A List of Fears by Jennifer Fliss

| Death |

The meteor landed in the farmer’s yard. Not quite into the corn, but on the grassy patch behind the house that had been rubbed bare in parts by his many animals that he let roam freely. Turns out, it wasn’t exactly a meteor and no aliens appeared, but a mysterious grass began to grow anywhere the meteor touched. The farmer, none too smart, placed a finger on the black rock. Not a few hours later, a fine green patch grew there, its reeds pushing into his pores, into the farmer’s blood and musculature, replacing even his individual fingerprint. It was not too long before the grass spread. Onto his hands, up his arms, his shoulders and neck. It grew down his torso, whittled tight from all his hours on the farm, down his legs. It approached his chin, wound its way up his jaw, his ears, his nose, eyes, and eventually there was little familiar of the old farmer. He was just a green monster. He sat his monstrous self in a bath tub and killed himself.

This isn’t my story, obviously. But it filled night after night after night of my childhood. When my father wasn’t sneaking into my room in the dark heavy hours, this monster did. Come to think of it, they probably made appearances together too. The scene was lifted and adapted by my psyche from Stephen King’s anthology film, Creepshow. I can’t recall when I first saw the movie, a favorite of my father’s; it was on frequent repeat in our house and our childish eyes and minds were not shielded from it.

 

| Cockroaches |

Another story from Creepshow was of a yuppie couple in an equally yuppie condo. Pristine white, smooth edges: very upwardly mobile 1980s America. Enter: the cockroach. As anyone who knows anything about cockroaches, you know this: where there is one, there are many. In our New York apartment, we shared space with cockroaches. Dirty food plates filled the counter space, the too-soft-peach smell of decayed life filled the air. You knew when you entered the bathroom to flip the light switch and wait a minute so the roaches could go into hiding. Because while you understood you both shared the space, your spine still quivered when you felt the tickle-tickle of their tiny legs on your bare young skin. You did not look when you opened the utensil drawer to pull out a fork. In the toy track that ran the play cars and trucks, you just pushed the vehicles right over the insects.

 

| Freddy Kruger |

Let me talk to you about Freddy Kruger. He was the 1980s horror character who got you in your sleep. While you slept. So while I hunkered under my blankets wishing to bring on sleep so I didn’t have to think about the monsters real or otherwise, this guy got you while you were in your dreams. You descend into a labyrinthine high school basement, perhaps, or, while snoozing in a bathtub, you are snatched right into the underworld, and you are, obviously, running. And while you run, your breath becomes labored and you slow. The air around you thickens and you become weary. Stop a minute to rest your eyes. Just. Like. That. And then your skin is sliced a thousand times by the lacerated edge of five finger knives. As you wake, you realize it was all a dream, but you look at your thighs and your belly and notice that the wounds are still there. You run your finger along the ridge of injury. They are puffy and scald with newness. It is morning and your father, Fred, has already left for work.

 

| Guns |

When my father has too much vodka—which, by the way is a lot, given that he drinks it like water. Pint by pint, he grows maudlin. Teary eyed, he begs forgiveness or threatens death. Out comes the gun. Out come the bullets. In go the bullets. Off goes the safety. Do you want me to kill myself? he says and holds the gun to his head. I can just shoot. No, I cry with sweat and tears and snot all over my body, but I really mean: yes. Just fucking do it already and end this domestic war where he is the overlord dictator. Sometimes he points the gun at me, and that doesn’t scare me as much. Do I think he won’t do it? Or do I want that more than everything else?

 

| Nazis |

When you’re Jewish, you are born with an understanding of hidden places. Can you fit under the floorboards in this kitchen? Is there a secret compartment behind the fireplace? The attic? Could I keep my baby quiet when the jackboots march overhead? My scalp itches and doesn’t smell like ashes and the sweet sour odor of burning skin, but sometimes I think it does. Sometimes I feel the lice eating me, ounce by ounce. But my teeth don’t ache like someone is pulling them out for the gold that isn’t there with pliers when I visit the dentist. My nightmares became planning sessions. Where would I go? If I had to? Who would take me in? Be righteous? My non-Jewish father kept a worn copy of Mein Kampf on his bookshelf.

 

| My Father |

See above. But he is dead now and only exists in my dreams.


Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, Fiction Southeast, The Rumpus, Pacifica Literary Review, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @Writesforlife or via her website, http://www.jenniferflisscreative.com

Fiction                                                                            Issue Eighteen                                                                            Poetry