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Third-Place Summer Flash Contest Winner: “Saturn”

Our father devoured us, each one of us, in about four bites.

He began by unhinging his jaw to take in our heads.

You’re not as smart as your teachers say you are, he would say.

His jagged teeth would snap down on our necks. We prayed for the instant relief the snapping of our thin necks might bring, but it eluded us. We would continue to feel his teeth grinding through the bone and sinew just above our shoulders. Our eyes saw only darkness. Our noses were assailed by the hot acridity of blood, saliva, and scotch, mixed together in a frothy venom. Our words came out as silence. Our mouths tasted warm and metallic, like mercury.

He would open up his mouth again to take a second, larger bite.

This time, his jaws would clamp down through our chests.

I wish none of you were ever born, he would say.

Our chest plates were hopelessly penetrable. They would easily splinter and break, giving way for his teeth to pierce our hearts and separate our spines. We continued to pray for relief, but it didn’t come. We still felt the endless beating from the inside of our chests, now open, now wounded, now crushed. We felt a gaping hole where our backs should be. We felt the cold air hit our insides.

Next up would be our abdomens and our privates.

He ate this part with relish.

If you tell, I’ll kill you, he would say.

In those moments, we would always wonder what kind of God designed our abdomens to be so soft and vulnerable. As our internal organs were ground into pulp, we would bemoan this softness. Our stomachs would pop like balloons. Our genitals would scream in echoing pain. Or was it we who were screaming? It didn’t matter. No one heard.

Our legs would be all that were left.

After this part, we would be disappeared.

You’re going nowhere, he would say.

We supposed he was right – you can’t go anywhere with nothing left of you. These last few bites were quick and crunchy. Bones and ligaments, not much fat. It felt like walking on knives. With a final swallow, we would be finished. He would lick his lips as he leaned into a hazy euphoria. He would digest us, all of us, slowly, while savoring the remnants of us that remained between his teeth.

He’s dead now.

We never thought he would, but he finally did.

We sat at his funeral holding hands. Me, my brothers, my sisters. We watched them lower him into the ground. We needed to make sure it was really him in there. We didn’t want him coming back again one night, out from under our beds or from the darkness of our closets. We wanted so badly for him to be gone, forever gone. We prayed for an end to his hunger. Our mother cried. We cried too, for ourselves.

He hasn’t shown up yet, but we will never let our guard down. Never. We don’t know how long death can hold him. We don’t trust forever. A violent hunger like our father’s is not satiated easily.

We go to sleep each night sure of this: He’ll be back one day, to devour us, each of us, again.

While we wait, we’ll sharpen our teeth.

 

—Anthony Bongiorno is a high school teacher and college writing instructor who resides in Staten Island, New York. He holds an MA in English and an MSEd in Secondary Education. He enjoys writing, watching reality television, and traveling.

 

 

 

Interview with the author: Anthony Bongiorno

 

What was your writing and revision process like for “Saturn?”

“Saturn” was inspired by “Saturn Devouring His Son,” a painting by Francisco Goya that I first saw at the Museo del Prado in Madrid. I found the piece really haunting and knew immediately I wanted to do something with it. It hung around in my head for a few weeks – the “incubation period” – until I finally got it onto the page. After a quick first draft, I stepped away from it for a few days, then came back to it with fresh eyes. At that point, I went to work distilling the story, removing anything that I felt was not absolutely necessary.

How did you land on the first-person plural POV for this piece?

I wanted to write a story about the shared trauma of siblings who grew up under the thumb of a jealous, abusive parent. I have no real-life experience with that, but I do know what it’s like to be a sibling. So much of your childhood experiences are collective, both the good times and the bad. Most sets of siblings I know use the first-personal plural POV when they tell of family lore. The “we” sort of came organically out of that.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

“It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be done.” That’s my new writing mantra. I wasted a lot of time and let a lot of good ideas disappear because I was too worried that I wasn’t good enough. I would often start things and never finish them because I would agonize and second-guess myself during the drafting stage. It became easier to just give up. A few years ago, I decided to give drafting without judgment a try. It worked. I don’t think I had ever truly allowed myself to trust the writing process. Now I do.

What’s your best advice for fellow flash writers?

My best advice for any kind of writer would be to create pieces that you would like to read. Each of us is our own most loyal reader. If you love what you write, someone else will too.