Amy Barnes has words at FlashBack Fiction, McSweeney’s, Popshot Quarterly, The Molotov Cocktail, Lucent Dreaming, Anti-Heroin Chic, Flash Frog, Janus Literary, Perhappened, Cabinet of Heed, Spartan Lit and many other sites. She’s a Fractured Lit associate editor, Gone Lawn co-editor and reads for Narratively, Retreat West, NFFD, CRAFT and The MacGuffin. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, and longlisted for Wigleaf50. Her debut flash collection, Mother Figures, was published by ELJ Editions in summer, 2021. A full length collection, Ambrotypes, is forthcoming from word west press in spring, 2022.
A trio of fake horses appears in the Difficult town square. Real police horses sniff them and turn away. Children pat their noses expecting wet velvet but only feel plastic. No one knows where the horses came from but they can’t be moved. Their hooves are cemented into the ground, tall grass planted around their ankles.
They’re initially deemed interlopers with no purpose. Eventually, people accept them and pose for pictures. Tourists arrive in droves, cameras and plastic carrots and apples in hand.
“Listen, Mama,” Susan says tapping Horse #1.
Boing. Thud. Boing. Thud.
The empty belly echoes like a church bell without a wedding or funeral to announce.
“The Christmas festival tree goes here in December,” Susan’s dad announces. He puts one hand on Horse #2’s back, a temporary cowboy in an argyle vest.
“I like the white one.” A voice rises from the crowd.
“Be quiet, Dorothy,” he says.
“You can’t take her down. Her name is Acorn.”
And with that, Dorothy climbs on newly-named Acorn. The gathered crowd gasps. It isn’t often you see an 86-year-old woman mount a fake or real horse.
“It’s safe since it can’t move,” a tourist whispers.
“You can’t take Rudolph either.”
“It’s a sign. Like the three wise men.”
By the time real church bells announce it’s noon, clusters of people are taking turns riding the fake horses.
“Christmas is canceled,” Susan’s dad announces.
No one listens to him. By winter, he relents. Puts the Christmas tree in the dollar store parking lot. He owns the store and sells miniature horses and red and green vests.
One day, the fake horses disappear as quickly as they arrived. All of them, even the carousel steeds and the penny one in front of Cooper’s Dollar Store.
To cover the gaping holes in the square’s asphalt, the town erects a trio of statue horses with a plaque. There are whispers Susan’s dad planned the entire thing: on snowy nights in December, tourists still come to search for ghost-horse footprints and buy dollar store shirts that say Merry Christmas from the Difficult horses.
II. ISLANDS IN THE SAUCE
It’s 1928 and my great grandparents take a boat and a bus and a train to their new home. They leave the island of Sicily for the island of Ellis and the landlocked not-island of Kansas. Pioneers, they drop bits of themselves, olives and Sunday sauce splattered as red and green map marker lines. The hard C that Cipolla is supposed to start with is dropped in New York, floating in soupy Ellis Island water. Seven Italian dialects have fallen, too, in the seven states between East and Midwest. They arrive with a suitcase of English words only. Hamburger. Baby. Apple pie. Baseball. Home. Flag. Thank you. Good. No (grazie). No (buono).
It’s 1970 and my father and mother travel fast to the hospital in a boat of a car where I am born. They don’t know I am a girl and my father is comparing my button nose to his Sicilian one. Another piece of the island is left behind when genetics chops it off.
It’s 1976 and my father travels between countries, El Paso to Ciudad de Juárez. He knows no Italian but picks up Spanish quickly, secretly. One day, he answers back to the people he works with, in Spanish. They no longer call him gringo. I am terrified of the border, where police search cars and people for contraband. My great grandmother and grandmother are not afraid. My father drives them to the market where we buy tiny baskets and he tricks them into eating peppers he calls okra.
It’s 1980-something and my older cousins are clustered in the family farmhouse basement. They turn on the behemoth television so we can watch Fantasy Island. I watch it with one eye on the door in case my mother catches me. The main character is struggling with a nosy family and wants to escape them.
Fantasy Island and The Love Boat are forbidden shows but I’m fascinated by glamorous strangers arriving by plane to have the island do things for them even when those things go astray, which of course always happens. The characters want to leave their pasts and ancestors behind. The Island sends them back decades to watch their relatives struggle, so they understand the why of the now.
It’s 2021. I’m watching the Fantasy Island reboot. The main character is trying to escape her nosy family because there are apparently only a few plot lines available. The island takes her back to the Cuba of her grandparents and she finds a new appreciation of her current life and current family. I still look over my shoulder in case my mom might catch me watching the show but I’m puzzled by why she fought it so hard.
I left the Midwest of my grandparents decades ago, packing my news anchor accent, saying milk with too many syllables. The main character wants to be away from her family because I want to ask the Sicily fantasy island of my great grandparents to do things for me. Bring back left-behind Italian dialects. Teach me to make my great grandmother’s sauce. I imagine my great grandparents standing on Ellis Island. Did they ask it, what will America do for me? Did they feel like islands? Were they surprised at how the island twisted their name?
I turn to the decorative globe on my bookshelf. I trace the red lines of sauce and birth and death left behind in the Kansas rectangle and boot-shaped Sicily, comparing their shapes -- one landlocked, one island.
I say my last name with a hard c as I spin the globe, make my wish.
III. WHEN THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS FIND ME IN THE SUBURBS
I will have Princess Diana roses growing on my face, rainbow washi tape and Susan B. Anthony dollars holding my eyes shut.
When the archaeologists find me sleeping next to U-Make-It Pottery, they will ask why is this woman surrounded by pastel polka-dotted hippos and Santa Claus cookie plates and dirty brown vases?
When the archaeologists find me, I’ll be wearing gold painted macaroni necklaces and bracelets and earrings. The archaeologists will exclaim to each other that I was a woman of great wealth, owning a jewelry store and a craft store, a pottery hippo army and red-faced, white-bearded men to do my bidding.
When the archaeologists find me, I want them to gasp like they’ve opened Tutankhamun’s tomb, not the Model 16, red velvet interior, maple exterior my husband buys from a pushy salesperson because he’s too emotional to make a different choice.