Sara Hills June 2023 Second Prize

Failure to Thrive

by Sara Hills

Weeks after we lose her, Lou and I take turns eating our feelings and secretly dosing each other with LSD. On Monday, he tucks a tab into the mayo on my sandwich. On Tuesday, I bury one in a swirl of cream atop his cake. Wednesday, it’s spiked marinara and milkshakes.

By Thursday we’re high as diamonds.

I call in sick and my boss’s teeth chatter through the phone like shiny stacks of white plates, rattling the hollow bowl of my body. He shouts, “You’re fucking unreliable,” a purple whelp of a sound that punches my useless empty breasts. Not for the first time, I realize how fragile we are, chipped monstrosities of ceramic-fired clay.

Lou steadies me with his fork-fingered hand and sings that my tits are happy soup cans. He draws faces on them in ballpoint pen, giving them toothy mouths and eyes wizened with promise. It’s the most enlivened I’ve felt in weeks—me, skin glowing iridescent against the dark ink; him, drawing with his tongue out, like a child would, all willowy limbs and hopeful yellow hair, tracing rainbows.

Later, we run into the box-small yard and let our crown chakras unfurl under the humming sky. We are sun-soaked artichokes beside our blue-walled house. And when the light fades, Lou, convinced that our hearts are bruised apples that need protecting, washes the pleated skin of my stomach with his tears.

By the time the moon rises like a refrigerator light across the empty shelf of the sky, Lou and I are already sinking. We lay back on the leaf litter, watching for comets and constellations, falling stars and signs. Above, 747s soar like milk bottles, blinking mandalas of coded prayers that vibrate the earth while we hold our breath and wait to feel forgiven.

About the Author

Sara Hills is the author of The Evolution of Birds (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021), winner of the 2022 Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection. She has won the Quiet Man Dave flash nonfiction prize, the Retreat West quarterly prize, and the National Flash Fiction Day micro competition. Sara’s work has been twice commended in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, placed second in the Welkin Prize, and was selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2021 and 2022. Her stories have been widely published in anthologies and magazines, including The Best Small Fictions 2022 and 2023, SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, Fractured Lit, Cease Cows, Flash Frog, X-RAY Lit, Splonk, New Flash Fiction Review and elsewhere. Originally from the Sonoran Desert, Sara lives in Warwickshire, UK and tweets from @sarahillswrites.

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