Five Fictions by Joshua R. Helms

County Fair

Michael and his brother aflutter. Michael and his cotton candy mouth. Michael’s brother holding Michael’s sticky hands. Their parents lingering at the funnel cakes and hot dogs. Michael’s friends in line at the Ferris wheel. A younger cousin pulling at the back of Michael’s shirt. Michael and his brother on the merry-go-round, one riding a unicorn and the other riding a spaceship. A conversation about which is more likely to take flight. The unicorn with its white plastic coat and aluminum horn fading at the tip. The spaceship a marathon of color. Michael tightens his legs around hollow muscle and his brother drags his sneakers along the body of the spaceship. The merry-go-round creaks a little. Michael and his brother look but their cousin is nowhere to be found. Michael’s brother slips down from the spaceship and walks to the other side of the merry-go-round. Michael kicks the unicorn’s sides. He imagines the unicorn loosing itself and he grips its horn. His parents call his name but he ignores them.


Swimming Lessons

Michael’s brother bounces on the diving board. A group of elderly people watercises. Michael wears floaties in the shallow end and reaches his toes toward the bottom. Michael’s brother turns his back to Michael and disappears before his head hits the water. The floaties are tight against Michael’s skin, leaking air. Michael’s brother is on the diving board again and then not, his body in the air and taking up so much space. He gets closer and closer and the water turns to glass. Michael feels like he’s dreaming. The water cracks and breaks and scatters. Michael’s brother is in pieces. He screams and Michael deep-breathes and Michael closes his eyes. Michael’s brother is in the lifeguard stand, skin stitched, blood leaking. The elderly people are drying near the vending machines. Michael is in the shallow end chewing the deflated floaties off his arms, his teeth wrapped in plastic and his mouth full of air. Michael’s brother in perpetual arc above the water. Michael’s skin wrapped tight around his ribs.



Michael and his brother under the dining room table. Michael says It’s supposed to sound like a train, why can’t I hear it? Their father listens to the radio. Their mother brings paper plates of food. Michael’s brother crawls over and looks out the window. Down the highway it’s coming. Pieces of wood circle the trees across the street and Michael’s brother says the swirl is moving closer. Michael’s brother is pulled away from the window. Michael’s father puts his sons in the coat closet, puts his wife in the coat closet, puts himself in the coat closet. Michael huddles in the corner underneath his mother’s leather jacket. Michael’s father pulls the door shut but it’s difficult with all the wind. Michael’s brother counts and when he gets to twenty-three the noise is already far away. Michael’s father opens the closet door and bits of ceiling fall in front of him. Michael’s mother tells Michael and his brother to stay where they are. She says there might be glass. Michael reaches for the string to turn on the closet light. He pulls and pulls and pulls and nothing happens.


Beach Trip

Michael and his brother are headed toward the nearest ocean. Michael’s brother is driving carefully, hands locked on the steering wheel. Michael’s hand hangs out of the open window, reaching for trees at the edge of the road. Michael’s brother has never driven this far before, has only been driving for three months. Adjusting the radio Michael tries to impress his brother by knowing all the words to each song that plays. Michael says he can’t wait to lose his toes in the sand and Michael’s brother says So long as you know where to find them. In the water Michael’s brother identifies birds above their heads and Michael identifies fish below their knees. Every once in a while a bird swoops down and Michael’s brother reaches out to touch it. A fish disappears and Michael watches the swarm at the bird’s feet, eyes and mouths all over the place. Michael cups the ocean over and over. Michael’s brother stretches out on the sand.



Michael wakes up in his brother’s body. His brother has been dead but Michael forgets for how long. His brother’s body isn’t a body anymore, a set of bones drying at its joints. Michael stretches his bone fingers and wiggles his bone toes and opens his bone mouth. Michael traces a galaxy on the ceiling of his brother’s coffin. He thinks it’s a galaxy. There’s not any light this far down and Michael doesn’t have any eyes. Michael tries to remember where his parents buried his brother, which town, which cemetery. He keeps tracing what he thinks is a galaxy on the ceiling of his brother’s coffin. Wood dust falls through his empty eye sockets but he doesn’t feel it.

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