Maternal Instinct – New Flash Fiction by Colby Knapp

Joint Winner of The Letter Review Prize for Flash Fiction

Zeke slid the rusted step-side under the cypress moss and wiggled the shifter into neutral. He circled his window down first and reached over Jeannie Mae to crank hers. Which was a hassle given the knob was broken off and persuasion was needed to hold the vice grips just the right way to get the gear spinning. A wisp of honeysuckle breeze drifted the smell of burnt oil and swamp sweat out of the truck cab and the couple sat in silence to the songs of the cicadas.

“I really don’t like you that much anymore,” Jeannie Mae said. A mosquito squealed into Zeke’s ear and he swatted it away.

“Cause the bunion makes me walk funny?”

“It aint your feet.”

“Cause I don’t have a good tow truck job like your brother?”

“It’s not that.”

“Is it my teeth? Hell, sometimes when I’m just breathing, I catch a whiff of manhole. But as soon as the chest cancer eats grandpa and momma sells that trailer, I’m going straight to Houston and getting all new ones.”

Jeannie sighed and tugged at a string on her cutoff jean shorts and rolled the thread into a little ball. A thought crossed Zeke’s mind while he watched her fingers, but he lost it a millisecond later when he shifted focus to her thighs. She slid off her flip-flops, kicked her bare feet to the metal dashboard and hugged her legs. The first time she relaxed this way was their first date together, and he didn’t mind. The second time she did it, he accused her of scratching his dash. The third time she did it, he told her she was ugly, but later apologized. And this time, he paused, let out a long breath, and kept his troublemaker closed. There was a hand-me-down diamond in the glovebox behind those pink painted toes.

“I mean most of you is all right, and I thought it was cute at first. But a man just can’t have his…”

“You can stop right there. I know what you’re gonna say, and momma told me you’d say it.”

Jeannie looked over her shoulder through the back glass window and dropped her feet back down to the floorboard reaching for the door handle.

“I think I’ll just walk from here. I’m sorry Zeke.”

Zeke didn’t chase after her like a lab on a rabbit, or have a Rent-2-Own tantrum because they wouldn’t take back the cracked flat-screen. In two months he’d turn thirty. The last two girls he’d thought would stick around had also peeled off like a banana-colored Barracuda.

He footed the clutch, twisted the key, and after the motor shook to an idle, he slid open the back window and watched as another set of get-away sticks walked out of his life.

“She’s worse than the last one,” a comfortable voice said from an old bench seat tack welded in the bed of the truck. “Let’s go home and momma will put some bubbles in the tub for you.”

Colby Knapp is a San Marcos, Texas resident with an addiction to both ‘good times’ and tortilla chips. His work has appeared in Writer’s Digest and the 232 notebooks scattered throughout his car. His debut novel releases this fall.

Original Artwork Supplied by Art Director Kita Das