Blink If You Can Hear Me

Blink If You Can Hear Me

eyeBy Jennifer Fliss

“Blink if you can hear me,” Mo says. She’s dressed in black and leather. Half her head is shaved, vulnerable and bare. The other half is a dark and silent waterfall of slick black hair.

I can hear you, daughter.

“Mom, blink if you can hear me,” she repeats. Yes. I can hear you. I can smell you—vanilla and cigarettes. Mom. She hasn’t called me that in ages. She calls me Kate. One syllable. Hard consonants. Kate. Particularly striking when spit in anger.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” Mo is saying, sibilant ‘S’s lisping together. Behind her, beeps and pneumatic sucks, distant PA announcements: the cacophony of a hospital.

Mo, short for Maureen, was always horrified by my quick tears. I remember walking her to class on the first day of school. She put a stop to that as soon as the torrent of tears descended. Mommy, why are you sad? It’s school. Weeping, I cheered for her soccer games. When she and a friend came home after school and ignored my how was school today? I tried to keep the rush at bay. If only your father were here, I had said. Embarrassed she grabbed her friend’s hand and dashed up the steps.

Mo’s angry hands are rubbing at my arm where the IV is held in place. The beeping in the room is getting faster, but she keeps kneading me.


“I’m so sorry,” I am saying at her face. She probably can’t hear me. But the doctor said she might, even if she can’t respond.

“Remember when I really wanted bomb pops—those red, white and blue popsicles—from the Good Humor Truck and you’d say honey, we’re pacifists? I never got it, and chipwiches were better anyway. I loved twisting the two cookies and sitting on the curb to split it. You always let me have the half with more ice cream. Anyway. Pacifists. I get the joke now. Please? Mom? C’mon…you have to wake up. This whole thing is freaking me out! You’re just staring.”

Before Dad left, we’d sit around the table and Mom would watch as we ate the meal she’d been preparing all day. Sometimes she never ate. But then there was late night yelling and the early morning yelling and the over-the-phone in the middle of the day yelling. Then it went quiet. You could hear all the sighs and coughs and almost-silent cries from every part of the house. And then, there was just the two of us with three white stick figures on the back window of the Subaru. The happy family sticker. Why did you force him out!? I had yelled. Of course, how could he love you!? I tried to remove that sticker, pushing a thin blade between the glass and the adhesive. I only succeeded in beheading a parent and cutting my thumb. Blood smeared the window; I left it there.

It was stupid, really. Typical teen stuff. Rebellion. Drinking. Smoking. Piercings. If I spoke to her at all it was to say how awful she was. And how ugly I was, since she gave birth to me. I knew, somehow, that by insulting myself, I’d cut right to her core. But, she constantly reassured me that I was the most incredible thing. And even though I didn’t acknowledge it, I think I said those things just so I could hear her tell me I was beautiful. I knew she hated what I had become. At least on the outside. But she never said it. Not once. She only said she loved me. Over and over and over.

How stupid we are, in our young naiveté, our brains working double-time just to keep up with the world around us and so we ignore the people who created us. We go through that rite-of-passage. The be-mean-to-your-mom rite. It’s expected. But it must be heartbreaking to commit your whole life to someone and then have them say such hateful things. Mom. I need you. Come back. As I stared at the flaccid skin hugging the nose tubes and tape, I unscrewed the small ball in my nose. I shed my smoky vest. With tissues from the table, I rubbed at my eyes, leaving behind thick threads of black makeup and a life I vowed to be done with. If she woke, I wanted her to see my eyes. She always said they were my most lovely asset. “Right through those alpine lake blues into your soul,” she’d say.

“Blink, if you can hear me,” I repeat. And then, a quivering of eyelashes. Slow shuttering of an eyelid. A smile. A horrible rictus of a smile. Right upper lip puffs out, her eye bulging. It is beautiful. And I sob.

Jennifer Fliss is a New York raised, Wisconsin schooled, Seattle based writer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in diverse publications including, The Establishment, The Manifest-StationZelle/Runner‘s World, and The Citron Review. More can be found on her website,

Fiction: Silence

Fiction: Silence

WO Silence ARTBy Jennifer Palmer

Jocelyn settles onto the lumpy mattress, closes her eyes. Listens.

The faucet in the corner leaks, a forlorn plop sounding as each drop hits the tarnished sink. The ceiling fan, the lone luxury of the place, clicks with each rotation, keeping time with the beating of her heart. The thin walls do little to mask noise from outside: the cacophony of car horns, the crackle of tires, the dull roar of the freeway. The person upstairs rolls over in bed, the creak of worn-out box springs clearly audible. Next door, she can hear the sounds of playing, a little girl humming to herself.

A door crashes against the wall in the little girl’s room and Jocelyn jumps, then curls instinctively, protectively, around her middle, her face against her knees, her hands shielding her head. The humming stops, replaced by a masculine voice, its angry tone cutting through the girl’s protests. A slap, the sharp, sickening sound of flesh hitting flesh, then a dull thump. The child cries out, prompting more shouts from the man. The door slams shut. All that is left are whimpers, soft sobs, muffled gasps.

Jocelyn shakes on the floor for an eternity. Gradually, the tremors lessen, then still. She uncurls, her motions furtive, before she remembers where she is. She looks at the faucet, the fan, the window, marveling at her freedom, then reaches for the wall. Leaning close, she listens, but all is silent next door. Perhaps she imagined it. Surely that’s it.

She gets to her feet, washes her face in the basin, looks at herself in the cracked mirror. She shakes her head slightly, as though to rid her mind of some thought, some ghost, then hurriedly splashes water on her face. Time to get to work; she managed to land a job at the diner down on the corner, and her shift begins soon.

Hours later, she returns, her feet sore, her back tired, a dull ache behind her eyes. Hunger battles against nausea, and she nibbles some soda crackers pilfered from the waitress stand at work. Everything hurts. Waiting tables is a thankless job, but she has money in her pocket, a start towards rent and groceries and a life free of him, and so can tolerate all the rest.

Her bedtime routine is simple. She washes her face, brushes her teeth, crawls onto the bare mattress on the floor. She breathes deeply, willing herself to relax. She is safe.

She drifts toward sleep, but the nightmare one wall over repeats itself. The door crashing open. The angry voice. Slaps and thumps. A child’s cries. Again, she huddles on her side of the wall, shivering in mute solidarity with the girl next door.

When it is over, she reaches for her phone, hands shaking, then stops in terror. He is there, looming over her, fists upraised.

“Little whore! Who do you think you are? Just like your mother. Worthless.”

She shrinks into the corner. Her hand moves involuntarily to her stomach, rests there for a moment. She closes her eyes, inhales deeply, then picks up the phone. It takes her three tries to punch in the number. She whispers to him as it rings. “You’re not really here. I am free of you. You’re not really here.”

A voice on the other end of the line, kind, calm, asks about her emergency, waits patiently as she chokes out her story, encourages her to repeat herself, just a bit louder, please. She says the words for the girl next door that nobody ever said for her.

“He’s hurting her. Come save her. Please, before it’s too late.”

She sits alone in the dark and waits for what seems like hours before the siren echoes outside, before boots ricochet in the stairwell, before fists fall on the thin wood of her neighbor’s door.

“Police! Open up!”

Curses then, muttered threats, a door thrown wide. Muffled conversation—she can’t quite make out the words—but her neighbor grows more and more belligerent. His daughter begins to cry. The man shouts something about his rights and is met by the calm, firm response of the officer. The door slams; the girl’s sobs recede. Jocelyn rushes to the window, sees a uniformed man helping a small form into the back of a cruiser, and a small prayer whistles out from between her clenched teeth.

“Keep her safe. Please, keep her safe.”

She lies down, then, closes her eyes, feels the barest flutter, the hope of the future, in her womb. As the tears leak out from underneath her eyelids, she listens. The drip of the faucet. The click of the fan. The horns and the tires and the freeway. And beyond that: silence.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.