By Richard Stimac

Broken shards of stained glass, strung together like a madcap rosary, hung across the kitchen window. The late afternoon sun refracted into a jittered kaleidoscope, a mirage of colors, against the kitchen wall. The aqueous illusion invited, no, more tempted, that this world, the seemingly solid, dissembled. Beyond, on the other side of the shimmering surface, a land more real in its ambiguity offered refuge.

Below this sea of hues cast across the kitchen wall, a jigsaw puzzle of the open sea lay scattered, half the border assembled. The remaining pieces, unconnected, produced their own confused, yet beautiful, icon, as if a mad mosaicist flung fistful after fistful of tesserae across fresh plaster and set a faith in God that the image would, in the end, reflect the divine.

Beneath this beauty, blind to the potential of what is not, stooped, Madeline collected a tea plate, broken in pieces, like a eucharistic host readied for the tongue of the faithful. Next to her, a cat sat upon the tessellated tiles. Genuflected on her right knee, Madeline stacked the shards of pottery, one atop the other, to make a small cairn amid the open desert of the kitchen floor. She contemplated the remnants. Was she marking a grave, a boundary, a summit, a path to a beyond? She knew not what she had done.

How had the plate come to be broken upon the floor?

She knew the facts. She did not wonder at the wonder of physics. But why, the larger why? Why was she, out of the billions on the planet, the one to amass fragments of what had, just a moment before, been useful but now was debris to be discarded, then quickly forgotten.

Millie, the cat, smoothed its face against her upright leg.

“Watch,” Madeline said. “There are sharp edges that cut to the bone and bring blood.”

Millie fell to one side and began to knead the woman. White flecks of porcelain embedded in her fur.

Madeline rested her head on the palm of her left hand and observed the reflection of her face in the polished tiles of the floor. A reflection without features but outlines, blurred, uncertain, open to interpretation. In turn, the cat examined the woman, the cat with its reflective eyes behind which lurked reflecting desire. Though she could not tell one detail from another, Madeline frowned at the smeared image of her face on the tiles. She straightened a strand of hair, cocked her chin, just so, cleared her throat, and bore down with her eyes on the uneven double that stared back at her.

Millie’s purrs brought her back to fact.

Madeline put the last bit of plate on top of the first bit of plate she had stacked then took the cat in her arms and began to pick and brush the white flecks from the dusky fur.

“You have a night sky filled with stars on your back,” Madeline said. “Beautiful. And dumb.”

Millie purred as Madeline drug her fingertips across the cat’s back.

Madeline stood. On the counter of quartz countertop, the tea steeped in the brown betty. Cream settled in its bell. Sugar mounded in its bowl. Cookies arrayed like flowers on a plate, itself decorated with stem, leaf, and bloom.

And still there was the mess on the floor at her feet.

Madeline knew, in her heart, as if she had been born with the knowledge, in essence, nothing is an accident.

There was a knock at the door. Millie leapt from arm to bar, to stool, to floor, then disappeared through the half-shut French doors that opened to a back sunroom now dark with pulled blinds.

Another knock.

Madeline stooped, lifted the bone china to the trash, then let it drop into the remnants of meals, mail, and motes of dust swept from corners. She then bent, again, swept the remaining small bits into her palm, dropped them after the plate, and finally washed her hands of the affair.

A third knock.

Madeline put on her mask to face the world.

                                                      *   *   *

Richard Stimac has published flash fiction in BarBar (2023 BarBe nominee), The Blue Mountain Review, Book of Matches, Bridge Eight, Drunk Monkeys, Flash Fiction Magazine, Half and One, New Feathers, Paperbark, Prometheus Dreaming, Proud to Be (SEMO Press), On the Run, Scribble, Talon Review, The Typescript, The Wild Word, and Transitions Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Anthology (Hawkeye Press), along with a full-lenght book of poetry Bricolage (Spartan Press).

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