the museum of americana

a literary review

The Old Cat on the Countertop—Flash Fiction by Peg Alford Pursell

When she birthed her daughter, the love that had been dammed up inside her immediately flowed, a warm stream of exquisite tenderness. Everything she looked at was beautiful, bathed in clear light, even the dun-colored curtains that enclosed her hospital bed. She never forgot the incarnate feeling, that sensation that a part of her own life had just begun, that everything that had passed before was at once forgettable.

Last night she and her daughter, now a young woman, had had another fight. She’d been out of herself, someone else, who’d hurt her daughter, the two of them grappling in the kitchen at the top of the basement stairs. Their old cat watched from a spot on the countertop where the animal wasn’t permitted to be, whiskers up and unmoving. Neither mother or daughter had been who they thought themselves to be. She’d slapped her girl.

How to re-inhabit herself, a tight, foul-smelling shoe lined with fear and remorse she would have to journey in, wishing for a beacon promising forgiveness.

The old white cat sat barely blinking while she rinsed breakfast dishes. Invisible dander invaded the kitchen. Blisters would form, burst, scar. Agony to remember such a moment when everything was shot with beauty. The cat leapt to the floor and disappeared.

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Peg Alford Pursell is the author of A GIRL GOES INTO THE FOREST, (Dzanc Books, July 2019), and the SHOW HER A FLOWER, A BIRD, A SHADOWthe 2017 Indies Book of the Year for Literary Fiction. Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies, including Permafrost, Joyland, and the Los Angeles Review. Most recently, her microfiction, flash fiction, and hybrid prose have been nominated for Best Small Microfictions and Pushcart Prizes. She is the founder and director of WTAW Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary books, and of Why There Are Words, a national literary reading series she founded in Sausalito in 2010. She is a member of the SF Writers Grotto.