FICTION – Shifts by Elizabeth Mikesch


In a cellar, I lived with a man who was humungous. He was a freak when he grew tall young, he said. His knees had bone chips in them. This is why he had a hobble. I had stayed very tiny, which he liked and had listed as his number one must-have in the ad about whom he would like to move in.

The walls where we lived were stone. The first time I saw the cellar, I followed him scuffing. He prickled at the click of my shoe.

Pick up your feet.

I hate to make a person mad. I tugged them off and climbed on his bed. I stood on his mattress above bricks to see how fucked of a slant.

Our bed was Siamesed.

My size made the most room for the both of us. We shared covers, which sometimes I stole. He never got mad about that. We slept in shifts. The part where we would switch who slept, our lapse, was when we would lie down beside one another to sleep through the droughts of no dreams. I blew out the nightlight after I ate soup in bed, from cold cans. I liked to turn my back to him and feel him there. I liked him breathing in the dark closer by than when he went to his side.

He wanted to know if I was staying once I had been there for a while. Mostly, I said to him softly, That may be.

I would count tiles. Spiders chomped at our might. Choruses inside me shucked corn. Sheet stains stayed awake with us looking up.

I adored the encrusted forks—I’d have to clean up after the two of us, after we deserted our pannukakku.

They made it from the place I came from with a bay and a county song for when there was no snow. Where we lived, we would sing through the radio out an old call for the patron saint of precipitation. I found I never summoned her now. When the sky leaked through the cracks once in awhile in our home, I felt something like batter without the leavening.

Here is a secret: I do care for being bundled, which was the draw for me living underground, where it is meant to stay cold. I like kindling. I love to be spun.

In the kitchen in the dark before there is sun, it is me in the sink at the bakery where I make ends. The baker comes in after I slashed my batard. Our refrigerator hums low along to what we do like a little grandmother.

The sheets account for the way we sit still and fuss our lips over cups. When I piss, I flip the fan, so I consider the sinkspout without hearing his sneezing. Then, I try to remember my dreams when I open my eyes.

Once before sleep, he said a doctor called his heart too large as a boy. It seemed he had said I know how I need. He told me if I found him to not leave the sheets on our bed.

I could not imagine being responsible for digging open the earth.

Cardamom is the name of the spice in the bread I braid. I bake in the night for work. I bleach the spice out of my nylons on my breaks: the mildewed roux.

In life, I am the queen, yes, in charge of anything having to do with foods. I make us ham sandwiches, the lettuce limply bowed out.

I want to make myself up to the daylight somehow. The way I lived, there was our sleeping and yeasts from the breads. There were not too many nights where I felt something final. I got frightened to think this would be the way. I thought about eating only onions I had grown down below, the occasional rutabaga. I thought I am tired of candelabra.

His moustache fell into the sink one morning and, worried, I dabbed at the fixture once he left to clean homes. He asked me to bite him until the bruises left yellow highlighter where his arms felt numb.

I once saw someone take a nail to a person.

When he turned over in bed, I had private thoughts about a room.

It was, after all, an agreement, I said to him through space. I saw just his back, but his light was kept on long after dawn. I was afraid to turn it off.

Elizabeth Mikesch’s work has appeared in Sleepingfish, Unsaid, The Collagist, NOO Journal, The Literarian, and Moonshot Magazine. “Shifts” is from her collection Niceties: Aural Ardor, Pardon Me, which is forthcoming from Calamari Press in Winter 2014.

Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels,

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