The Shine Journal

Exceptional Flash, Poetry, Art and Photography!


Karen Neuberg





Mama was as cruel as ever.  In her starched white apron, she appeared at our door and brought the traditional newlywed cake.  Except she failed to fill it with charms that would bring us good fortune.  All I found was a button that belonged to a smock my dead sister had owned.  I cried when I saw what it was.  Mama smiled.


Not that it ended there.  I was supposed to be the daughter who replaced my sister.  My sister died as a consequence of an act of her own will.  She was walked off the edge of the cliff beside our house.  Mama and papa were arguing and chanced to turn just in time to see her go over. They arrived at the edge to see her skirts caught in a billow as she floated out and down.  My sister waved to them and continued her descent.  She landed safely on both feet but slipped off the rock as she looked up at them to stick out her tongue.  She drowned in two feet of water because she could not swim and did not think to stand up.  Lack of a mere detail or I would have an older sister and none of this would be mine.


A few months after I was married, I felt restless and went to Mama for advice.  She told me that what I needed was a baby.  Or a new hat.  Soon it would be the Day of the Parade and everyone would stroll down the Avenue of Bygones in memory of the past year.  One had to have at least a new hat or a new baby.   Mama secured the boiled yolks of a dozen eggs onto a silver plate and told me it was my hat.  My husband garnished it with parsley and ashes.


I was photographed many times that Parade Day.  The pictures appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world.  We made up a name for each yolk and told everyone that it stood for the name of a child I would someday have.  Little golden faces looking up to the sun.  The silver plate's brim cast a shadow over my eyes so that they were hidden. 


Had I been able to see them in the pictures, I would have known I was carrying our first child, her temperament caught in flecks of light in my iris.  I was busy being a celebrity.  My husband was unusually solicitous.  Mama was smiling unusually wide.  Why not, she had already won.  Inside one of the yolks swam a strand of my sister's hair.









Teacher is complaining to auntie about my lack of interest in mathematics.  But I can't listen anymore.  I put my voice into a jar of lemon water and honey and watch it dissolve.  I re-swallow  it in two gulps which causes me to burp loudly.  Auntie swats me on the side of my ear.


Teacher and auntie have made a pact.  I am to darn torn lace curtains for an hour each night in lieu of doing mathematics.  I must bring my handiwork into class for everyone to examine.  The principal will decide if I may remain in school.


I work diligently at my new task.  It is less tedious than math.  I pull thread through a webbing of space, placing knots that form a ratio of power.  I can rest a marble or an armoire on my stitches and both would be held.


I am becoming something of a celebrity.  The principal has brought in the superintendent to see my handiwork.  I have repaired all the torn curtains in our village and am now working on the last of the tablecloths.  Soon I will mend veils.  This occupation affords me great luxury.  My mind is free to roam as I draw my stitches, cleanly, one intertwined with another.


I would not have chosen this gift, but it is proving worthy.  A great gentleman has asked for my auntie's hand after seeing my craft.  Auntie and teacher agree she should wait until I am able to master mathematics.  Ah, my teacher is a sly one. 


But I am slyer.


While he examines a lace hanky I have made just for him, I place his voice into a jar of tacks, imagining it will get stuck to some bulletin board on the street as he passes by muttering advanced equations to himself.   It will hang like a delicate new shawl.  Auntie will find it beautiful and want to wear it.


Auntie and teacher have their heads together again.  Teacher found the jar.  I should not have hidden it in my sewing case.  He went there to surprise me with a gold needle and found it.  His voice was full of small holes and tiny tears.  He demanded I repair it at once.


I worked feverishly under his gaze, carefully hiding my work from him as I arranged a series of spaces for notes to pass through creating a melody whenever he spoke.  Auntie is quite taken with his new ability.  And he is quite taken with Auntie. 


They are together all the time!  But it is not about me, oh no.  They don't take their eyes off one another.  Auntie giggles an awful lot.  And teacher blushes and sings.  He opens spaces between words that a person may crawl into and have a banquet or ride a bike down a country lane while a light mist gently falls.   I went with them on the latter, carrying my sewing basket filled with jars of pickles and preserves.  Auntie baked bread and it was in her sack.  Teacher brought a jug of wine.


It was so peaceful and I did my numbers while they played dominos.  When we returned, I showed them my sums.  By turning the numbers on their backs, I could stand in their feet, wear their shoes.  I placed lace collars on all of them.  Auntie and teacher adopted them as their own children.


It was just a matter of time before they came to love me too. 


©Karen Neuberg


(YOLKS was previously published in Columbia Poetry Review and MATCHMAKER first appeared in Lynx Eye.)


BIO: My poems have appeared or are pending in many journals, including Diagram, 42Opus, Barrow Street, and The Dirty Napkin. I’m a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, hold an MFA from the New School and I am an assistant editor at Inertia Magazine. My husband and I live in Brooklyn, NY and West Hurley.


Motivation For Each Work: Both stories were written when I had a fairly high fever during a bout with the flu.


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Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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