How You’ll Go by Wendy Oleson

Human, be honest—you’ve mistaken us for the living. Even the wisest and most steely among you catch yourselves wondering if we haven’t shifted against our wire stands, if the red paint of our mouths hasn’t spread. Did our eyelashes flit once, twice against porcelain cheeks? Because your flesh is soft, you hear the swish of our petticoats and the creaking of our shoulder joints. You fear our placid faces. You smell your own decay. 

You’re sad. Desire hardens your chest or yields a dripping emptiness no matter how dutifully you tighten the knob. We need only stillness while you suffocate in your bed sheets, dream of live burial. Loneliness frightens you awake. We can’t feel sorry for you though. You represent billions of neurons, eons of evolution, instinctual memory, imperialism, and industry—should we be impressed you’ve made it this far? 

We don’t mean to be critical. We’re grateful—if anything can be grateful to exist. You’ve bestowed upon us the plague of consciousness, and it does burn a bit. We know how the cycle unfolds. You put us in the crib with her, so she may learn to love. Love for the sake of loving, the way it instructs and possesses her. She gazes into our eyes, and you hope she loves well and is well-loved in return. You hope it’s enough. 

It’s almost admirable the way you treat your little girls. But it’s not who you are. 

Show us how the boys play. 

You teach them to court death. Death strapped to the waist, clutched against the chest. A ten-pound seduction in steel. Teach the boys they’re gods while wielding weapons. (Our eyelids flicker open.) Magazines click into place. (Glass eyes scrape against their sockets.) The machines make metallic rain. (We blink each time your boys reload.) 

Our universe is expanding.

You’re nothing but fear and dust.


Wendy Oleson is the author of two award-winning prose chapbooks. Her flash appears in No Contact, Fourteen Hills, the Adroit Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly: Best of the First Ten Years, and elsewhere. She’s managing editor for Split Lip Magazine and lives in Walla Walla, WA.