What Is Gone
by Christina Sanders
Third Prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2017
In the darkened gallery, where the mummy lies in gold and glass, she circles her belly, waiting for me to say something.
Anything. A word.
I think of fleas, mosquitos, spiders, slugs, snails, beetles I can’t even name, rats, mice, voles, and once a bat with a crack of the spade.
That’s different she says.
The mummy exists dryly in shadow, its linen skin sealed, its heart is packed in a jar, tucked tight to its hip.
In Penzance, we smashed clams against rocks, and dangled crabs over boiling water as air screamed from their shells and claws clacked against the metal pan. We ate whitebait and snapper. Death by proxy: a poussin each, steak haches, entrecotes in peppercorn sauce; mackerel shimmering on a bed of ice.
If you laid all the things we’ve killed end to end in this museum you’d never see the floor.
Zygotes. Amoeba. Protozoa.
I don’t think I say the words out loud.
She drums her fingers on the glass case. The mummy doesn’t flinch. I think of Reggie, twenty-nine kilos of sinew and bone and matted fur. When the pentobarbital hit his heart, I cradled his head; his vacant eyes as the heat slipped from his body, and the afternoon closed around him too soon. The cat was different. When I brought him home in a cardboard box, she wept. She said the Lord’s prayer, forgetting the words halfway through, which upset her deeply.
The half-light throws her profile in shadow, a thin cartoon line, a symbol, a depositary of all we are. The mummy has a celestial map imprinted inside his coffin. I would like to lie next to him and we could fly together, straight backed to the stars.
‘It’s a baby,’ she says, ‘can’t you just say the word?’