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#thesideshow May 16th 2016 Flash Fiction Crisp and Savoury by Cindy Matthews

Crisp and Savoury

Cindy Matthews


W hen Lorna opens the refrigerator, tepid air drifts into the kitchen. “Best leave you closed during the outage.” Second day without power. Her cell phone is dead. Logs for the wood stove are nearly all gone. Nothing but unrelenting cold and so much snow even the winter enthusiasts feel jaded.

Moving to the cabin had been Gordon’s idea. But in October when a felled tree hit his head, the allure of rural life passed on with him.

Lorna peers outside from the kitchen window and shrugs. Wind rattles the soffits. Try as she might, she can’t hear the usual thrum of traffic from the highway edging the property. Snow smacks the window panes like coyotes devouring a carcass. Wrapped in a down duvet, Lorna thinks about cakes, each sheet folded in thick, buttery frosting, the slabs spongy and rich with caramel and chocolate.

“Oh, for the love of God. I’m having visions.”

She’s famished but all that remains in the pantry is a corroded can, its label long gone, and a crumbled packet of cereal with a best-before stamp of 2006.

Rex rattles the kibbles in his dog-food dish. These aren’t your average, supermarket-variety. They are premium ones designed to diminish canine joint degeneration. After only three weeks, Rex has traded doggie depression for a dash in his step. The kibbles eat up 1/8 of her pension.

She drags the dog-food bag toward her, grabs a handful, and sniffs. Beef floods her nostrils. “Jesus, these smell good enough to eat.” She reads the label. “…a complete, balanced feeding system designed to provide all the nutrition your best friend requires.” Lorna sighs. With Gordon gone, Rex is her only friend.

“High in protein. Gluten-free. A source of Omega fatty acids. I’d be daft not to.” Without thinking, she palms a kibble into her mouth.

Hearty molars grind it into dust. “Crisp and savoury, with a hint of cashew.”

Lorna plunges a measuring cup into the bag. When the kibbles slam against her cereal bowl, they sound like they’ve been shot from a cannon. She hurls a couple overhead. With carp-like dexterity, her lips vacuum them up. With mindful chewing, she crushes them into something she can swallow. Granular. Tart. Gritty. Like popcorn, minus the salt.

Not one for cooking, she’s thrilled with this new feeding program. For the remainder of the morning, she doodles in the margin of last week’s Herald, calculating kilojoules and price-per-kibble. “99 cents a cup. I am a cheap date.”

Feeling full, she delays lunch until mid-afternoon. The second batch seems blander, leaving her tongue and throat scratched. Later, Lorna rereads the bag’s fine print. Her eyes linger on a caution she missed earlier. ‘Not fit for human consumption.’ She pours over the five words. “Shit, shit, shit!” She pounds her head with fists.

“I suppose dog-food is for dogs.” She kicks the bag across the linoleum.

Lorna skips dinner. Rex whimpers so she nudges him out the door. “Go, damn-it.” He lifts a leg, a lemon ring forming on the porch. Twirling snowflakes obscure the woods edging the property. “Stop snowing.”

After six o’clock Lorna fuels the wood stove with the last of the remaining logs, then heads for bed. She tugs on wool socks before folding under the duvet. Soon her head fills with images of squabbling over the last of the kibbles with Rex. When he advances, she bares her teeth and nips his ear. With a stuffed belly, she rotates three times before collapsing in a heap.

The next morning, only after combining kibbles with melted snow can she force any down. She tricks herself into believing she’s chewing black licorice. A check of her teeth in the mirror reveals hopeful results. “Definitely brighter.”

Rex chases the tip of his tail until a mind-blowing itch commands his attention. He maws where his tail connects to his body. “Look how bloody flexible you are.” Lorna wonders if the kibbles have improved her joints. She stretches arms overhead and folds at the waist, palms sweeping the floor before she collapses. A spasm clenches her lower abdomen. “I need to go right now.”

Her bowels are completely bottled up. “No use!” She beats a fist in the air. “I hate you, Gordon,” she yells at the empty walls.

Four days into the diet, she’s noticeably thinner. The hallway mirror shows gaunt cheeks. Her tummy is bowl-shaped. The earlier enthusiasm for Rex’s food has waned. Still no power. Death is looming and rather than feel despondent, Lorna’s relieved. When Gordon died, after crying for a week, she spent the next one hurling plates at the cupboards.

The conspiracy of time had taken its toll. Lorna glances at her hands and thinks, these age spots are my age spots. This chair is my chair. And these frigging kibbles are my kibbles. She bursts into hysterics, lollygagging on the floor. The laughter quickly turns to tears until phlegm lumps in her throat like an unwelcome houseguest.

The inside temperature is the lowest it’s been for a week yet Lorna is bathed in sweat. She folds her palms against her forehead and shrinks with grief. She steadies herself on a nearby wooden chair. Her mouth is as parched as sphagnum moss. The cold makes her sleepy. When Lorna eventually awakens, she’s on the linoleum with Rex coiled against her doubled-over body. Her nostrils flare at the hundreds of unique odours within the four walls. Catching her reflection in the oven door, russet brown eyes stare back. Coarse whiskers sprout from her jaw. She lifts a leg and relieves herself.

Outside, it is calm. Sunshine sparkles from the sapphire sky on snow banks stiff like meringue. With a sudden surge of power, the refrigerator sputters to life. Electric filaments crackle and lights flicker. Lorna gives a tiny yelp before once again bathing herself with her tongue.

Cindy Matthews is a writer and visual artist living in Bruce County, Ontario, Canada. Her home is near a turn-around on a dead end road. This results in lots of lost fools and oodles of opportunity to spot white-tailed deer and wild turkeys. Cindy finds social media necessary but distracting as hell. She reveals too much via @Matthec1957.