its entire printing run. Rose Metal recently re-printed and joined Sky with collections by three other authors under the title, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, which will be available for purchase at the event.


We read books about colts, born in milky wetness, learning to walk, and then winning races. We knew what withers and Run for the Roses were about. The willow tree in her yard was our refuge, where our horses trained, and where our dolls jockeyed championship races. We tied our dolls to the weeping willows, swung them around like children on a carnival ride. I was thin; she was plump. Her parents had sent her to fat camps; my mother said her mother was the type to want a daughter in pageants. Her parents had cocktails and little wieners on cocktail bread with pale cheese. We drank the leftover liquor and fought over the glasses without melted ice. Our mothers didn’t like one another, but recognized the value of girls and their secrets. Sometimes, we snuck into her father’s desk and stole his letters. She never came to my house, but I told her about the loose change my father left on the dresser, how I took it to buy jewelry from the mall. Her father kept a stash in the liquor cabinet. My father was a cop. Her father was a lawyer. Our mothers both wore dark glasses, hiding their marks behind scarves and migraines. We compared their bruises as if they were badges. We tied our dolls to the trees by their necks. We hanged the cowardly women.


There is a baby and he is so small, he’s smaller than a needle. Smaller than the threading hole on a needle. I had him next to me, nursing, before he shrank. Now I can’t find him. He’s slipped through the bed boards, or fallen through a crack in the floor.

We make goo. Goo is water and cornstarch. I scrunch up my nose. Ooo, goo, I say. My son laughs. Goo! He says. Ewww. Goo! He smears the goo over his face, he stuffs it into his mouth. I put him in the bathtub. We cover his duckies in goo. Ooo, we say. Goo.

There is a slip of a baby following me. He’s a ghost baby, but not really, because he never was. He was never a baby, not completely. He is maybe not even a he. He is all of the almost-babies. The lamplight outside our windows is bright. I wake. My husband is groaning, still asleep. Outside the air conditioning unit hums. I listen to the baby monitor. Our baby is stirring. He may cry a little, go back to sleep. Now he’s crying. He heard me pacing.

We fall into a shallow slumber when he nurses at night. My mother told me never to nurse a baby in bed. You could lean over, suffocate. But I would never.

Lights slip in and out of cracks, and there is some giggling, some tittering. When I was a little girl, I would see the figure of a man walking in and out of the walls. I knew the man was real and I knew he couldn’t be. After I bring our baby back to his crib, I look out the window. Our apartment is in a nature preserve off the highway. You can hear the cars whoosh past the forest, if you listen hard enough. If you listen hard enough, they begin to sound like rushing water.


I’m driving past a graveyard and there’s a song on the radio that reminds me of the girl who slipped icy cubes of urine down my back when I was in the sixth grade. She used to whistle when I walked into the room and call me double D; we were both early every day, me because my mother had to drop me off in time for work, her because her mother taught there. She wasn’t popular or unpopular. I wasn’t unpopular, really, either. This song is about a girl running out in the night, in a snowstorm, calling her horse’s name. It made this girl cry. I laughed. We were sworn enemies. She asked me why I wore braids, was I a retard? She, herself, wore her hair in golden wings. One day I found her behind the Our Lady statue, stabbing primrose stems until juice ran down her fingers. I came up behind her and kicked her in the tender hollow of her knee. We were tearing, biting, screaming. I didn’t see or feel the nun who tore us apart. Alone in the principal’s office, I studied my scratches, the perfect bruises her sharp teeth had left. You should be kind, Sr. Rosa told me. She told me this girl’s father liked the bottle. I envisioned a man much like my father, sucking from a baby bottle’s nipple, although I knew what she meant. Biting my lip I felt a rush. It could be an hour, it could be a few minutes, passing through small towns I don’t plan to drive through again, the volume down all the way so her song is in my head. Soon there are no town lights. I’d forgotten about how the girl freezes to death after running through a blizzard calling out her horse’s name. No wonder she loved that song, she was crazy about horses, always drawing them in the margins of her notebooks. I feel like pulling over, finding a bar, kissing someone on the lips, hard. I can see her, sweat soaked in a white blouse worn transparent. It makes me want to cry. I don’t.

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