July Flash Fiction: Your Mother Held the Ocean by Cathy Ulrich

Your Mother Held the Ocean

Cathy Ulrich

When the new baby is born, your mother begins to shrink.

Your father took her to the hospital and left you with Grandma and Grandpa Davenport.

Davenport, like couches, Grandpa Davenport always says, because it’s his best joke.

They take you to see your mother and the new baby at the hospital. They say what do you think of the new baby, and so do the nurses, and so do your mother and father.

You say I love the new baby, though, really, you don’t, pruny red-faced thing that’s not pretty like babies on television, and you’re afraid, so afraid, that they’ll be able to tell you’re lying, the way they could tell you were lying about how all the cereal got into the drain and clogged the sink, and then they’ll hate you for not loving the new baby like you’re supposed to. You smile at the new baby and give it fluttering kisses on its forehead, and your mother lies in the hospital bed looking like a deflated balloon.

Come sit beside me, she says when the nurses take the new baby away, and so you climb up into the bed next to your mother, who is shrinking.

That’s only because Baby is out now, she says, and laughs.

You rest your head on your mother’s empty belly and remember how it was before the new baby was born, before your mother began to shrink, and her insides were full of the sound of the sea.

Cathy Ulrich writes a lot of her flash fiction on sticky notes, in her car, at stop lights.