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Inheritance by Madeline Anthes


“Inheritance” by Madeline Anthes is one of four winners of the Editors’ Choice Round from the 2019 CRAFT Flash Fiction Contest. Our editors chose four pieces that showcase some of the range of forms and styles in flash fiction.


Madeline Anthes uses minimalism and white space effectively in “Inheritance” to create a literary horror story. She doesn’t over-stage this dystopian world, inviting the reader through the mosaic form and the use of well-timed white space to engage their own imagination to fill in the gaps, to impose their own experience and knowledge of our current world onto the structure of this story (see Anthes’s author’s note for more on form, revision, and worldbuilding). As is the case with all great horror, the reader will find their own fears peeking around corners as the tension builds.  —CRAFT

Content Warning—domestic violence


 

Everyone expected me to take my mother’s eyes. I had a right to take what I wanted, and her eyes were legendary. She’d taken them from her mother, and her mother had taken them from her mother.

They were smoky gray with a ring of dark green around the iris. Clear and unusual.

When my mother looked at you, you felt your insides seize. It was hard to say no to her.

She had already picked out a new pair at the Registry—a respectable cool blue. Everyone expected me to take her eyes, but when I turned eighteen, I took something else.


Not long after I selected my Gift, I met the man who had been chosen for me. He seemed kind. I suppose most men do at first.

My father nodded in approval as the man told me of a house he’d build for us. A backyard for chickens, a kitchen with white cabinets. He rubbed his thumb across my knuckles and I felt something buzz inside my stomach. He brought me pansies.

I never told him what I’d take from my mother, just that I was taking something I never wanted to use. Something I would bury.


I was dressed in soft pinks and whites at my Ceremony. My gown billowed along the floor. I felt like a wooden doll.

My mother stood in front of me, hands clenched by her sides. My father was behind her, his hands on her shoulders.

I’d taken my Gift from my mother that morning. She and I had gathered in a small room with the Gift Giver.

“Are you sure?” she asked me. Her voice wavered. The look in her eyes made me doubt myself.

“I won’t have to use it. That’s why I’m taking it. So it’s never used again.”

She pressed her lips together. I could tell she wanted to say something, but she didn’t.

“It’s your choice,” she said, and took my hand. She was shaking.


I thought I knew a lot about bad men. I thought I knew what to look for, how to spot one. I’d heard what a bad man can do.

But not long after the Ceremony, I found out I was wrong. A bad man hides himself well. He only reveals who he is when you’re alone.

In the end, even if I had known, what could I do? He’d been given to me. I couldn’t return him.

My mother knew, of course. She’d learned something about bad men, too.


I made the wrong choice; I should have taken her eyes. Maybe beauty would make him hesitate. Be softer.

Maybe not. Probably not.

I think of her eyes every time he shows his true self—in our living room in the glow of the evening news, in our kitchen with dark brown cabinets, in the bedroom with the door shut so our children don’t hear.

I shut my own eyes and try to remember those days when he held my hand. I think of pansies and a thumb running along the ridges of my skin.

When I open my mouth, I hear my mother scream.

 


MADELINE ANTHES is the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. Her chapbook, Now We Haunt This Home Together, is forthcoming with Bone & Ink Press. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com.

 

Author’s Note

I was several months pregnant when I wrote this, daydreaming about what I wanted my son or daughter to inherit from me. What did I want to pass down to them? I thought about how my sister was always told she had the “Rocca eyes” from my mother’s side and how much my brother and father looked identical as children. It made me think of the phrase, “You have your mother’s eyes.” No one literally has their mother’s eyes… but what if they did? How could someone have their mother’s eyes, or smile, or sense of humor, or voice, in a literal way?

I’m usually someone who writes a painstaking draft and only revises it two or three times before the story takes its final form. However, this story went through ten or more revisions. Worldbuilding is new to me, and the first few drafts had way too much backstory. As I revised this story, I trimmed out more and more. I took out some of the extra exposition and the story became sparser. I had to be careful not to strip out necessary information that helped maintain internal logic, but I liked the idea of leaving some things vague as well. I want the reader to want more and ask questions, but not be so confused that it pulls them out of the story.

In terms of form, I usually write fragmented stories (or mosaic stories). I tend to think of flash as shards of memories pieced together to form one story. Flash reminds me of those View-Master toys I played with as a kid. Each time you pull the handle, a new photo appears in the viewer, telling a piece of the overall narrative. Each piece of a fragmented story works on its own, and put together it creates a mosaic.

For stories that touch on trauma, I find this form works especially well since it allows for subtly and brevity. I love writing about violence, but I hate writing about fighting. Going back to the things we inherit, I often think about the ugliness that’s passed down from generation to generation. The things we see and repeat, the shame we perpetuate. But I don’t want to write a scene about a man beating a woman; that’s too awful and too on the nose. I like writing about the subtle ways people exert power over each other, and the ways we fail to protect ourselves. By writing about problems that exist in an alternate reality, I hope to bring some truth and honesty to the problems that exist in our own.

 


MADELINE ANTHES is the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. Her chapbook, Now We Haunt This Home Together, is forthcoming with Bone & Ink Press. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com.